All those extra swings not helping Cano

2011 Draft Review: Part Two
Joba diagnosed with torn ligament, TJS likely

It’s something we all noticed at the start of the season, but Mike laid out the numbers last month: Robinson Cano is swinging at a ton of pitches this year. Yes, he’s always swung a lot, and has never been one to take many walks. Even his career high mark in 2011 was at least in part due to the 11 intentional walks pitchers issued him. But since then it seems as though, at least sometimes, he’s taking more pitches. Maybe that heart to hear with Kevin Long did pay dividends. Alas, checking back in on the data, nothing much has changed. Cano is still swinging at more pitches than ever, and it’s affecting his game in nearly every way.

Cano’s greatest asset has always been his ability to hit the ball hard. Pitchers can throw him anything they want, but eventually he’s going to hit it on the nose, and that’s going to make things happen. This year, however, he’s been swinging so frequently that pitchers have been able to exploit this tendency. His swinging strike rate of 7.3% is the highest of his career, and is higher than his 2010 mark by more than a half point. The rate is understandable, because he’s swinging in general more than ever: 56.7% of the 772 pitches thrown to him. That has led to the additional swinging strikes, which leads to his career high 15.4% strikeout rate. It also leads to shorter at-bats. Cano has seen just 3.15 pitches per PA this year, the same rate he had when Mike wrote about the issue last month.

The extra swings have also had a seeming effect on his BABIP. His balls in play rate is exactly on par with last year, 75 percent, but far fewer of them are dropping in for hits. That is, his .273 BABIP is miles off his .319 career mark, and even further off his 2009-2010 average of .325. The automatic reaction here is normally bad luck, and to an extend that’s true. The league average BABIP on line drives is .713, while Cano’s is .649. Of course, the difference there isn’t even a matter of a single hit; one more line drive dropping in would have raised Cano’s BABIP on liners to .737, or above the league average. The difference has been on flies and grounders, which makes it tougher to remove the luck factor. That is, weak grounders are necessarily going to produce a lower BABIP. Last year Cano had a .269 BABIP on grounders, while this year that’s just .186. They might be hard shots that found fielders, but the eyeball test sees more weak ones that make for easy outs. That would signal poor contact, more than poor luck, depressing Cano’s numbers.

That’s not to say Cano always makes poor contact. In fact, his ISO is up a bit this year thanks to a greater percentage of his hits going for extra bases. Clearly, a hitter with his skill is going to run into a few. In fact, Cano’s extra base hits to hits percentage — that is, the percentage of his hits that have gone for extra bases — is 42 percent this year, which is seven points higher than his career total and five points higher than his averages from 2009 to 2010. Could Cano actually be getting lucky in this regard? I’m not sure how much luck and how much skill goes into that, but given his swing profiles this year, it has to be at least somewhat lucky that the balls he is hitting well he’s hitting really well. That’s just spitballing, though, to be clear. The overall point is that Robbie has hit some balls tremendously hard this year, and yet his overall numbers are still down.

If Cano’s swing numbers all lined up and his BABIP were way down, I’d be inclined to write it off as luck and move onto the next topic. But it’s tough to ignore how much more frequently he’s swinging at pitches. It is leading to poorer at-bats and deflated numbers. I’m not sure there’s much of a cure; for some guys it’s tough to consciously change when you’re standing at the plate and a 95 mph fastball is headed in your direction. But if the process doesn’t change, it’s hard to see the results changing. We’re past the 1/3 point in the season, and there has been little positive movement in this regard for Cano. There’s still a chance for a turnaround, but it’s becoming less likely with each day. That doesn’t make Cano an unproductive hitter — he is tied for 3rd in wOBA among second basemen — but does mean he’s not producing to his potential.

2011 Draft Review: Part Two
Joba diagnosed with torn ligament, TJS likely
  • S

    By other people’s standards he is doing ok, by the standards he has set…what we expect from him, Cano has been a disappointment this year and he has been unproductive.

    He Cano is easily my favorite player, but whatever the hell he’s been doing, K-long needs to beat these bad habits out of Robbie with a steel bat.

