Food for thought: Cano’s on-base skills

Rounding Up The Trade Rumors
Saying the Right Thing, Part 2

One way to define an outlier is one observation that deviates in a notable manner from the other observations in a sample. Here’s a graph of Robinson Cano‘s on-base percentage throughout his career graphed alongside league average on-base percentage. See if you can spot the outlier(s):

The league average sits right below .350 in this sample. For Cano, the outliers here appear to be 2008, a year in which he posted a typically low walk rate and an abnormally low BABIP, and last year, a year in which he doubled his career walk rate and posted a relatively normal BABIP by his standards. To cut down on the effect BABIP can have on on-base percentage, here’s a graph over time of his walk rate. Again, see if you can spot the outlier(s):

This one’s even easier to pick out: the outlier is 2010. Unfortunately, the purple line here is league average walk rate and the green line is Cano’s walk rate. As mentioned above, Cano doubled his walk rate last year en route to a .319/.381/.534 line. At the time it looked like a big step forward for a young developing player entering his prime. This year it’s right back where it always has been, below 5%.

Many times it’s common to hear fans or announcers get frustrated with pitchers who can’t throw strikes and struggle with command. “Just throw strikes” is a common refrain, as if control and command were mere switches one simply flips on or off depending on concentration. For some this may be the case, for others it’s a question of ability. Certain pitchers, for whatever reason, aren’t good (by MLB standards) at directing the ball where they want it to go.

It’s similar with batters, and with Robinson Cano. Pitch recognition and plate discipline are things that one can get better at, true. Kevin Long seemed to attempt to infuse Cano with plate discipline earlier in the year by instructing him to stop swinging at the first pitch, advice which Cano disregarded. This is a frustrating state of affairs, but perhaps some of the frustration can be ameliorated by simply accepting that Robinson Cano isn’t very good at showing discipline at the plate.

Cano is 28 years old and he’ll turn 29 this October. A 5% walk rate is the norm for Cano at this point in his career; the 8.2% mark in 2010 appears to be the outlier. Barring him developing new skills, it appears that Cano’s on-base percentage will fluctuate between .330 and .380 as his BABIP fluctuates. It sure would be nice if he would develop some patience to complement his incredible power; it likely make him the best second baseman in the game. Yet it doesn’t seem likely to happen and that’s a shame, because it does represent a hole in his game. But hey, there are worse things in the world than having Robinson Cano as your second baseman, walk rate and all.

Rounding Up The Trade Rumors
Saying the Right Thing, Part 2
  • Mike HC

    This is boring, obvious analysis. More “whimsy” please.

    /weekend writers can’t win

  • Mike R. – Retire 21

    This the least funny post ever. I don’t even get it.

    /weekend writer’d

  • Matt Imbrogno

    His plate discipline seems so odd at some points. There are times when he does the ridiculously passive take on pitches he should destroy, then he’ll swing at something way off the plate in a favorable count. Rage.

  • Mike

    Much better post!

  • Kosmo

    Last time I looked he was the best 2nd baseman in the game.
    Cano usually dials it up a notch in June and July .

    • Mike Axisa

      Last year was the opposite. Up in April and May, down the rest of the way (except the playoffs).

      • MikeD

        That’s an interesting point. In every year of his career, he’s had one half of a season that’s been stronger than the other, most cases substantially stronger. It’s always been the second half, except last year when it was the first half. His OPS is 100 pts. higher the second half (and that’s even with last year’s reverse split).

        My bet is he has an excellent second half. We might be seeing evidence of it already. His strong finishes ususally start in June, and he has been hitting much better lately, raising his BA from the .270s to the .290s.

  • themgmt

    This is misleading in that you are taking a limited sample size for this season and using it to show a much larger sample is an outlier. He could finish this season with a similar walk rate as last year and 2010 would be indicative of a transitional point.

    And the poster a few points up made a good point, Cano seems overly aggressive in 2-0, 3-1 counts, expecting a cookie. I’m willing to believe this is more psychological than disciplinary.

    • Steve H

      For him to end the season with an 8.2% BB rate he’d have to have a 10.6% BB rate over his next 400 or so PA’s. I highly doubt that’ll happen.

    • Stephen Rhoads

      Im actually not taking a limited sample size for anything, Im giving you every available plate appearance in Robinson Cano’s major league career. And right now his 5% walk rate in 3300 plate appearances in every year but 2010 is a better bet to be indicative of his true talent level than his ~700 plate appearances in 2010.

      • themgmt

        Right. But you’re using last year’s sample size vs this year’s sample size to say 2010 was an outlier instead of the beginning of a trend. If his walk rate this year ends up at say 7%.. you have a totally different story where his last two years of data say his walk rate has sustained a change.

  • Steve H

    Amazingly enough Cano’s 138 wRC+ is just slightly off last year’s 142 wRC+ (maybe this is actually the year of the pitcher). I’d have to agree that last year might be his peak walk rate, but I’d hope that he’ll still develop a little more patience as he ages (and loses bat speed) to swing at better pitches.

    • Kosmo

      Career wise Cano´s OBP usually takes a jump in June ,in May it´s usually low.

