Minnesota Twins third baseman Miguel Sano has been one of the best players in baseball over the games first month. Sano missed his first game of the season last night, forced to sit out due to a one-game suspension from his altercation with Tigers catcher James McCann.
In 29 games, Sano is hitting .300/.431/.640, which is good for a ridiculous 1.071 OPS. And while there's no doubt that Sano is a great hitter, it's surprising to see him still hitting .300 at this point in the season. To be clear, his batting average matters very little, as a .269/.431/.640 line would be almost exactly as productive.
It's also very unlikely he hits .300 over the course of the regular season, as his batting average has been propped up by an unsustainable .440 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). The league average BABIP this season is .292, with Sano currently ranking second behind Washington Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman who's put up a .450 BABIP.
While the .440 mark is unsustainable, it's worth mentioning that Sano's BABIP will almost always be above the league average. This is because the stat uses only balls put in play, and a majority of Sano's outs are strikeouts, which don't effect his BABIP at all.
In his rookie debut, Sano's BABIP was .396, which helped aid his breakout performance and his .269 batting average. Last season, as his bat declined, his BABIP was just .329 and he hit .236. Colorado Rockies second baseman D.J. LeMahieu led all of baseball in 2016 with a .388 BABIP. It is possible Sano will lead the league in BABIP sooner rather than later, but it's unlikely he'd be 20% better than anyone else in that category.
Because of Sano's limited at bats, we can adjust his BABIP down to.380 or .400, but nothing in between at this point. With a .380 BABIP he'd have 3 less hits than he currently has, most likely one single, one double and one home run less. That would give him a slash line of .270/.406/.570. An OPS of .976 is still MVP-caliber most seasons, but it shows the Twins are getting about 10% more production from Sano's bat than they should expect based on his current stats.
His career BABIP is .364, although that's largely effected by last season's struggles. However, for argument's sake let's take a look at his slash line with a .360 BABIP as well. His slash line would be .260/.398/.560, still good for an OPS well above .900.
I believe it's very unlikely Sano returns to a season long BABIP of .330 like last season, and .360 is about as low as it should fall at this point. It's encouraging to see that even if Sano regresses to a more average number for himself he's likely going to remain as one of the league's best hitters regardless.
It's important to note as well that someone like Sano will have seasons where his BABIP does indeed fall below .330, because it remains a very random stat, and his career BABIP is almost certainly going to be below .360. However, he should have more elite seasons than difficult ones.
As the summer carries on and Sano's batting average slowly dips from .300 down to .260 or .270, don't listen to Twins broadcaster Dick Bremer who will undoubtedly talk about how Sano's batting average was at one point over .300, and then he'll probably spew some crap about hitting the ball the other way more to improve his average.
It's important to note also that Sano could conceivably improve a different part of his game, like his line drive percentage or his K:BB ratio, while losing some BABIP and remaining just as productive. These slash lines assume everything else remains constant, which is of course unlikely but makes it easier to follow.
By season's end, Sano should solidify himself as one of the game's top young power hitters and a perennial MVP candidate. Playing in the American League, Miguel Sano is likely never going to be more valuable than a healthy Mike Trout, but considering Trout has only won 2 MVP's despite deserving 5, it's clear voters constantly undervalue his greatness. That may allow Sano to steal an MVP at some point, if he can help lead the Twins back to the post-season in the near future.