Fantasy Baseball

Hidden Improvements: Miguel Sano

I have been rather aggressive with my opinion on Trea Turner and his 11.25 (and rising) ADP.  In making this argument, I have referred back to Carlos Correa many times.  Another, albeit less dramatic, example could be Miguel Sano.  In 2015, Sano crushed big league pitching for 18 homers and .269/.385/.530 triple-slash in just over 300 PA.  Although he did not share the hype of Correa, Sano was still a player with a fifth round ADP despite obvious flaws – in particular, a 35.5% strikeout rate and an inflated .396 BABIP.

Of course, in 2016, these flaws came home to roost and Sano hampered his fantasy owners.  In 116 games, Sano hit 25 homers, but the strikeout problems remained (36%) and the BABIP regressed (.329).  Sano managed a .236/.319/.462 triple-slash.  Despite being drafted as a fifth round pick, Sano finished as the 39th overall 3B-eligible player on ESPN’s Player Rater.

After last year’s disappointment, Sano is presently being drafted at an ADP of 110.08.  He does not have the hype and buzz pushing him up draftboards like last year.  He is going outside the top 12 at the third base position.  Now, I, a former detractor, believe that this price is right and I am ready to buy in.

The first reason that I am buying Sano is that Trevor Plouffe is no longer in town.  This means that Sano gets to return to third base.  While most fantasy owners do not care where Sano plays as long as his bat is in the lineup, Sano was entirely unproductive as a DH as opposed to when he played the field (.679 OPS as a DH, .800+ OPS as 3B and OF).  The DH penalty is a real thing and it is a skill that all players can adapt to – see Adam LaRoche in Chicago.  Plus, Sano was a terrible defender in the outfield and is a plus defender at 3B – thus, his playing time is safer at third base than in the outfield.  With Sano playing the field at a position where he is comfortable, I expect the hitting production and approach to improve.

A second reason why I am buying Sano is that his underlying skills actually improved last year, even if the results did not.  Sano swung less at pitches outside the zone and more at pitches inside the zone.  Even though, he swung less outside the zone, he was able to make more contact on those pitches outside the zone.  His well below average O-Swing% and double-digit walk rate show that Sano has a decent feel for the strike zone despite an abysmal 36% K-rate.

The K-rate is caused by his inability to make contact – his contact rate was just 65.7% in 2016, which is well below average.  However, Sano actually took a big leap forward in that regard despite his results lagging behind 2015 – the Contact % rose 4.8% year-over-year.  In fact, Sano’s expected K% based upon the underlying numbers was 32.3%, which is a fair amount below the actual 36% result and his 2015 K-rate of 35.5%.  Sano also swung and missed less last year 14% compared to 15.7%.

These skill improvements are masked by the results.  Sano is getting better at recognizing balls and strikes , swinging at better pitches, whiffing less, and making more contact.  As last year’s results evince, these skill improvements do not necessarily lead to improved results, however, improved results become more likely because of these skill improvements.

Now, I would caution that a 32.3% K rate, while better than 36%, is still poor so I would not feel comfortable projecting Sano above a .250 average with .235-.240 being a realistic baseline.  However, if Sano can take another leap forward on his contact and push his K-rate below the 30% mark, he could put together a season that is reminiscent of Chris Davis’s best years.

The third reason for buying Sano is his batted profile.  Sano’s power upside is underscored by a 40+% Hard Contact rate, which was top 20 among players with 300 PA.  His company includes the aforementioned Chris Davis along with Kris Bryant, Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss.  Despite a hefty flyball rate (44.3% career), Sano is not likely to suffer from BABIP troubles that accompany other flyball heavy profiles because he can also hit line drives (21.9% career) and does not hit many infield-flies (5.3% career).  The plus BABIP skills with the power profile will enable Sano to avoid being Chris Carter 2.0 as long as he get the K-rate down to the low 30s – as his expected K-rate indicates it should.

The fourth reason why I am buying Sano is his price.  According to current ADP, Sano is being drafted on average at 110.08, which is 26th among OF and 13th among 3B.  In a twelve team format, I bet that Sano gets pushed down the board even a bit further as he is primarily viewed as a 3B and is being drafted outside the starting tier.  Although Sano has some work to do, there is no doubting his upside as an elite power source, capable of forty homers and a livable average.  Chris Davis is going 40 picks in front of him, Todd Frazier is going to close to 50 picks in front of Sano – these players offer similar power skills and downside.  Sano could turn a major profit and although he presents perhaps the lowest floor of the three, the downside is much less costly in round 10 than round 6.

My Projection: 150 GP, 35 HR, 72 R, 89 RBI, .241/.325/.495


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