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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.