For six years we’ve been impressed with Giancarlo Stanton’s power potential. Heck, it’s not even potential at this point — it’s here. The guy can slug, and he hits the ball hard and a long, long way. The issue has been keeping Stanton on the field for a full season, given he’s only reached 500 AB twice. All that power is great, but if you’re only getting two-thirds of a season out of him, or just half a season, then you’re going to be disappointed with the end result as he teases you with what he could have done if only he was healthy. Stanton reminds me of Tulowitzki, who reminded me of Griffey Jr. after the Kid went to Cincinnati.
Am I saying that Miguel Sano is injury prone? Thankfully, no. But that immediate burst of power sure draws comparisons to the top power in the game. Let’s take a look at their metrics and how similar they are.
When it comes to batting average, Sano wasn’t amazing but didn’t hurt fantasy teams, at .269. Stanton hit .259 and .262 in his first two seasons. However, Sano did need an unrepeatable BABIP of nearly .400 to reach that mark, whereas Stanton has been pretty near .330 for his career (with a few years below and a few above). It stands to reason that Stanton’s career batting average of .270 is more stable than Sano’s average will be early on, until we have a few more seasons of data on the third baseman.
Both power hitters can take a walk, and whether it’s a matter of hitters avoiding them or their own batting eye, they have the ability to get on base without hitting homers. As it turns out, Sano is a more selective hitter than Stanton, with a walk rate of 16% in his rookie season, compared to Stanton’s career 12%. Sano also swings at fewer pitches out of the zone (26%) compared to Stanton (30%), so the walk rate should continue to be above average for Sano.
That being said, Sano’s contact rate is exceptionally awful. Even though some hitters fare well with contact rates below 70%, it’s rare to have sustained success that way. Stanton is one of the lucky ones, with a career contact rate of 67%, so it can be done. However, Sano’s contact rate in his rookie campaign was just 57%, and that’s a screaming red flag. He may have better selectivity by walking more than Stanton, but his swing makes for some big holes, and so he strikes out more (35%) than Stanton’s career line (28%). The glimmer of hope is that Stanton’s worst K% year was his rookie season, and he had marked improvement through his career until a setback in 2015. Sano may be able to improve on his strikeout rate due to his decent batter’s eye, but I’m not holding my breath given his contact issues.
Now let’s get the most important factor: the sheer power. Stanton’s career HR/FB is 26%, and his lowest single season is 22%. It’s clear he can launch balls into the stands with ease. Sano kept pace in his rookie season with a 26% mark. Of course one worries about a small sample size, and the fact that pitchers will adjust to Sano. But Stanton has proved it can be sustained, and Sano’s power has been touted for years, so I’m willing to bet he can at least stay above 20% HR/FB for his career.
The two sluggers hit one out of every four fly balls out of the park, but how often are they hitting fly balls? It turns out Sano’s rookie season (42%) was slightly ahead of Stanton’s career fly ball percent (40%). That’s plenty high enough to produce a 30+ home run season. A bonus for Sano is the fact that he hit more line drives than Stanton’s career level, which helps explain the higher BABIP. However, I’m not sure it’ll hold up for a full season at that rate. If it does, then he’ll be able to beat his expected batting average. It seems more likely to me that he’ll end up with more loft and grounders in the long run, dropping his average below .250, but as we’ve seen with hitters like Adam Dunn, fantasy managers can forgive a low average when it comes with 40 home runs.
Sano loses out slightly to Stanton in ISO and SLG, but he’s not far off, and in OPS+ he essentially matches Stanton thanks to those extra walks. When you look at Stanton’s rookie year, Sano comes out ahead in those categories. In Stanton’s first full year he beats Sano in ISO but loses in OPS. Regardless, their numbers are close, and it bodes well for the new kid on the power block.
I will say that Sano’s horrendous contact rate scares me, given that it’s well below the likes of Stanton and Bryant. That said, if you can live with low batting average (and it’s becoming easier to do so, in a strikeout-rich era), there’s a good chance Miguel Sano is the next youngster to break 40 home runs in a season. Stanton hasn’t even hit 40 homers yet, but he could if he stays healthy. Sano missed a season with TJS, so hopefully he has got rid of the injury bug and can reach 550 at bats in his first full season. What’s more, he plays third base (for now), and so he has arguably more value than a young Stanton did. It’s hard to root against him, and though I wouldn’t be surprised by a .230 batting average, I could also see 35 home runs in 2016. If anyone newcomer is going to oust Stanton from the throne of pure power, it’s going to be Sano.
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