The Mariners Need to Help Robinson Cano Help Himself

The struggles of Robinson Cano in 2015 have been talked about frequently, especially as the Mariners’ struggles continue. Recently, Mariners hitting coach Howard Johnson suggested that Cano is pressing at the plate. Cano disagreed with the assessment, but the numbers back up Johnson.

The good news is that when Robinson Cano is making contact, it’s been pretty good. Cano is hitting the ball harder than he has over his career. His hard hit percentage is 35.2%, compared to his career 32.9% mark.  The 24.4% of line drives on batted balls would be the third highest mark of his career, exceeding his 21.4% career average.

The bad news is where Cano is hitting the ball.  Cano is hitting out of character. In particular, Cano has had some difficulty, or aversion, to hitting the ball to the opposite field. The chart below shows Cano’s 2015 batted-ball locations and his career batted-ball locations.

Contact Location Pull% Cent% Oppo%
2015 38.6% 42.0% 19.3%
Career 37.5% 35.7% 26.8%

This is a big issue because he is muting his best hitting ability. Cano is a .369 hitter when hitting the ball to the opposite field. Last year he hit .417 when going the opposite way; in 2013 he hit .455. This year he is hitting .303, but he is not giving himself the opportunities to take advantage of the success that has been consistent throughout his career and stellar in his most recent seasons.

The impact of this shift can be displayed by taking Cano’s 174 plate appearances in which he has not walked or struck out, and allocating the results of where the ball is hit by his career average Pull%, Center%, and Oppo%. I then applied his career batting averages for the batted ball location to those figures.

Batted Ball Location Career Batted Ball Location Averages Batted Ball  Location At Bats Ending in Batted Ball Loaction Career Batting Average in Batted Ball Location Projected Hits in Batted Ball Location
Pull 37.5% Pull 65 .327 21
Center 35.7% Center 62 .370 23
Opposite 26.8% Opposite 47 .369 17

The following would be the resulting average on batted balls, batting average, and on-base percentage based upon Cano’s 40 strikeouts and 12 walks:

Average on Batted Balls 0.354
Batting Average 0.290
On Base Percentage 0.327

These numbers are good, but they are still not remarkable, and they don’t look like the numbers we would expect from Cano.

This leads to Cano’s second issue: increased strikeouts. Cano’s 17.5% strikeout rate is well above his career average of 11.2%.

The Baseball Info Solutions Plate Discipline data shows two figures that stand out. (1) Cano’s Contact% is down 3.9% from his career average and (2) Cano is seeing 5.4% more first-pitch strikes than he has over his career.

Contact% F-Strike%
2015 82.7% 65.9%
Career 86.8% 60.5%

Lets start with the second figure. This is nothing Cano has control over and the cause is almost certain to be the presence of Nelson Cruz behind him in the lineup. But how can Cano adjust to this? He’s a batter that’s used to being pitched carefully, particularly last year, when he was a hitting oasis in the desert that was the Mariners’ lineup.

The first figure, Cano’s drop in Contact%, may be tied back to where this article started and the point mentioned above: hitting approach and batting count. Cano has performed pitifully when facing sliders and changeups this year, two pitches he has handled well over his career (see the chart below displaying Baseball Info Solution’s runs above average/100 pitches for each pitch type Cano has faced). This makes sense if he is seeing pitches behind in the count, and if he is aggressively seeking to pull the ball, for additional power; to be worth $24 million a year, or whatever reason that may be causing the change in hitting approach.

2015 -0.44 -1.71 -1.46 1.92 -4.07 3.67 -4.66
Career 0.65 1.58 -0.3 1.65 1.65 1.65 0.66

Howard Johnson is probably right. Robinson Cano is pressing. Cano needs to approach at-bats like he has his whole career and he’ll see a return to what we would expect from Robinson Cano. However, the Mariners can make it easier on him by changing up the order. Maybe Cano isn’t a hitter that thrives on being pitched to. It may benefit the Mariners to swap Cruz and Cano in the order. While Cruz has been great, the Mariners and Cano have been the opposite. A change couldn’t hurt.

But first, Robinson Cano needs to accept the hitter he is, because that hitter is very good.

You can read more of my thoughts, opinions, and research on baseball at Twitter: @simplybases.

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dave smith
8 years ago

While I enjoyed the article, I have cano on all my fantasy teams and have been frustrated all year, I have a question…is that first pitch strike number all that important? over, say 200 abs, it works out to, what, ten abs that are different from last year?
I see the point regarding him using oppo field less, that’s probably the root of his problem right now??

Dave Smith
8 years ago

You’re right, I didn’t consider the cumulative effect.

Dag Gummit
8 years ago

How is the drop in Oppo% (and near exact spike in Center%) THE big issue and not — say — his drop in contact% (both F-contact% and O-contact%)? After all, the drop in contact has led from his BB% and K% to fly in the wrong directions.

My biggest questions going forward would be what is the, if any, causal relationship between his F-strike% and Z/o-contact% rates and what direction it goes if it exists.

8 years ago

Was offered Nelson Cruz for Cano straight up in a keeper league.

Pull the trigger?