In the bottom of the first inning Sunday afternoon at Target Field, the Minnesota Twins had ducks on the field and ducks on the pond.
The bases were loaded with only one out and in steps Miguel Sanó, who’s been riding his best stretch of the season at the plate. Sanó, who’s second on the team in home runs, looked poised to give the Twins some early runs.
Instead, he struck out swinging on just four pitches. The ducks in the outfield eventually flew away and the ducks on the bases were stranded after only scoring one run.
In the fifth inning, the Twins were in the same situation. Bases loaded and nobody out, down by three. Sanó grounded into a double play. This was followed by a strikeout in his final at-bat with two runners on base down by two runs to end the inning. The Twins went on to lose 6-3 and fall back into last place in the AL Central.
Sanó has quickly become the most polarizing Twins player. When Sanó is feeling his swing, the righty’s monster power and ability to all three fields will leave fans in awe. On the other side, the strikeouts and unproductive at-bats leave other fans frustrated.
While Sunday’s game left Twins fans again feeling sour on Sanó, he’s also hit some big-time home runs late in games over the last few weeks. He’s had a go-ahead three-run bomb against the Oakland Athletics earlier this month and another earlier this week against the Baltimore Orioles.
One of Sanó’s biggest downfalls in his game has been his discipline. Notably, in 2018, Sanó showed up to Ft. Myers for spring training overweight. That and a bevy of strikeouts created such a poor start that the Twins sent Sanó down all the way to A-ball in Fort Myers to re-work his approach and get him back into shape.
Sanó bounced back in 2019 and had his best season as a pro. The next few seasons haven’t been as productive. Whether it’s the move to first base in last year or Sanó sliding back into some old habits. His discipline on and off the field regressed back over the next two seasons.
The strikeouts went up again for Sanó. Last year, his strikeout rate skyrocketed to 44 percent. That number is going closer to his career average this season so far with a 37.7 percent strikeout rate, which is still in the bottom 1.0 percent in all of baseball according to Baseball Savant.
Setting aside the punchouts, Sanó has also run into trouble when he makes contact. His BABIP is down to a career-low .197 and part of that can be attributed to the 68 percent of contact he’s made with pitches inside the strike zone, which is also a career-low. Sanó struck out a lot last year, but he still had a high hard-hit percentage of 57 percent, barrel percentage of 22.9 percent, and an average exit velocity of 95 MPH. This year his hard-hit percentage sits at 45.7 percent, 15.7 barrel percentage, and an exit velocity down to 90.3.
It is also worth pointing out that Sanó has been doing a better job of taking pitches. His chase percentage sits at 23.5 percent, 5.0 percent lower than last second. His better eye at the plate has allowed Sanó to have a BB/K rate of 0.36, the best number he’s had in that category since his rookie year in 2015. The higher walks also allowed his OBP to be salvaged with a .288 clip.
Sanó isn’t polarizing because he is a bad player, he’s polarizing because fans have dug in on if the highs of Sanó are worth the lows. More traditional fans see Sanó as a one-trick player who strikes out too often to be thought of as a cornerstone player. The sabermetrics side is more comfortable with the strikeouts because of his pure power in an era where hitting the ball over the fence is the most valuable thing a batter can do.
Sanó has often been referred to as this generation’s Adam Dunn. A powerful bat who struggles to make contact but can send a ball into orbit when he puts the barrel on the ball. Baseball Savant has another comparison for the slugger, 2018 Chris Davis.
Davis was once one of the best power hitters in the game for the Baltimore Orioles who was in the top percentage of baseball with his exit velocity and barrel percentage numbers. The biggest downside to Davis was his strikeout problem. He had multiple seasons in the bottom 2.0 percent of the majors,. It was in 2018 that the power numbers disappeared with career lows in barrel percentages and exit velocity while Davis continued to strike out at one of the league’s highest clips.
The contract Davis was playing under also became one of the most infamous in modern baseball because of his production dip. According to Spotrac, the deal was a seven-year, $161 million deal with deferred payments every year until 2037. He is currently missing the entire 2021 season after hip surgery as the Orioles try and figure out what to do with Davis on their roster.
After the 2022 season, the Twins have a team option to bring Sanó back at $14 million or become a free agent with a $2.5 million buyout. So what is the long-term future for Sanó in Minnesota? The Twins’ front office and manager Rocco Baldelli need to figure that out soon.
Is that a player the Twins want to keep around for the future?
Sanó currently makes $11 million this season and a contract extension would either keep it around that rate or see an increase to his salary. Going over $10 million to pay for a player as flawed as Sanó long-term is a big gamble and something the Twins have strayed away from under the Derek Falvey-Thad Levine regime.
Eddie Rosario would have been making around that much money if the Twins decided to keep him. Instead, they let him explore free agency. Rosario was also a fun but flawed hitter for the Twins, and like Sanó he could be replaced with some of Minnesota’s young prospects. Like Rosario, it’s not that he can never be a productive player, the problem was that his lows don’t always outweigh the highs.
There is still time for Sanó to turn it around. It’s unlikely the Twins are trading him anytime soon and he has enough of a track record to keep himself in the lineup. But if he doesn’t figure out his hitting woes soon, he might be playing his way out of Minnesota’s long-term plans.