Miguel Sano's Excellent Start in 2017 Has Been Fascinating
Fresh off winning AL Player of the Week honors, the 23-year-old is slashing a cool .314/.443/.686 with 8 home runs, a 208 wRC+ and a 1.8 fWAR in 25 games (108 plate appearances). With the fifth-best wRC+ among qualified hitters, he's been a key cog for the Twins, who have gotten off to a surprising 14-11 start, which has them tied for first place in the American League central.
That doesn't mean he hasn't landed on these statistics in an interesting -- or rather, strange -- way, though. He has a whopping 33.0% strikeout rate (which would be a career low if that held all season) and an 18.9% walk rate.
So, in over half of his plate appearances, he's either walking or striking out, leaving just 48.1% of his plate appearances for the rest of his production.
This sounds ridiculous and unsustainable -- there's no way he can keep this up, right? Along with having the kind of success he's experiencing?
Walks and Strikeouts Galore
Sano's previous MLB seasons are as strange as his present. His ability to strikeout or walk in the majority of plate appearances is not new. Check out how his walk rate (BB%) and strikeout rate (K%) rank among other big league hitters, and how it impacted his wRC+.
Since he was not a qualified hitter in either of his first two years, we set the benchmark in 2015 to 300 plate appearances, and 450 plate appearances in 2016.
As we can see in his rookie year, Sano struck out or walked in 51.3% of plate appearances, which is nearly identical to what he's currently doing. It's evident that he's incredibly efficient when putting the ball in play -- he basically has to be in order to find success.
With a drop in walk rate during his sophomore season came a much less productive campaign in which he lashed .236/.319/.462 with an Isolated Power (ISO) of .227 and a .329 BABIP. Each of these stats represented a dip from what he did as a rookie, and since he needs to maximize his non-strikeout and non-walk plate appearances, the most significant change was in his BABIP, which went from .396 to that .329 mark.
It's impossible to expect him to repeat that particular number on a regular basis, though. Since 2010, only four qualified hitters finished a season with a BABIP greater than .390, and it hasn't happened since Chris Johnson did it for the Atlanta Braves in 2013.
While Sano's current .442 BABIP doesn't seem sustainable, it shouldn't at all be surprising because he's rocking a 56.9% hard-hit rate and just a 2.0% soft-hit rate, which are huge improvements to the 42.9% and 12.0% marks he's produced throughout his career, respectively.
How often have hitters finished a year within the top 10 in both strikeout rate and walk rate in recent history? As it turns out, accomplishing this isn't all that common.
Since the 2007 season, it's only happened six times to players who had accumulated 300 at-bats: Dan Uggla in 2013, Adam Dunn in 2011 and 2012, Carlos Pena in 2012, Jack Cust in 2007 and Ryan Howard in 2007.
What could set Sano apart from this group is his ability to make hard contact while limiting soft contact. Even when his quality of contact numbers and BABIP stabilize more as he continues playing, his efficiency in non-strikeout and non-walk plate appearances should keep him as an above average -- and forever interesting -- offensive player.