Is Miguel Sanó Just A Slow Starter?

Photo Credit: Raj Mehta (USA TODAY Sports)

The Minnesota Twins haven’t exactly started fast to begin the 2022 season.

Their 4-6 start is primarily a result of expected regular contributors like Carlos Correa, Max Kepler, and others who have produced inconsistent results over the first handful of games. The Twins have scored 3.7 runs per game through the first ten matchups this season, and the league average is typically north of 4.5 runs per game.

Byron Buxton has missed some time due to a knee injury, but this lineup still features some names that have been able to do some damage from the batter’s box. We’re talking about Correa, Kepler, Jorge Polanco, and others. However, Miguel Sanó is the x-factor who could elevate Minnesota’s lineup.

The righty has a career slash line of .236/.328/.487 with 162 career home runs since making his debut in 2015. Sanó made the All-Star team in 2017, but the Twins sent him down to A-ball in Ft. Myers to rework his approach a year later. Then he had a career-high 34 home runs in 2019. It’s a microcosm of how Sanó has developed a track record of being a streaky player.

His lows are highlighted again with another slow start to the season. Like most hitters in the Minnesota offense, Sanó has had a rough go of it. Sanó is slashing at a .077/.294/.192 clip in 26 at-bats so far, with just one home run and a 29 percent strikeout rate.

Factors like weather and a lockout-shortened Spring Training could be impacting his performance. But it could be that Miguel Sanó is just someone who needs more time to get acclimated to a 162-game season. Sanó is feast or famine at the plate. He either destroys baseballs or fans at them. He has a 36 percent career strikeout rate and an average exit velocity of 93.1 MPH in his career.

Here are Sanó’s numbers from roughly the first month of every season since he made the All-Star team in 2017.

Last season was one of Sanó’s slowest starts in his career. A .552 OPS and a couple of home runs isn’t an ideal way to get your season going. Sanó’s rough stretch caused the Twins to take action and move him to a platoon role. He shared time at first base with Alex Kirilloff before the rookie went down with a wrist injury last season.

The extra time at the plate allowed him to regain his form, and he put together a solid season. After a tough first month, Sanó slugged 11 home runs over his next 30 games and finished the year with 30 homers and a career-low 34 percent strikeout rate.

Sanó needed a reset in 2018, but his season didn’t start as poorly as fans may remember. Things actually started to go south in the second month of the season. Sanó slashed .213/.289/.450 from May 25 to June 13 with just two home runs while his strikeout rate increased to 41 percent, which isn’t a significant increase from the first month but is still an already high clip. He wasn’t at an All-Star pace that year, but Sanó also wasn’t sent down to Ft. Myers for a tune-up only because of his first handful of weeks.

Conversely, his outstanding 2019 season slowed down after a great first month. His strikeout rate rose six percent during his second month, which included a dip from a .949 OPS down to a .778 OPS clip – closer to league average for the 2019 season. Still, Sanó only hit one less home run in his second month. It wasn’t like he “cooled down” and became an unproductive player, but it’s never a great sign when his strikeout rate gets north of 40 percent.

However, exit velocity is one area where Sanó always seems to start slow. The table below looks at his average exit velocity numbers and how they trend early in a season. For reference, Sanó’s career average exit velocity is 93.1 MPH.

Although his strikeout rate fluctuates year by year, Sanó makes loud contact when he puts the bat on the ball. That doesn’t always translate into production on the field, but it shows that Sanó typically gets better at hitting his pitch as the season goes on. A ball usually hit just a little harder can go from an easy fly out to an extra-base hit or sailing over the fence.

Now that we’ve looked through the numbers, let’s see if Sanó is a slow starter. Although it can take a while for him to make consistent contact, he generally starts out okay in most categories. He’s not a slow starter so much as he’s a streaky player. Sometimes his hot months are in April. Other times they are in July.

The Major League Baseball season is a 162-game marathon. No player is immune from hot streaks and slumps throughout a season. Where Sanó seems to be different is that when he’s hot, he can be a legitimate power hitter in the middle of any lineup. But when he cools off, sending him down to A-ball doesn’t seem out of the question. But Sanó can’t afford too many cold streaks. He’s in the final year of his contract, and the front office could easily move Kirilloff over to first base full-time after this season.

Yeah, Sanó needs to find a way to get hot again. But how can he do that?

Sanó is striking out less than his career average this season, but he isn’t making hard contact. His 91.3 MPH average exit velocity is the lowest since 2018. That could be because he’s getting under the ball. Sanó’s launch angle sits at 37 degrees, almost a 20-degree spike from his past seasons.

Again, the only real way to get a hitter out of a slump is to just keep giving him at-bats until they begin to produce. After a shortened Spring Training, every player had to start the year, but Sanó could have benefitted from seeing more live pitching.

Miguel Sanó can be an impact hitter in the middle of the Twins lineup. But he can be downright unplayable at times as well. While we have been seeing more of the latter to start the year, there is no doubt he’s capable of getting himself turned around. However, it will require more at-bats. Sanó is in a contract year and needs to find some consistency quickly if he wants to solidify his future in the big leagues.

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