Sano brings one of strongest arms to Twins' outfield

Minnesota ranks No. 1 overall with 91.1 mph outfield average

May 11th, 2016

When the Twins announced their intentions to move Miguel Sano from third base to right field last offseason, the public reaction was mixed. Sure, it helped to alleviate a lineup logjam, since third base and designated hitter were covered by Trevor Plouffe and Byung Ho Park, respectively, but the 6-foot-4 Sano wasn't known for his speed, and he had never played a professional game in the outfield since signing with Minnesota in 2010.

Six weeks into the season, the experiment has gone more or less as expected. Sano has made some nice plays, but his range and routes have left much to be desired, and his -6 Defensive Runs Saved mark is tied for the second lowest among outfielders. That said, we can't simply look at Sano's right-field adventures and write them off without pointing out the one area where he's been extremely impressive: his incredible throwing arm.

With Statcast™, we can do more than just eyeball outfield throwing arms -- we can put numbers to them. As we did last offseason when we anointed the Astros as the owners of baseball's best outfield throwing arms, we've devised a method to get to "competitive throws," which is a way to eliminate the many unimportant lobs back into the infield and focus only on max-effort throws, which we define as above the 90th percentile of a player's displayed maximum arm strength.

So how does Sano rank so far? Not just "good" or "pretty good." Really, really good.

Gif: Sano strong throw

2016 outfield arm strength leaders, minimum 15 throws (107 qualifiers)

1. Aaron Hicks -- 99.0 mph

2. Sano -- 95.5 mph

3. Carlos Gonzalez -- 94.3 mph

4. Starling Marte -- 94.1 mph

5. Adam Eaton -- 94.0 mph

6. Yasiel Puig -- 93.5 mph

7. Carlos Gomez -- 92.5 mph

8. Danny Santana -- 92.2 mph

9. Steven Souza Jr. -- 92.1 mph

10. Kole Calhoun -- 91.9 mph

For reference, the overwhelming majority of outfielders are between 75-90 mph, with the Major League average on such throws being 86.2 mph. Three -- Khris Davis, Matt den Dekker and Carlos Beltran -- are at 70 mph or below.

Now, most of the names there make a lot of sense. Gonzalez, Puig and Gomez all ranked in the top 10 last season. Hicks set a Statcast™ record with a 105.5 mph throw to nail Danny Valencia at the plate on April 21, and he has hit triple digits five times over the past two seasons. Marte has a Major League-leading 20 assists over the same time frame. (Sano has yet to record a single one, which says a lot about how accuracy is nearly as important as velocity.)

With sometimes-shortstop Santana also on that list, and Byron Buxton and Eddie Rosario each coming in slightly above average, and Oswaldo Arcia right at average, the Twins have shown baseball's strongest throwing arms early in 2016:

2016 outfield arm strength leaders

1. Twins -- 91.1 mph

2. Astros -- 90.5 mph

3. Rockies -- 89.3 mph

4. Dodgers -- 89.1 mph

5. White Sox -- 88.1 mph 

It's not like Sano having a strong arm is a total surprise, anyway. When he was called up last summer to join the Twins, Bernie Pleskoff provided a detailed scouting report, which included this note about his arm:

"Sano has a very strong arm. In fact, it ranks right behind his power among his most advanced tools. While Sano is still adjusting after surgery, it is likely his arm strength will sustain."

The surgery Pleskoff referred to was the 2014 Tommy John procedure that cost Sano an entire season. While we know all too well by now that Tommy John surgery doesn't guarantee a successful return, it sure doesn't seem like it's affected Sano's arm strength all that much. If he does end up back at third base -- and he's started four games there this year -- it'll be an asset there, too.