Mark Canha’s 2019 is No Laughing Matter

(This piece originally ran at BTBNL.com on June 8)

It’s hard to believe that former Marlins prospect and current Athletics 1B/OF Mark Canha has only played 356 MLB games headed into tonight’s action. At 30 years old, he’s technically one-fifth through his third full season. He’s logged major league at-bats since 2015, a season in which he played his most games (124), but hasn’t taken a big leap forward until now.

Don’t scoff at the .247 batting average until looking under the hood. The San Jose product and Billy Bean project boasts a robust .383 OBP, and a man oft touted as a power-hitting prospect put up gaudy OBP numbers at all stops. At age 23, Canha reached base at a .371 clip at Double-A in the Marlins system. The next season at Triple-A, he improved to .384, and he logged over 500 plate appearances in both seasons. In 2017 at Triple-A, this time in the Oakland system, Canha did it again in a new league with a .373 rate in 75 games. Fast-forward to 122 major league games in 2018 and Canha, with 197 games of big league action under his belt, demonstrated his ability to produce with a .328 OBP and 17 homers in 411 plate appearances — close to a 30-homer pace.

That brings me to 2019. Canha is not only displaying career-bests in OBP and walk rate (15% BB, 8.3% in 2018), but he has also vastly improved his approach. In 2015 and 2018 (the two biggest samples), he swung at 32.9% and 31.1% of pitches outside the strike zone (O-Swing%) respectively. In those same two years, he swung and missed (SwStr%) at 9.8% and 8.1% of strikes. Now in 2019, he’s drastically reduced his O-Swing to 22.4% (!), good for the 19th-lowest mark in MLB (min. 120 PA), and is in the company of Anthony Rendon (22%), George Springer (21.4%) and Joey Votto (20.3%). When it comes to plate discipline for a “power prospect,” that’s extraordinary company. Furthermore, his 75.4% O-Contact rate in 2019 is a career-best, and his career-low 7.5% SwStr% is tied for 45th-lowest in MLB, well below the 10.4% MLB average.

Horizontal lines represent league average

This didn’t come out of nowhere, particularly when you look at his rolling SwStr%, O-Swing%, Swing%, and Contact%. It’s clear that Canha decided to swing less starting around June 20th of last year. What’s that expression? Less is more? By swinging less, he made better contact and began showing promise with a line of .260/.347/.455 and a 122 wRC+ after June 1, a career-best streak.

His exit velocity on line drives and fly balls before June 2 of last year clocked in at 91.3 mph, but he leapt to 93.5 mph after that date.

Canha’s batted ball distance on line drives and fly balls before June of last year was 283 feet, but after that date he jumped to 298 feet, and in 2019, albeit with just 28 results, he leads the majors by a mile (specifically 15 feet) with an average of 333 feet (minimum 25 results). Folks, it’s only June, and it’s not only just barely the start of Canha season (June onward, apparently), it’s also more importantly not sweltering hot at the ballpark. Canha, a notorious fly-ball hitter, seems poised to mash homers and get on base.

There are a couple things to keep your eye on. Canha’s apparent change in approach seems to be working well for him, as he’s hitting fly balls at a staggering 54.2% clip.

He owns the lowest line drive rate in baseball by a wide margin at 6.9% (Jackie Bradley Jr. comes in at 10.7%), but based on his solid improved peripherals, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. His 20.5% IFFB rate (10th in MLB) is cause for concern, however. With respect to the Athletics, this is actually cause for concern with over half their lineup. Five of the majors’ top 25 IFFB rates belong to the A’s (Canha, Jurickson Profar is ninth at 21.1%, Matt Olson is 15th at 18.4%, Chad Pinder is 22nd at 17.2%, and Matt Chapman is 25th at 17.1%). Those five players are averaging a 6% jump in IFFB% from 2018-19, and popups are always terrible, particularly with the huge foul territory at Oakland Coliseum.

As for Canha, the data here suggests he’s doing many things right and is poised for a career year. He’s already performing well with a 152 wRC+ in 120 PA, and his 15% walk rate compared to a 21.7% strikeout rate is a strong ratio for a 6-foot-2, 212-pound man with on-base and power ability. It’s tough to say how much of an aberration, if any, his 23.1% HR/FB rate is given his new approach and career-best distance and exit velocity numbers. My guess is that number regresses a bit, but that it still puts him in 30-homer territory with a sublime OBP (and slugging percentage).

We hoped you liked reading Mark Canha’s 2019 is No Laughing Matter by Zachary Simon!

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