Advance Scouting: Containing Cano

Whenever I watch Major League action, I typically watch the games with the same intent in which I watch games I’m scouting in person.  When evaluating a hitting prospect, I’m interested in finding out how the pitchers are attacking him.  Where are his holes?  How easily are pitchers exploiting those holes?  Is there one spot or type of pitch you can get him out with or does it take a variation of approaches to get him out?

Things like this can be seen in big league games as well, except the holes are smaller, the weaknesses are more difficult to exploit, and the pitchers are better.  Even baseball’s great hitters like Robinson Cano have holes that pitchers and advance scouting departments are constantly searching for ways to exploit.  One of the ways teams might try to get Cano out in 2011 showed up on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. 

Whether it will be a trend or something other clubs try to use remains to be seen, but the Tigers and Jose Valverde did appear to have a different plan.  Tigers’ catcher Alex Avila consistently appeared to call for fastballs on the outside part of the plate throughout the at-bat.  Meanwhile, Valverde appeared to consistently miss by full plate lengths and locate the fastball in tight under Cano’s hands.

Accident?  Maybe.  Valverde is far from a control artist.  On this consistent of a basis, however, this looked very much by design.  Even if it wasn’t, it worked pretty well.  Quite often you’ll see a catcher setup in one location only to hop to the other side of just before the pitch is delivered.  This could be just a more extreme example of that to throw off the rhythm of Cano.

Cano is a feel hitter in every sense of the word.  But, at times, he does appear to be hunting for either a fastball in or something out away from him.  When he isn’t looking for something hard and in, it’s one of the few times a pitcher can legitimately exploit one of his very few holes.  As a general rule, Cano is a look-away-and-adjust-in type of hitter.

So, could it be that the Tigers were trying something new to slow down the Yankee star?  If they were, it might be a pretty intelligent idea.  As gifted as the Yankee second baseman is, it’s difficult for him or anyone else to cover both sides of the plate at one time.  And, if you can make him feel the catcher sitting on the outer third of the plate and then pound him in, it could be one way to throw off his typically impeccable rhythm and feel at the dish.

Before any panic among Yankee fans ensues, Cano is too good to be shut down by any one approach.  Coming off monster years, though, it’s just a reality that you will see teams trying different things to see what works against hitters like Cano.  For now, this plan of attack is simply something to keep an eye on.  You won’t see someone less overpowering than Valverde try it, however.  With anything less than a plus fastball, Cano has the bat speed to still turn the fastball around inside even if he’s thinking outer half.  This is not a strategy for pitchers with average fastballs to attempt.

There’s no player in baseball right now that is more reminiscent of Barry Bonds in terms of swing mechanics than Cano, and like Bonds, his ultra compact swing makes his only hole about the size of a baseball right under his hands.  If aiming for that hole is the only alternative, it might be more wise for pitchers around baseball to give the Jose Valverde approach a shot.

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17 Responses to “Advance Scouting: Containing Cano”

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    • Dan says:

      yeah, sure, a totally filthy snap-dragon down at his feet will usually get a hitter out. ANY hitter. that is not a weakness of Cano, it is a credit to Morrow and his absurd stuff.
      As a yankee fan that hole in Cano’s swing worried me. as a yankee fan hearing his swing mechanics comped to Bonds makes me incredibly happy.
      Good article.

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  1. Mark says:

    Does this imply that Cano is peaking back to get the location of the pitch?

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  2. No I definitely wouldn’t say Cano is looking but a lot of hitters have said they can “feel” the catcher back there or are simply geared up for a certain location.

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  3. What!? says:

    is this a joke?

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  4. That hitters can feel where a catcher is setting up? No, not a joke at all. You don’t need to blatantly look back to get a sense for where a catcher is setting up.

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    • phoenix2042 says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      agreed. I play squash (the racket sport) and I can definitely feel where the other player is on the court, even without looking back at him (although if you have to time, you should look back). so yea, you can have an idea of where the catcher is without explicitly peeking.

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  5. Goatees only says:

    Awesome article. I love hearing about this aspect of the game and I hope there are more like this to come.

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  6. Patrick42 says:

    It’s probably hearing, and feeling through the feet – They know whereabouts the catcher is when they squat – the middle – then they can hear/feel them move around a bit.

    Not hard to believe at all!

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  7. What!? says:

    I wasnt asking if it was a joke about hitters sensing where a catcher is setting up, i was asking if it was a joke about saying that a pitcher is aiming at a false target. Do we really believe that this strategy would be done on purpose? Have we actually played baseball? Do we know somebody who has played baseball, and specifically a pitcher? If so, i would love to hear their opinion on aiming at an imaginary target when the catcher is setting up somewhere else, especially when the imaginary target is an inside location. As someone who has strong experience in the game, excellent connections within the game, as well as charted games for stats that are used for this website, it is through my experience that i have noticed that pitchers struggle as it is to hit the catcher’s glove on a consistent basis. Just watch one game and notice that even the best control pitchers are not able to put the ball percisely where they want it.

    Maybe i’m wrong, and maybe the pitchers i have talked to about this are just not as gutsy as Valverde, but i cannot see this being a strategy done on purpose. But hey, if you are right, i tip my hat to you for finding out a teams unique strategy before anyone else.

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    • Goatees only says:

      You should re-read the 4th and 6th paragraphs for the necessary disclaimers about this possibly being just a fluke or an accident. I like fangraphs partly because authors can post theories and ideas for which only limited evidence exists.

      In the future, the whole “I know baseball, you don’t,” line gets repeated all too often in the comments section. The authors don’t need to give their credentials with every article (though perhaps in their first article here they should). It would get old, fast. The community here will be much more open to reasoned arguments than, “I disagree, and I played college ball, so this article is B.S.”

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  8. CooperNB says:

    Most like Bonds in terms of swing mechanics? Damn, that’s high praise.

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    • Kevin says:

      Kevin Long refers to Barry Bonds swing mechanics when working with his hitters. Cano does have a one hell of a sweet swing.

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