“I just told Kevin [Long] I’m just going to keep swinging. I’m not going to take pitches or anything like that … I’m just going to go up there and do my thing.”
That’s what Robinson Cano told Kim Jones on the field immediately after last night’s game ended, referring to his 15th inning at-bat that resulted in a two-run, go-ahead double on Mike Gonzalez’s first pitch of the game, a 95 mph fastball left right out over the plate. Cano’s been doing a whole lot of swinging at the first pitch this season, with 38 of his 169 plate appearances (22.5%) resulting in a first pitch ball in play. Last year that number was 15.5%, for some perspective.
Robbie’s never been a patient hitter, but last season he saw a career high 3.47 pitches per plate appearance en route to a career high in just about every offensive category, including unintentional walk rate and OBP. This year he’s seen just 3.16 (!!!) pitches per plate appearance, which ranks 191st out of 192 qualified batters. Orlando Cabrera (2.96 P/PA) is the only one worse. Cano’s career worst was 3.05 pitches per plate appearance back in 2005, his rookie year, and he was never lower than 3.35 P/PA from 2007 through 2010. That isn’t that good either (would rank 184th out of 192 this season), but it’s better than what he’s done this year.
Jack Curry reported on Tuesday that Long had a “heart to heart” talk with Robinson on Monday about being more selective at the plate, primarily because pitchers just aren’t throwing him many strikes. Just 41.6% of the pitches he’s seen this year have been in the strike zone, the 21st fewest among those 192 qualified batters and the fewest of Cano’s career. Last year just 43% of the pitches he saw were in the zone, but the difference is that he’s hacked at 41.7% of the pitches he’s seen out of the zone in 2011 compared 36.5% last year and 32.6% for his career. Only seven batters have swung at more pitches out of the zone this season. Since the talk with Long, Cano has seen a total of 35 pitches in 14 plate appearances, or 2.5 per.
Robinson is never going to draw a ton of walks or be an elite OBP guy (last year’s .385 mark was fueled by .319 AVG and 11 intentional walks), but his discipline has cratered to levels usually reserved for the hackiest of hacks. That he’s still hitting .287/.325/.522 is a testament to his ability to make hard contact and get the bat on the ball wherever it’s pitched. But this kind of extreme plate indiscipline only works so much, the league is already aware that Cano’s swinging at so many pitches out of the zone and is only going to keep more and more pitches off the plate. Matt Wieters set up off away and off the plate in that 15th inning at-bat last night, Gonzalez just missed his spot and gave Robbie something to hit. It wasn’t by design.
As I harp on Cano’s plate discipline, I just make sure it’s clear that I’m not doing so because I want to see him walk more. That would be nice, don’t get me wrong, but the ultimate goal behind working the count is to get a good pitch to hit. It seems like Robinson needs to be reminded that just because a pitch is in the zone, it doesn’t mean it’s worth swinging at. He’s swinging at the first pitch essentially 25% of the time, and is the best pitch to hit the first one in one out of every four trips to the plate? I dunno, maybe it is, but it doesn’t seem likely, not when they’re only throwing him a strike on four out of every ten pitches. Swinging at so many pitches out of the zone, especially early in the count, just puts the pitcher in control.