    (I will admit the last few games he has started looking more like the Robbie of 09-10 rather than ’08 but its still not enough)

    • S

      When I meant looking like 09-10 I meant he was seeing more pitches the last few days

  • Jericho Spade

    Kevin Long sat him down last month… but unfortunately, Robbie did not listen.

  • Tim

    This seems like an awful lot of conjecture to me. By all accounts, Cano is hitting the ball with authority based on his elevated power numbers. I understand that he is seeing fewer pitches per PA, but that concerns me less that other stats like ISO, which is plenty good for Robbie.

    Maybe the real problem is the fact that Yankees 6th place hitters are hitting .197 with a .603 OPS this year, vs. last year’s .261 and .795 marks. The depth of the Yankee line-up has been much poorer this year with the slow start by Swisher, Posada’s disappearing act, and Russell Martin’s regression in May and June. Perhaps Robbie’s line will spruce up a bit if the guys behind him start hitting a little.

    • S

      Power is nice but if your not hitting well overall it doesn’t help the team. The fact is he isn’t hitting the ball as much or as well as he should be and is swinging at more crap than he ever has and is striking out far more than he ever has.

      • Tim

        About the only thing you said in this post that is accurate is that he is striking out more. Which is interesting, since at bats that end in a strike out tend to require more pitches seen than those that don’t.

        If you don’t think Cano is “hitting well overall”, then you either have unrealistic expectations or haven’t been watching the games. He has the second highest OPS in all of baseball for second-basemen. He’s hitting for more power this year than in the past (countering your comment that he isn’t hitting the ball “as well”).

        I would much rather have a guy with Cano’s stats right now than a guy hitting .310 with Jeterian power numbers. He’s never going to be a high OBP guy, so we just need to stop hoping for that to happen when clearly it is not. There are plenty of guys in the HOF that weren’t high OBP guys, guys that swung aggressively every time up. Few players in the game hit the ball as hard as Cano on a consistent basis. He’s doing that again this year. Once a few more of those screamers fall in, those numbers that we all get so worked up about for no reason will start to look a little more appetizing.

        • nycsportzfan

          You notice how often were leaving guys on base, in situations where we have a guy on say 2nd with no outs and our 3,4 and 5 hitters coming up? These guys must hit, this yr more then ever, because of our pitching issues, and when your best hitters hitting 273 or whatever, its not a good thing.. Great, the guy who plays every single day and has a TON Of at bats has 12homers and 40ribbys or whatever, but in reality, hes gotta hit better, and that will get AROD more pitches to hit, and with him on base more and in scoring positon alittle more it gives guys like Swisher better pitches to hit, and with Jeter well past his prime and Gardner only being a “OK” type player, we really gotta depend on CANO, whos in his prime, and should be puttting up 290-320 seasons in his sleep.. He must start hitting better, and it will help some key players in our lineup when he does..

  • Monteroisdinero

    Cano’s swing-happy approach only bothers me when he does it in game situations that a SMART baseball player shouldn’t do.

    Leading off a 6th inning down 8-5 is not the time to swing for the fences on a curve that misses your bat by 12 inches.

    Up 8-5 or in a tie game or down by 1 I’m ok with his approach but his lack of a “situational approach” is frustrating.

  • Joe J

    hes the least of our problems…. seasons over no starter other than cc and colon are decent and the bullpen they were supposed to haveis all crap or DL were fuct…

    • nycsportzfan

      hes not the least of our problems. We need cano more then ever, and hes one of our best “HITTERS”, a problem that has plaqued us this yr, is not being able to get “HITS”, and cano is a huge part of that problem, he should never be below 290, and we need him to be smarter at the plate, and pick up the slack for guys like Gardner and JEter, who are our other hitters, who are having down seasons.. Cano should be the one we never have to worry about, but he continues to TEASE more then be a consistent force.. Hes trying to pull everything this yr, instead of go to LEFT/CENTER and between Short and 3rd… It shows, and hes gotta pick it up with the bat, and get more hits, not just HR”s and power numbers, we need him to be getting hits…

  • Tamir

    Why talk about robbie like that. He’s in my opinion the 3rd best hitter in the American League (J.Bautista,M.Cabrera).