The slump that holds back Cano

Any excuse to reuse this photo. (Jeff Gross/Getty)

It was inevitable that Robinson Cano would disappoint on some level this season. In 2010 he put together a career year, hitting .319/.381/.534. That included a career high walk rate and career high ISO, which left us with a hope that this was the new Cano — the No. 3 hitter that we all envisioned when he debuted his sweet swing in 2005. In that way, 2011 has fallen below those lofty expectations. His wOBA is down 20 points and his walk rate is down to right around his career mark. The only thing he’s retained is his power. Yet that doesn’t tell the whole story. Seasons go in phases, and Cano appears to be hitting his stride. In fact, he’s been hitting it for a few months now.

Cano started off the season impressively, hitting .320/.340/.639 in April. His walk rate was clearly low — he walked only three times in April, once on Opening Day and twice in one game on the 27th — but everything else seemed to be working. If he just laid off a few more bad pitches he could have been well on his way to another star-level season. But that lack of discipline soon came back to haunt him.

The team traveled to Detroit on May 3rd, and that’s when Cano’s slump began. For the next 34 games he hit .237/.294/.405 in 143 PA. He walked in just 4.2 percent of his plate appearances, and the lack of discipline apparently led to poor contact. His BABIP of .245 was far out of line with his established level. The slump might have drawn more comparisons to 2008 had Cano not continued to hit for power. In those 143 PA he still had 12 extra base hits, a .168 ISO.

Cano eventually broke out of the slump once Boston left town. Cleveland was next on the circuit, and Cano opened that series with a 3 for 4 performance that included an unintentional walk. That was on June 10th. Since then he has come to the plate 228 times and has hit .320/.377/.510, which is close to his 2010 production. The only difference is in the power department, where his .190 ISO since June 10th is a tick below his marks from the previous two years (.199 and .214).

The above, of course, merely dices Cano’s season into convenient segments. All players streak and slump, and Cano is no different. What we can see, though, is that his mid-season slump has really dragged down his numbers. If you look through his 2010 game logs you won’t see any slump that severe or that long. It’s one major reason why he put together an MVP-worthy season. Without any prolonged slumps he was able to produce from start to finish and remain a prominent part of the conversation.

This year Cano has experienced a prolonged slump, which make his overall numbers look a bit worse. Combined with his refusal to take a pitch in April, it has led to a below expectations season to date. But it does appear something clicked in June, and since then he’s back to producing elite numbers. He probably won’t get his numbers back up to 2010 levels, but that’s not what’s important to the Yankees right now. As long as he hits at those 2010 levels the rest of the way, the offense will continue to steamroll opponents.

Series Preview: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Can't read my, can't read my, no you can't read Mike Scioscia face.

It’s only early-August, but this is probably the Yankees’ most important series of the season (to date). The Angels are their primary competition for the AL wildcard at the moment, and this series will give them a chance to really bury them in the race for a playoff berth. These two clubs have played one other series this year, with the Yanks taking two of three in Anaheim back in May.

What Have The Angels Done Lately?

We’re focused on the Angels as a wildcard threat, but they’re only one game back of the Rangers for the AL West lead. I’m sure that’s what they’re focusing on. The Halos have won three of their last four games and eight of twelve as they’ve trimmed their deficit in the division from four games to one already this month. They did just win a series against the punchless Mariners, though they only scored four runs in the three games. Overall, the Angels are 63-52 with a +22 run differential.

Angels On Offense

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Keith Allison via Creative Commons license)

Despite all the big names on their roster, the Angels have the fourth worst team wOBA (.308) in the AL this season. Their best offensive player pretty much all season has been Howie Kendrick, a .302/.359/.446 hitter that hasn’t hit for much power since a big April (.100 ISO since May 1st with just two homers). Rookie masher Mark Trumbo took over for the injured Kendrys Morales at first and he leads the club with 22 homers, but he’s a hacker (4.7% walk rate) and can be pitched too. Just don’t make a mistake in the zone, he’s a bomb threat.

The big three – Bobby Abreu, Torii Hunter, and Vernon Wells – are sporting .326, .313, and .277 wOBA’s, respectively. Abreu, unsurprisingly, is the team’s best on-base threat with a 15.0% walk rate and .367 OBP. His power is all but gone at age 37 though (.089 ISO). Wells is the exact opposite, he’s all power (.171 ISO) with no on base ability (4.2% walk rate). Hunter’s pretty much right in the middle, with a .149 ISO and an 8.9% walk rate. Kinda funny how that works. The Angels have a really awesome rookie center fielder, but it’s not Mike Trout (he was shipped back to the minors about a week ago), it’s Peter Bourjos. His game is all speed, he’ll steal bases (15-for-19 this year) and most of his extra base hits are hustle doubles and triples. Bourjos is also a Brett Gardner-level defender in center as well, the kid’s highlights page is outfield defense porn.

