February 10, 2017
Miguel Sano Through PECOTA's Eyes
You are perfectly entitled to be optimistic about Miguel Sano. That’s the most important thing to say. Sano was a huge prospect when he signed out of the Dominican Republic. Everyone believed he would eventually hit for enormous power, retain some thick-bodied athleticism, and generally display a natural gift for baseball that would help him overcome his considerable deficiencies. That remains a possible outcome, and indeed the fact that he’s risen all the way through the minors and played a bit more than a year’s worth of big-league games while making unbelievably hard contact has only boosted the odds of that.
I just don’t want you to get carried away. PECOTA loves Sano this season. The system forecasts a .241/.335/.475 batting line, good for a .278 TAv, with above-average defense at third base and 2.7 WARP. That’s for just one reason: PECOTA doesn’t know Sano. It doesn’t speak Sanoan. It’s no better equipped to evaluate the viability of Miguel Sano than Bill Pecota himself is.
That’s because if Sano is going to be a successful and even dominant big-league player, he’s going to be a completely unprecedented one. Projection systems necessarily rest on history, use it as a guide by which to shape a prognosis. In Sano’s case, PECOTA has cast about for comparable players and here are the 10 closest (at Sano’s age, which will be 24 in May) guys it found:
There are three guys whose careers were derailed by insufficient defensive utility and problematic strikeout rates here. The other seven players either are currently stars or were stars for a long time. There’s no way that properly estimates the risk that Sano’s career will be derailed by either insufficient defensive utility or problematic strikeout rates. Since 1947, there have been 15,057 player seasons in which a given hitter went to bat at least 300 times. Sano’s two seasons rank ninth and 14th on that list in strikeout rate.
As for his defense ... Sano weighs 260 pounds. In baseball history, there have been three players who played even 140 games in a season at third base and weighed even 250 pounds: Pablo Sandoval (twice), Pedro Alvarez (twice), and Jim Thome. Sano might be a better athlete than any of them were when they managed that, but then again the only one who stuck at the position was a radically different person, physically, than Sano is. (Sandoval was also, of course, a radically different and more reliable offensive player, even if Sano’s ceiling is higher than Sandoval’s was.)
Baseball is changing all the time. We know the game being played in 2017 differs radically from the game of even the late 1990s and that there’s more room in it for big power hitters with even bigger strikeout figures. However, Sano is a test balloon, and for now that’s it. We’re all just watching him come closer and closer to qualifying for a batting title with a strikeout rate north of 35 percent, and wondering whether he can possibly do enough things well to wash away the damage those whiffs do.
I would confidently bet the under on the numbers PECOTA spat out for Sano, especially the overall WARP. He’s not going to be an average defensive third baseman. If he’s a third baseman at all, even for just a year or two, it will qualify as a victory for the Twins. Whether he is or not, and whether or not his balloon of offensive value survives the thin air of full-time duty in the big leagues, he’ll serve us all in one small way: we’ll have someone useful to whom we can compare the next Miguel Sano.