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Astros Game Planning: McHugh vs. Sano

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Subber10 breaks down Miguel Sano's hitting tendencies and uses it to develop a game plan for Collin McHugh.

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight is the series opener between the Astros against the Minnesota Twins. Both teams are playoff bound and should be a good matchup against a top team.

But, I want to look deeper into this series, not from just a view point of hot hitters or pitchers and home/away splits. I want to look deeper into the game plan. I want to develop an approach for a starting pitcher versus a key hitter.

Miguel Sano has been a dominant force since being called up and has become an obstacle for many pitchers. He's recently been nursing a hamstring but did pinch hit last night indicating a liklihood that he'll find himself in the lineup against Colin McHugh.

Since Dr. McHugh throws a four-seam, cutter, curve, and a changeup, we are going to focus on how Sano handles those types of pitches and then apply those into a game plan utilizing Effective Velocity, pitch tunneling, and Sano's tendencies.

Note: following data against pitcher's is against RHP only since McHugh is a RHP. I used

Fastball

As with most hitters, fastballs are the most common pitch he's seen and he's crushed them. Nine of his fifteen home runs have come off fastballs and he boasts an astounding .558 ISO against fastballs and a 100 MPH average exit velocity. However, he is aggressive against FB (43% swing%) which leads to a lot of whiffs. He whiffs at 12.5% of fastballs he sees but the more telling stat is that he whiffs 25% of the time he swings. He only puts about 11% of the fastballs he sees into play.

Sano vs FF

Sano will swing at fastballs in the zone and will expand it up, away, and up and in. He'll also go below the zone down and in. This shows that he lacks some discipline and management of the strike zone.

Cutter

Note: McHugh refers to his pitch as a cutter but pitch f/x picks it up as a slider so I used slider data since the system categorizes the pitch as being similar to other sliders.

This is the second most common pitch he sees from RHP. He has had a lot of success against the pitch with a batting average over .300 and an ISO over .300. He puts about 11% in play and if he makes contact, it's probably going to be in play as only 4% are fouled off. That's a big if since he misses 58% of the sliders he swings at.

Sano vs. Sliders

He does well with laying off sliders that are up in the zone and inside. However, he definitely has shown a tendency to follow the slider as it cuts out of the zone down or away.

Curve

Let's see how he might stack up against the McCurve. He's only seen 60 and has just one hit against them. It's been the final pitch in just five at-bats. So, it's not been a pitch used as an out-pitch much. He lays off the pitch a good bit and swings at just 20%. With 61% being called balls, you can't really blame him for taking. He whiffs 33% of the curves he swings at.

Sano vs. Curves

If you look at that 8, 9, and the two below those zones, that's where you can expect McHugh to put a lot. He swings a lot but does a good job of laying off if they dart outside or below. he shows some good discipline since it's tough to handle curves low.

Changeup

Given that he's a RHH, he doesn't see many changeups from RHP...just 36. He has one hit off one from from a RHH and it went yard. But, he's whiffs at 56% of them that he swings at. That could be important.

Sano vs. Changups

He shows three zones of poor discipline outside of the zone (small sample) and aggressiveness in the zone since he's swung at all of them. But, remember the whiff% on his swings.

Developing the Plan

The biggest key that I can point out for his swing tendency as a position to exploit is the high fastball. Out of 32 fastballs directly above the zone, he swung at eight. So, 25% of the time he'll swing and he has yet to get a hit off of one.

Sano BA vs FF

And notice, no hits in the 1, 2, or 3, zones either. He swung at 37 of 46 pitches in those zones, but no hits. That indicates a weakness high on fastballs. The chart for curves and batting average shows that his only hit on the curve is from the 9 zone. It's a dangerous area but if you can effectively pitch high in the zone with the fastball and low with the curve, you can protect each pitch via pitch tunneling. Expect for this to be something McHugh to take advantage of.

McHugh has only used the changeup one percent of the time against RHH so it's unlikely he'll use it even though Sano does whiff a lot on them. It's going to come down to the fastball (34%), the curve (25%), and the cutter/slider (38%).

So, we know the curve is likely to be utilized a lot low in the zone given that Sano is a strong candidate to use the high fastball with. But, the slider/cutter is the most used pitch for McHugh against a RHH.

Sano BA vs SL/FC

There's a lot of red in the 4, 5, 6, 8, and 9 zones. He can hit well there. That pitch slows down in 6, 8, and 9 zones so to be able to pitch well there, he'll have to find a way to make it a large change in perceived velocity from the previous pitch. No matter where the location is, a curve will be fine. McHugh's curve is around 74 MPH and anywhere he thows it will either be a no change or a drop in velocity making it perceived as slower. The slider/cutter averages 87, with the most change in velocity he'll have is about 3-4 MPH less, an 83 MPH pitch is 9 MPH faster in perceived velocity.

The issue will come from the fastball. The fastball averages around 91-92 making it more difficult to find that separation. He needs a minimum of 3 MPH perceived differences to avoid hard hit balls. At 87 MHP for a neutral slider/cutter, he'll have to keep the fastball high to be at least 4 MPH faster. If he does throw a fastball in the 3, 5, or 7 zones, a following slider will almost have to be either out of the zone which should lead to weak contact or be in the 9 zone to be perceived at 85 MPH. If the fastball is in the 6 of 8, you're looking at a slider out of the zone to be safe or following up with a fastball high where Sano is weak.

There is one other wrinkle that McHugh could possible attempt. Look at the 1, 2, and 3 zones for his swings on the slider. Eight pitches with no offering at them. Given that McHugh's pitch is a cutter, he could target that area since Sano could potentially let it go. That's one way to take advantage of a tendency that is unexpected and give the hitter one extra thing to think about.