LENZ: Has Twins Third Baseman Sano Regained His Form?

Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

It was just two months ago that Twins fans were shocked to hear the news that Miguel Sano had been sent down to Single-A Fort Myers to do a complete reset.

As shocking as it was, most fans would likely agree that Sano was off his game and needed time to focus on himself. At that time, Sano was batting .203/.270/.405 and was striking out more than five times for every walk he earned.

In short, he looked big, off-balanced and undisciplined.

Pitchers were consistently attacking Sano with breaking balls low, away, and out of the strike zone as seen in the heat map below from Brooks Baseball.

(image credit: Brooks Baseball)

A whopping 23.6 percent of breaking balls that Sano saw were thrown low, away and out of the zone. He swung at 29.8 percent of those pitches and whiffed on a quarter of the pitches he swung out while batting .043.

And you thought .203 was bad!

In reviewing video from earlier this year, his swing wasn’t the big issue but it was his approach that needed to change. Twins hitting coach James Rowson noted to The Athletic that earlier in the year Sano was “swinging big” on every pitch and has worked on “shortening up” his swing on a two-strike count, which is where he swung and missed the most.

To put it easily, a shortened swing is getting the bat into the contact zone quicker by bringing your hands forward prior to the swing and keep your elbow closer to your stomach during the swing.

You’ll see an example of both types of swings below.

On the left is a two-strike swing from earlier this season, while the right is a two-strike swing since his return. The first thing to notice is the slight difference in the location of the hands and the angle of the bat.

What looks like a minuscule difference can be huge when a pitch leaves the pitcher’s hand and reaches the batter in less than a half-second.

The location of these pitches makes it hard to see how he keeps his hands closer to his stomach, but look carefully at the left GIF and you’ll see a window between his arms about halfway through his swing where you won’t see that window at the same point in the swing on the right.

This is a result of shortening his swing.

In the time since his return, these adjustments have led to seven two-strike hits — which gives him a total of nine on the season.

Yes, he only had two two-strike hits in the first part of his season.

Since his return, Sano has had almost exactly one-third as many plate appearances as he had before he was sent down.

In those 52 plate appearances, Sano has walked 11.9 percent of the time and struck out 32.2 percent of the time, which includes Tuesday’s matinée versus the Pirates where he struck out three times.

Those numbers were at 8.6 percent and 40.5 percent, respectively, prior to his demotion.

An even better sign that the Twins are getting Sano back to his old form is that his chase rate is 4.0 percent better while seeing more pitches being thrown out of the strike zone.

Overall, many of his rate numbers since his return are right around his career averages with the biggest exception being his home-run rate.

Early returns from his reset suggest that Sano has decreased his launch angle by a couple degrees, which has, in turn, resulted in a career-high ground ball rate and a career-low fly ball rate.

As Rowson suggested, there are times when Sano will look to swing big and there are times where he will be looking to make solid contact.

For now, don’t be overly concerned with his lack of home run production especially considering his slugging percentage is almost 60 points better now than it was in the first three months of the season.

It looks like Sano is on the right track to becoming the hitter he had been in his first three seasons at the major league level, but he is definitely still a work in progress.

What’s more important than the rest of this season is that Sano continues to work over the offseason and doesn’t fall back into old habits.

Only time will tell if Sano can be the franchise player so many fans think he can become.

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