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.