The rest of the offense is fairly unspectacular. You’ve got Maicer Izturis (.316 wOBA), Erick Aybar (.320), Alberto Callaspo (.327), Russ Branyan (.258), utility infielder Andrew Romine (one hit in seven plate appearances so far, and yes he is Austin’s brother) and the catching duo of Jeff Mathis (.212) and Bobby Wilson (.226). I assume Mike Scioscia is unaware of Branyan’s Yankee Stadium exploits and will have him on the bench like he has most of the season. The Halos will steal bases as usual; Bourjos, Kendrick, Aybar, and Abreu all have 10+ steals, and Wells, Trumbo, and Izturis are closing in on double-digits.

Angels On The Mound

Tuesday, RHP Dan Haren (vs. A.J. Burnett): It’s kinda hard to believe that after all these years, Haren is just now having the best season of his career. His 2.72 FIP, 1.27 BB/9, and 0.58 HR/9 are all career bests, though his strikeout rate (7.27 K/9) has predictably dropped with the shift back to the AL. Haren’s a four fastball guy, he throws a straight four-seamer in the high-80’s about 13% of the time, a mid-80’s cutter more than 48% of the time, a low-90’s two-seamer about 18% of the time, and a strikeout splitter in the mid-80’s about 9% of the time. A high-80’s curve and mid-80’s changeup round out his repertoire. Haren will pound the zone, so the Yankees will have to be aggressive and jump on the first hittable pitch they see. They haven’t faced him since the series in Arizona last season.

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Keith Allison via Creative Commons license)

Wednesday, LHP Hisanori Takahashi (vs. Ivan Nova): Takahashi is going to make his first start of the season this series because Joel Pineiro was so bad that the Angels had to pull him from the rotation (5.31 ERA and 4.59 FIP). Takahashi says he’s good for 100 pitches on Wednesday, but he hasn’t thrown more than 43 pitches in a game since last July. We’ll see.

Anyway, Yankees fans surely remember Takahashi for the two six-inning, no run starts he made against them with the Mets last season. He’s a pure finesse pitcher, throwing a high-80’s fastball, low-80’s changeup, and high-70’s curveball with a show-me slider. The southpaw misses a ton of bats (10.6% whiffs career) and has a reverse split this year, but he’s homerun prone (1.12 HR/9 in a pitcher’s park) and will hurt himself with walks (3.54 BB/9). Hopefully the Yankees remember what they saw out of Takahashi last season and go to town.

Thursday, RHP Tyler Chatwood (vs. Bartolo Colon): Thank you Carlos Guillen. This was supposed to be Jered Weaver’s start, but he’s serving a six-game suspension for throwing over Alex Avila’s head one batter after Guillen took him deep and pimped the trot. Instead the Yankees will face the rookie right-hander Chatwood, who has been in over his head pretty much all the season. The 21-year-old had more walks that strikeouts up until three starts ago, but he still misses next to no bats (4.6% swings and misses) and has a huge platoon split. Chatwood throws both his four and two-seamer in the 91-93 range, setting up his high-80’s curve and the occasional changeup. I know the Yankees seem to struggle against pitchers they’ve never faced, but there’s no real mystery here, he’s a fastball-curve guy that will shoot himself in the foot with ball four untilScioscia yanks him from the game.

Bullpen: It’s a sneaky good bullpen, led by rookie closer Jordan Walden. He’s getting his walk issues under control as the season progresses (3.60 BB/9), plus his strikeout (9.60 K/9) and ground ball (47.9%) rates are excellent. Setup men Fernando Rodney (4.01 FIP) and Scott Downs (3.17 FIP) are solid and stellar, respectively. Right-hander Rich Thompson (9.90 K/9 and 3.38 BB/9) is their David Robertson, though maybe the 2009 version and not the 2011 version. Bobby Cassevah (4.54 FIP in limited action), Horacio Ramirez (7.26 FIP in very limited action), and Pineiro round out the bullpen. Yes, it’s that Horacio Ramirez.

Recommended Angels Reading: True Grich. Here’s some ticket info, courtesy of RAB Tickets and TiqIQ.

