Is Miguel Sano Hurt or Just Struggling?

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We’re at a point in the season when you can reasonably split the data into two halves. In terms of reliability for batted-ball metrics, 50 balls in play is a good sample, and the majority of regular position players have produced that many since the first of July, more or less. If you look at exit velocity in two halves, Miguel Sano‘s name jumps off the list. In a bad way. But why?

Here are the biggest losers in average exit velocity in our “second half” — i.e. since July 1st.

Biggest Second-Half Exit-Velo Droppers

SOURCE: Statcast

‘Second Half’ = since July 1st.

First off, we find that a decent number of the hitters here (Cervelli, Martin, Maldonado) are catchers. That might not be much of a surprise. Michael Ricciuti and Matthew Yaspan of Tufts University showed, at Saber Seminar last weekend, that catchers see a general decline in performance over the course of a season. All those squats take it out of you after a while.

You’ll see a couple players who were hurt in the second half, too. Justin Bour had a couple maladies that obviously sapped his bat of power. J.D. Martinez got hit on the hand… and also left Detroit, where the Statcast exit-velocity readings look to be about a mile per hour “hot.” Alex Avila, also traded from Detroit, appeared high on this list until I sorted for 50 balls in play in the second half.

And then you’ve got an interesting test case in Miguel Sano. In the league-defined first half, he was 37% better than the league with the stick. Since the All-Star break, he’s been 2% worse than league average. Maybe it’s not a surprise to see him listed here, then.

Sano has been hit on the hand — the same hand — twice this season in early August. He reported soreness and wore a pad over the affected area. When Carlos Correa told me — regarding his dips in exit velocity last year — that “some parts of the body are hurting so you have to lay off some things and deal with some things,” he was admitting that there was a relationship between pain and exit velocity.

Could Sano be exhibiting the same problem?

Take a look at his rolling exit velo. At first glance, you might say that the valleys are the result of injury. Look, however, at the early August portion of the graph. That doesn’t link up with the hand injury.

We know that exit velocity and launch angle differ wildly based on the location in the zone where the batter makes contact. In this case, it looks like Sano is being pitched differently ever since that downturn in exit velocity in mid-June. Check out his early two-seam-fastball locations:

And then since June 15th:

Pitchers were throwing sinkers down the middle to Sano for some reason; now they’re hitting the corners. Sano was walking more early, so perhaps he was forcing pitchers (and their sinkers) into the zone by being more selective. And then (again, perhaps) he started struggling and started swinging more. Then pitchers were able to try and dot the i on the inside corner more often. He’s still swinging at them, he’s just missing (and mis-hitting) more often.

We’ve talked about a player’s exit velocity and launch angles as if players exert full control over those things, and that performing well by both metrics will eventually lead to good outcomes for everyone. But if launch angle and exit velo are tied to the location of the pitch in the zone — and they are — then we should acknowledge that even a player hitting the ball 95 mph on average could be getting “lucky.”

In that sense, Sano was a little fortunate in terms of the location of the fastballs he was seeing. He spanked those, as he should, and pitchers started to thread the needle on him a bit more. The beanings won’t help, but really Sano needs to find his most patient self again, and force the pitchers to come to the middle of the zone more often, so he can again hit the ball 95 mph.

11 August 2017 | 6:18 pm

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