    • MikeD

      Taking a look at OPS+ (granted, not the single best stat), which does provide for league context comparison, he’s at 131, the second highest of his career. Last year’s 141 was his peak. Hitting overall is down, so his stats aren’t as off as we may believe. He’s still having another solid year, and my guess is the best is yet to come this season.

      Still concerned about his continuing lapses in the field this year.

      • Joe Pawlikowski

        wRC+ is on the same scale as OPS+, but it’s better.

  • Matt Imbrogno

    He’s so BA dependent for his OBP, but I wonder if, as he ages, Cano’s discipline and OBP will improve out of necessity. Perhaps as his BA skill declines, he turns into more of a power hitter and pitchers start pitching around him more and he wises up and finally takes his walks.

    • Matt Imbrogno

      BTW, this is horribly pollyanna-ish.

      • bexarama

        You hineyclown.

  • nunez fan

    Can you write about Nunez next?

  • Bucket Cock

    Wait wait wait- is that bad?

    • Rainbow Connection

      I have idea what any of these people are talking about.
      What the fuck is wRC+???

      • Bucket Cock

        Dude, samesies.

  • Bucket Cock

    Isn’t it possible that Cano is just a real good hitter? I feel like we’re leaving that out here….just my two sense.

    • JohnnyC

      Sometimes a cigar is…just a cigar.

  • Zack

    FWIW: He had 14 of them, which was 24% of his season total, without those he had a 6.2 BB%. That seems less of an outlier than the 8.2%

    • Zack

      14 intentionl walks*

  • Tamir

    What happened to Joe

  • Xstar7

    I blame the weekend writers for Cano’s poor plate discipline this year.

  • Yardisiak

    The reason Robbie’s walks are so frustrating is because his inability to take walks is the only thing that stops him from being a great player.

    The one positive about this year is his rising bb% by month;
    April – 2.9%
    May – 4.2%
    June – 8.7%
    Maybe he has begun to give in to talking some walks or maybe as Stephen suggests he is the same old hacker and 2010 was an outliner. I am hoping for the former.

    • Kosmo

      Cano IS a great player. Yogi Berra never liked to walk .His career OBP is very close to Cano´s. Mattingly didn´t walk much either.
      BoB do not necessarily make a great player.

      • Urban

        A player certainy can be great with lower walk rates, but he’ll need to compensate in other areas. DiMaggio is a perfect example. Lower walk rate, but more than compensated for it with great power, high BA, and exceptional fielding.

        My impression about Mattingly (which is similar to Jeter) is both are aggressive through the zone, looking to hit their pitch. I never had the impression watching Mattingly that I have with Cano, which is that Cano will wildly expand the zone. Mattingly and Cano are similar in that when they swing they make very good contact. Many hitters swinging out of the zone might miss the pitch, where they put the bat on the ball in play.

        Jeter (classic Jeter, not what we have now) I believe has good command of the strikezone, but he’s aggressive. We will see him go through periods where he’ll take a lot of walks, and others when he won’t. He walked more than 90 times one season early in his career, but his walk rate dropped after that because I believe pitchers are more likely to attack Jeter and make him earn his way on because a lot of power sat behind him. Also, Jeter walks about 60 times a season. We’d be happy if Cano could do that. There’s a wide gap between guys who walk 30 times a season and 100 times, and Jeter/Mattingly fit in that area.

        Berra was before my time. He certainly had a reputation for being a bad-ball hitter, but he clearly didn’t swing at everything. His lifetime OBP is about .350, and he also reguarly walked around 60 times a season. Would love to see video of Berra batting. Not much exists.

        • Kosmo

          Mattingly averaged 40-50 walks per season just as Berra did.
          Jeter also strikes out easily 3 times as much as either Berra or Mattingly ever did.No way Jeter and Mattingly can be compared.
          Last time I looked Cano was a .308 lifetime hitter.

    • The BIG 3

      The reason Robbie’s walks are so frustrating is because his inability to take walks is the only thing that stops him from being a great player.

      No, no, no, one million times NO. His crappy defense is what stops him from being a very good player.

  • Kevin Ocala, Fl

    I understand what the stats say on the data that can be observed. What I wonder is this: is the player injured, pressing because of other teammates having off years, problems at home, worries of future contracts, etc? It’s tricky to tease out cause and effect, maybe impossible. Players over the course of a hundred plus years of baseball history sometimes find “IT” in their 30’s (pre-steroids) and it can’t be that all attributed to them having “outlier years”. Maybe there is a “qi” that they tap into, almost mystical, that can’t be explained by the most accomplished of statisticians. I’m not sayin’ that I necessarily believe in mysticism, but who knows?

  • first time lawng time

    Cano needs to get that avg up. Sub .300 is not attractive.

  • The BIG 3

    What is this?

    Why whine about Cano’s .346 OPS, which goes along with his league best ISO (.229), when his often lackadaisical approach to defense is the real bugaboo?

    Cano could be baseball’s best 2nd baseman if he would cut that shit out (yes, Cano, we know you can do better; There’s last year). But because he hasn’t yet, he’s not even top 5.