Russell Martin’s Adjustment

(AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

The month of April is simultaneously great and terrible for baseball fans. It’s great because hey, meaningful baseball is back, but it’s terrible because there is so much noise. Some guys look like MVP candidates while others completely cooked in the first few weeks of the season, but there’s just not enough data to support either argument. Take Brett Gardner. He got off to a brutal start in April (.188/.273/.391) but bounced back and has hit .304/.380/.408 since the calendar flipped to May.

Russell Martin was on the other end of the spectrum. He came out of the gate like a mad man, clubbing six homers in the team’s first 17 games and looking like a $4M free agent bargain. His season has gone south since (.205/.306/.309 in the last 96 team games), though he has shown some signs of life since the All-Star break (.254/.325/.380) and since the start of that ten-game homestand two weeks ago (.283/.333/.457). But still, there’s no denying that Martin has struggled offensively basically all season, and what do struggling hitters do? They go to the hitting coach.

Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long has done many great things over the years, none more spectacular than transforming Curtis Granderson from a platoon outfielder into an MVP candidate. Grandy’s transformation has keyed us into some of Long’s techniques, and perhaps his biggest calling card is the two-handed follow through. We’ve seen Granderson use it, Mark Teixeira use it, and even Gardner for a while. Martin, in case you haven’t noticed, is now employing that same finish on his swing.

Through the magic of, I was able to go back and find when the transition from a one-handed follow through to a two-handed follow through occurred. The screen cap below shows two games: the clip on the left is Martin’s second-to-last at-bat on June 1st against the Athletics in Oakland (he struck out in his final at-bat that game and I want to see his follow through when he made contact), and the clip on the right is his first at-bat on June 3rd against the Angels…

Russ followed through with one hand against the A’s, then two days later it was two hands. The Yankees finished their series in Oakland on the 1st, were off on the 2nd, then played in Anaheim on the 3rd. You can connect the dots and see that it’s likely Martin and Long got together and made the adjustment during the off day. Here’s video of his last homerun before the switch, which came about a week earlier on May 24th, and here’s video of the single that came from that first at-bat in Anaheim. If you want to go back even further, here’s his first homer of the season and here’s his most recent. We’ll never know with any certainty, but it certainly seems like the adjustment was made during that west coast trip.

So that’s great, Martin’s using a two-handed follow through nowadays and he’s making an effort to improve his performance. But is it working? Eh, not really. He hit .242/.352/.458 in 179 plate appearances before the change and has hit just .213/.294/.307 in 170 PA since. If you want to remove the scorching hot start, it’s a .192/.322/.313 batting line in the 118 PA immediately prior to the change. It doesn’t look like the two-handed follow through has done anything, but those are output stats. They’re just results subject to things like defense and wind and whatnot. We’ve got to look at the process.

If you take a look at the spray charts (one-handed follow through, two-handed follow through), you’ll notice two things. One, there aren’t nearly as many balls hit to (moderately) deep left field after the adjustment as there are before, and there’s also way more ground balls (specifically to the left side) since the change. You can see the spike in Martin’s ground ball rate in his day-by-day batted ball profile…

Based on what Long has said when being asked about Granderson’s adjustments, a two-handed follow through allows the hitter to keep the bat in the hitting zone a little bit longer, which theoretically should lead to more contact. Martin’s strikeout rate went from 16.2% before the change to 14.7% after, a small but not negligible difference. You can probably make the case that a few more strikeouts wouldn’t be the worst thing given the increased ground ball rate, just to avoid some potential double plays.

Anyway, I don’t really know where I’m going with this. I just think it’s interesting to see another batter adopt the two-handed follow through, which is clearly K-Long’s doing. It didn’t work for Gardner and the early returns suggest it isn’t working for Martin, but I don’t think it was ever intended to be some kind of cure-all. Every player is different, which is why it doesn’t work for everyone like it worked for Granderson, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying.

The Upcoming Rotation

Photo Credit: Frank Franklin II, AP

Part of the problem with having a six-man rotation and an off day and using a starter in relief is that we don’t really know who’s pitching when. The Yankees announced on Monday that A.J. Burnett will open their series against the Angels on Tuesday, and will be followed by Ivan Nova on Wednesday and Bartolo Colon on Thursday. That’s the same three guys they ran out there against the White and Red Sox late last week, so they didn’t do any serious rearranging.

