How Did Cano Turn It Around?

Prior to the season, I wrote the following about Robinson Cano’s 2008:

Basically, a grounder is less likely to produce an out than a flyball, but outfield flyballs yield more runs. I would argue that Cano’s decline can be found in this point. Cano hit significantly fewer ground balls and more flyballs than he did in years past. Most Yankees fans know that when Cano has everything working, he is hitting line drives and ground balls right back through the middle. The decrease in ground balls definitely hurt him. Furthermore, Cano saw a sharp decrease in HR’s per flyball, suggesting that the flyballs that he was hitting were less dangerous than in years past. Essentially, Cano hit fewer grounders and more flyballs without gaining the run production that increased flyballs would give a hitter whose swing is not faulty. One other point to notice is that Cano’s O-Contact% and FB% saw a significant increase, affirming the point that pitchers were throwing Robbie fastballs out of the zone, and he was more than willing to just put them in play rather than fouling them off or laying off of them.

This all essentially confirms the mechanical issues discussed above. Cano was flying open and jerking his head, leading to a multitude of soft popups. Rather than take those pitches up the middle or the other way, Robbie played into the pitchers hands by attempting to pull everything. Bad mechanics, rather than bad luck, were what killed Robinson Cano’s 2008.

So what happened in 2009 to correct these flaws? On the face of it, the numbers suggest that Cano did not dramatically improve in the areas that hurt him in 2008. He hit even fewer groundballs in 2009, made even more contact out of the zone than before, and continued to see a steady diet of fastballs. Conversely, his BABIP went back to his career levels, his K-rate was a career low, while his IsoP and HR/FB were career high’s. Was Cano just luckier in 2009?

I think not, and believe that we can explain his bounceback in the same terms that we addressed his awful 2008. Cano continued to expand his zone in 2009, but was more comfortable going with the pitch on the outer half. In fact, he made even more contact on those pitches than usual, leading to him striking out less. Increased and better contact on those pitches led to more of his fly balls leaving the ballpark than in the previous season, meaning he finally saw the benefits of trading ground balls for fly balls. New Yankee Stadium certainly helped, but his IsoP was almost as good on the road as it was at home. To sum up, I believe that Cano saw a BABIP increase because he was making better and more consistent contact on pitches on the outer half and out of the strike zone, leading to more homers and general power on fly balls than he got last season. Kevin Long worked particularly hard with Cano in the offseason regarding reaching that ball on the outer edges and going the other way with it, and I believe it paid off.

Note: After I finshed this post I had a discussion with Greg Fertel of Pending Pinstripes, who pointed me towards xBABIP, which is supposed to determine how much of the BABIP can be attributed to luck. Cano’s xBABIP was .315 this season and .313 last (compared to a .286 BABIP), suggesting that he may have just been unlucky all along. I would counter by pointing out that xBABIP does not factor in the elements that I discussed, in that HR/FB is not a portion of that calculation, and the power of the fly balls cannot really be tested. As I noted in the article from March, I think Cano’s struggles were easily diagnosed, and I went back and looked at some old highlights to confirm my suspicions. However, I did want to provide all of the information, so just know that xBABIP may suggest that my conclusion is not entirely accurate.

0 thoughts on “How Did Cano Turn It Around?

  1. I dunno, Moshe. I just can’t really get myself to believe that without seeing more data. If I could see a spray chart that shows he was going the other way more frequently, I’d believe it. Until then though, I can’t. I think that if he was trying to pull everything he’d hit way more grounders to second and that would show up in his ground ball rate and go along with a decline in his line drive rate.

    There’s no doubt that he hit for more power in 2009, but I’m just not sure that his weak 2008 season was any fault of his own. I don’t know, though.

    • Actually, I do have data on 2008 to that effect, it is in the initial article. This is the quote from Josh Kalk, who used spray charts and pitch f/x and basically confirmed what I wrote.

      “In 2008, Cano is not doing much with the balls on the outer half of the plate. He has very few hits to the opposite field, which seems to indicate that he is pressing and trying to pull this pitch instead of going the other way with it. Notice how few balls he has had to hit on the inner part of the plate this year. This makes sense because if he is trying to pull everything, pitchers should be working him away. As for the balls up in the zone, Cano is actually making more contact this year than last year but many of those have gone for the weak pop-ups we noted before. If he continues to pop this pitch up, the only remedy is for him to stop swinging at those pitches.

      Now I need to find 2009 data, but I think the pitchFx data suggests I was right about 2008, and that the batted ball data provides hints on what changed in 2009.

  2. Accurate points Moshe…
    Looked up some stuff and it showed the same thing my eyes told me, most of the year. Long worked him hard last year, hope he can do the same with a couple others.

    • He went down to the Dominican and worked with Cano their during the winter which shows a lot of work ethic by Cano in wanting to perfect his craft… I actually heard that Melky was planning on joining them this year if Long finds time to go down to the Dominican.

      I like that we have a hitting coach with that much dedication to work with a player in the offseason in their home country!

      • Yeah, I thought that was pretty great. They put in a ton of work, and it must have been gratifying to see it pay off. This year they should work on hitting with RISP. Now that I think about it, maybe he gets pull happy with RISP, and you have what you got in 2008. I can’t think of a way to find out.

        • Cano seems to be almost like Arod not so much in putting the weight of the team on his shoulders but more in the sense of feeling the moments that have the most pressure on them and identifying those moments while in them and it works to their disadvantage. He seems to always want to come through and makes himself get out of what he normally does, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he is pulling off trying to get the big RISP HR and knock the game wide open. I think Melky could do a lot better with some work on his swing this winter in a way that Cano did last year, he has very obvious moments of completely trying to jerk the ball up and out of the yard and it really ends up falling into slumps of him jerking up on the bat and he goes a week or two weeks in these slumps when he could just relax and try to go up the middle and fix it, Long could really do Cabrera well. Maybe he could even get his HR total up to 18 or so if he stopped going for HRs so often…