Monday, April 29, 2013

Cano Holding His Own Against Left-Handed Pitching

(Gone.  Courtesy of

In a situation where he was going to be more important than ever, Robinson Cano has done everything the Yankees have needed him to do so far this season.  He's hitting .316/.374/.612 (.417 wOBA) in 107 plate appearances, with a team-leading 7 HR, 17 R scored, 17 RBI, and 1.3 fWAR.  He hasn't made an error in the field, he hasn't missed a game or even an at-bat due to injury, sickness, or whatever, and he's looked every bit worth the 9-figure salary he's sure to get at some point.  There are plenty of other kudos to hand out to other players on the team for the job they've done, but it's more than fair to say that without Cano this team would not be off to the 15-9 start it is.

Before the season, I dissected Cano's poor 2012 performance against left-handed pitching, a statistical anomaly never seen before and a potential cause for concern about Cano's expected offensive productivity moving forward.  He hasn't completely put the issue to bed, but Cano has done enough early on to at least make me believe he's putting last year's issues in the rearview.

Robbie is currently sporting a .233/.298/.465 slash line against LHP in 47 PA, a far cry from his overall line or the .382/.433/.727 beating he's putting on righties.  He's had to adjust to defensive shifts and obvious attempts by opposing pitchers to work him away in hopes of getting him to chase and roll over on balls, and even though the slash line doesn't reflect it yet, I think he's done a good job combating that.  Check his spray chart against lefties:

The results are different as you go left to right, but that's a pretty fair distribution of balls hit to both the left and right side, including the 3 home runs Robbie has already cracked when pitchers have been stupid enough to try (and miss) on the inner half.  He hasn't made much hay yet, and his contact splits to left suggest he's still got work to do squaring up on pitches away (only 16.1% LD rate compared to 35.5% FB rate), but Robbie hasn't given in to opposing pitchers' plans and has probably put fear in a few guys' hearts by lacing some balls into the left-center gap and hitting a few to the left field warning track.

And while his 25.5% K rate against southpaws is high, a look at the swing/take plots shows that it's not the result of Cano just blindly hacking up there:

That's a pretty good breakdown of swings and takes as far as I'm concerned.  For the most, Robbie isn't extending the strike zone on the outer half and he isn't chasing the high pitch, resulting in an 8.5% BB rate that's higher than his BB rate against righties and surely contributing to the success he has had against lefties by putting him in more favorable hitting counts.  Robbie has seen almost as many pitches against lefties (190) as he has against righties (195) in 13 fewer PA, so he's clearly going up with a patient mindset and looking for something that he can drive.  If the pitcher tries to come in, he's had no problem turning on the ball and hitting over the fence.  If the pitcher stays away, Robbie hasn't tried to do too much with the ball and just hits it to left.

As I said, it appears there's still some work for Robbie to do on his opposite field swing to try to make more solid contact and drive the ball into left rather than hit it up in the air, but at the same time we are still dealing with a very small sample size.  If a few of those deep fly balls go another 10-15 feet over the fence, we're having a whole different conversation and opposing pitchers and managers might be re-thinking their "pound him away" strategy.  The fact that we don't see an overabundance of GB outs to the right side, and the fact that Cano has been able to get hits and drive in runs against lefties to all fields is a very encouraging sign for him and a big reason why he's had such a great first month.

(Charts and plots courtesy of Texas Leaguers, stats courtesy of FanGraphs)

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