Despite throwing just 13 pitches (including four intentional balls), Phil Hughes‘ relief appearance against the Red Sox on Sunday was enough to eliminate him from his scheduled Tuesday start, which is unsurprising. There’s really no reason to push it with the guy after he spent roughly three months on the DL with some kind of shoulder issue. Who knows how many warm-up pitches he threw in the bullpen. I’m guessing he’ll start at some point next weekend against the Rays, or at least I hope so. I’m not sure I could handle another 25-year-old starter being banished to a relief role because “his stuff plays up in the bullpen.”

CC Sabathia is getting an extra day of rest, starting on Friday instead of Thursday. The whole point of sticking with the six-man rotation is to give him bit of a breather here and there, and one extra day at a time is pretty much the best way to go about it. There is such a thing as too much rest for a starting pitcher, and the last thing the Yankees need to do is knock Sabathia out of his rhythm this late in the season. I assume Freddy Garcia will start on Saturday, putting Hughes on track for Sunday. We might see him in relief on Tuesday or Wednesday in that case. Ugh.

As I wrote yesterday, the Yankees are hamstrung by what amounts to a pair of dead roster spots: the 13th pitcher (seems to be Luis Ayala at this point), and Jorge Posada. It’s not the end of the world but it’s not ideal either, though it looks like they’re going to stick with it for the next few weeks. The position players will get their rest in September, but now’s the best time to take the foot off the starting rotation gas because you’d like to get them lined back up and working on the regular schedule in mid-to-late-September. For now, Sabathia gets an extra day this week and I’m sure we’ll see the other guys get an extra day in the coming weeks.

Gamel keeps hitting in Staten Island loss

Gary Sanchez and Mason Williams were named the Offensive Player of the Week for the Low-A South Atlantic League and Short Season NY-Penn League, respectively. So congrats to them. Mark Newman said there’s a chance Austin Romine will return from his back strain in “about a week,” but it’s hardly set in stone. Angelo Gumbs, meanwhile, is away from Short Season Staten Island because of a personal issue, so hopefully everything’s okay.

Triple-A Scranton (3-1 loss to Gwinnett)
Kevin Russo, 2B: 0 for 4, 1 BB, 2 K
Chris Dickerson, LF: 1 for 5, 1 R, 2 K, 1 SB, 1 CS
Jesus Montero, C: 0 for 5, 1 K – he did hit a ball to the warning track, so that’s a plus … UPDATE: it was two balls to the track, actually
Jorge Vazquez, 1B: 1 for 4, 1 K
Mike Lamb, DH: 3 for 4, 1 RBI – 11 for his last 21 (.524)
Brandon Laird, 3B: 0 for 3, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 E (missed catch)
Jordan Parraz, RF, Greg Golson, CF & Doug Bernier, SS: all 1 for 3, 1 BB – Parraz and Bernier whiffed twice, Golson once … Golson also had a double and got picked off first
Greg Smith, LHP: 6 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 5 BB, 5 K, 6-4 GB/FB – 60 of 101 pitches were strikes
Josh Schmidt, RHP: 3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 2-5 GB/FB – 31 of 51 pitches were strikes (60.8%)

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2011 Draft: No contact between Yanks and 41st rounder Jeremy Rathjen

Via K. Levine-Flandrup, the Yankees have not had any contact or negotiations with 41st rounder Jeremy Rathjen since the draft. Rathjen, an outfielder from Rice, fell in the draft because he tore the ACL in his right knee this spring. He was expected to be a top five rounds pick before the injury, but was considered unsigned just before the draft. Rathjen is an intriguing power-speed talent that plays a legit center field, though he can have trouble making contact. The signing deadline is one week from today, so there’s still plenty of time for the two sides to get together and hammer out a deal if they choose.

Open Thread: Joe DiMaggio, in stamp form

In an effort to increase interest in stamp collecting (seriously), the U.S. Postal Service is launching a 2012 commemorative program featuring four baseball players “who were perennial All-Star selections and left an indelible impression on the game.” Joe DiMaggio (right, obviously) is the first to be released in preview form, and the remaining three will be announced in the coming days.

I’m not much of a collector, of anything really, but I do have a big cardboard box on the top shelf of my closet with every stupid little giveaway item I’ve ever gotten at a baseball game, Yankees or otherwise. I’ve got more calenders than I know what to do with, more hats than I could ever wear, more magnets than I could ever stick on my fridge. Is that weird? Typing it out makes me think it’s kinda weird.

Anyway, here is your open thread for the night. The Mets are playing the Padres at home (Pelfrey vs. Stauffer), and you can also watch the Red Sox take on the Twins on ESPN (Wakefield vs. Baker). MLB Network will also be broadcasting a west coast game later on. Talk about whatever you like here, anything goes.