Did you, like many others, come into this season wondering what to expect out of Robinson Cano? Did you believe that reports of his demise might be greatly exaggerated? Well, if three games are any indication, wonder no longer. He’s hit four home runs in 14 plate appearances! I don’t really need to dive too deep into his wRC+ (it’s 340), or many other stats at this point in the season, because they’ll simply reinforce for you that he’s been pretty impossibly good in 27 innings of baseball. The “I don’t need to hit the ball in the field of play” second baseman has a BABIP of .000. The point of this piece, then, is to tell you how and why Cano has been good, and the specific parts of his plate approach that are assuaging some of the fears people had about him last season.
Cano’s 2015 featured, at root, two halves. Every season of every player’s career features two halves, but Cano’s were relevant in that his production was starkly divided between the two of them. There was pre-July 1st Cano, he of the .105 ISO and 71 wRC+. And then there was post-July 1st Cano, he of the .209 ISO and 157 wRC+. Second-half Cano was literally 100% better than first-half Cano when compared to league average.
If you’re reading this, you probably know that everyone was trying to figure out what was wrong in that first half. Here’s Jeff mainly talking about him hitting too many ground balls. Here’s Dan going in-depth on how his hitting mechanics were a little messed-up. Here’s an interview in which Cano says a stomach parasite sapped his strength. There was obviously a lot going on, and his first-half performance was probably all of those negative forces coming together in the form of terrible baseballing.
The second half of 2015 was a complete turnaround, however. He started to hit more line drives and fly balls. He went to the opposite field at something closer to his career rates. His home run/fly ball rate and BABIP regressed toward (and surpassed) his career norms. His first half probably wasn’t as bad as it looked, but his second half was a pretty effective inversion of that. Players in their early 30s who play poorly for extended periods while on massive contracts tend to be placed under a microscope, however, so questions about Cano’s partial 2015 failures followed him into 2016.
He’s answered those questions pretty effectively in the early going. And, while we shouldn’t take anything away from what Cano’s done so far, we also need to ask some questions of how the Rangers approached him in their just-concluded opening series. Sure, we should remind ourselves that it’s just three games, but the very obvious way Texas pitched to him could act as a bit of a warning for those teams about to face him. So how did the Rangers approach him? The answer was, unequivocally, “witin the zone.” Take a look at Cano’s in-zone rate and rate of first-pitch strikes from 2013 to 2015 as compared to the series against the Rangers:
Robinson Cano Zone/F-Strike%, 2013-2016
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