Cano’s concerning swing data

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Michael Kay and Ken Singleton briefly touched on Robinson Cano and his free swinging ways during the weekend series with the Orioles, but from what I remember, it was only in passing and only after the even more free swinging Vladimir Guerrero was mentioned as well. Even though Cano’s hitting well, I’m starting to get worried about just how much he is swinging.

Though it’s anecdotal (and subject to confirmation bias), I remember Cano swinging at at least three or four pitches each game that he shouldn’t have swung at. Have we already lost the patient version of Robbie Cano?

I think a fair question is “Did we ever have him in the first place?” Many point to last year’s career high in walks as evidence that Cano was finally starting to learn patience, but digging deeper, we see that might not be entirely accurate. Taking out IBBs, Cano walked 43 times in 2010. That was still a career high, as was his 6.3 uBB%. That certainly helps his case. But in 2010, Cano had a career high Out of Zone Swing%, at 36.5%. So it seems that despite his tendency to chase a lot of pitches, Cano ended up with a great-for-him walk total.

2011 has seen Cano swing at 38.3% of the out of zone pitches he’s seen thus far (not including Sunday’s game) and he’s walked just once on the season. The other results have been there, as he entered Sunday’s game hitting over .300 and slugging .577 (.389 wOBA, identical to last year’s mark). Still, I can’t help but be worried about these semi-alarming swing numbers.

Not only is Cano’s OOZ% a career high, but so is his In Zone (Z) Swing% at 81.4%, a full NINE percent above his career average. His overall swing% is also at a career high level, 56.3%, 3.9% over his career mark. So Robbie, right now, is chasing too many pitches out of the zone, is hacking at more pitches in the zone than normal, and just swinging at a higher rate than normal. Why’s this happening?

Part of it is just how Robbie is…he’s a free-swinging, high-contact making, good-hitting baseball player. Part of it could be a little frustration. Yeah, that’s a bit of psychology and projecting, but there’s at least one piece of data that backs it up. Cano is seeing a career low 41.8% of pitches in the strike zone. So far in 2011, pitchers are staying away from Robbie. Perhaps he’s getting annoyed with this and is just swinging at whatever good comes his way.

Am I just making a mountain out of a small sample mole hill? Possibly. Cano’s contact rates, both in the zone and overall, are about normal. However, his OOZ contact percentage is at 76.1%, which could be leading to some bad contact….and it kind of is.

Cano’s BABIP, .333, is actually ABOVE his career mark of .322, but I think we’ve seen a bit of luck on Robbie’s side. His line drive percentage is way down at 16.4%, so he’s not hitting the ball as hard as we’re used to (19.2% LD for his career). But, despite that, the hits are still falling. This is what has me worried about Cano’s approach. What if the lack of line drives catches up to Robbie and he’s still not taking his walks? That could be troubling. The flip side, though, is that he’s also likely to see his LD% rise. But can that happen when he’s chasing so many bad pitches?

10 thoughts on “Cano’s concerning swing data

  1. Great post Matt. I’d noticed this as well. I just want to add two points.

    The first is that Robbie needs to start drawing walks, or his value will plummet at the first whiff of a slump. He’s currently hitting .316/.321/.566. If he slumps, and his average falls to, say, .290, he’ll take his OBP right along with him and he’ll find himself as a below average OBP player.

    Second, if you were the opposing manager why would you give Cano anything in the zone to hit? He hammers just about any pitch in the zone, but he swings at anything that comes his way. I’d instruct my pitchers to throw away from him until he demonstrates patience.

    I think that as the season wears on Robbie’s walk rate will increase, if only because he’ll get the occasional IBB, but it is frustrating that Cano doesn’t seem to know how to take a pitch.

  2. Just happened to do a similar analysis, so here’s another take:

    Cano isn’t walking less because he is more impatient. He’s walking less because pitchers ARE going right after him thanks to Arod and Tex being on base so often. As a result, Cano is attacking the first pitch and doing major damage.

    One other trend is Cano is now less likely to take a called strike, which seems to have forced pitchers out of the zone (until this year when they’ve had no choice). As a result, although Cano has continued to swing at pitches off the plate, there have just been more of them, which has led to a few more walks.

    The bottom line with Cano is that if a pitcher throws a strike, he is likely going to hit it hard. That begs the question why bother throwing him strikes, but there is still a very potent lineup around him. You can’t pitch around Tex and Arod and then do the same to Cano.

    I’d be concerned if Cano really started going out of the strike zone…and, more importantly, started making a lot of contact out of the zone. There isn’t much evidence of that yet.

  3. nyyankeefanforever

    Excellent objective analyses by all above. I really appreciate the time and effort everyone here always puts in to crack the numbers on these noticeable and noteworthy trends.

    Without any supporting data beyond my own personal observations watching almost every pitch of every Yankee game this season since the beginning of spring training, I can only humbly add the following wholly unscientific subjective opinion:

    It’s appeared to me from the outset of camp this season there’s a perceptible effort by many in the lineup to discard the teams’s old hitting philosophy of obsessive strike zone discipline and grinding out at-bats to drive up pitch counts in favor of an approach driven more by pitch-recognition and a rapid response reaction regardless of the count.

    As I said, I can’t prove it with objective data, only empirical observation. But it appears to me there’s been a striking increase in our run production the first two times through the order vs later innings compared to past seasons. Also, with notable exceptions, I’m also seeing far fewer Yankees taking strike three, a distinct dropoff in our batters’ formerly frequent strategic between-pitch adjustments of equipment, and even the mean length of our games appears to be significantly shorter thus far.

    Whether this a nod to some greater institutional recognition this season of the need for greater early run supoort for a fragile rotation, or simply a realization at last that seemingly every pitcher’s book on our lineup until now has stated the first two pitches are freebies because the Yankees won’t be swinging, I don’t know.

    I understand there is nothing whatsoever scientific or precise about what I’m saying. What I do know is I like what I’m seeing. I’m sure that with every approach to offense there is an upside and a downside and I think it’s simply marvelous how stats and measurable metrics can confirm certain trends and qualitatively objectify those trade-offs.

    It simply appears to me the Yankees might have at long last discovered that two thirds of the best pitches to hit have been sailing by them untouched, either early in counts or just out of the zome but still in their wheelhouse; that they expended a great deal of resources to assemble a lineup of professional talented competent hitters; that umpires have become distinctly more militant in game management through their interpretation of the strike zone each game; and that the rules don’t necessarily reward compulsive plate discipline with runs on the scoreboard.

    A chapter of a book on hitting by Ted Williams was entitled: “GUESS? YES!” And Ty Cobb once described his approach to hitting as follows: “Be out front, meet the ball and run like hell.” These weren’t guys who walked up to the plate looking to work the count full to put the pitcher at a disadvantage. They went up looking for a pitch to hit.

    I for one am happy to see the apparent death and burial of the Nick Johnson plan for getting on base in this lineup. …Again, thanks to all for the fascinating reads and hard work. It was very informative.

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  5. Rob Stangler

    I would be more concerned with the lack of hustle running to first base. He never runs through the bag and always looks as if he is pulling up before he reaches the bag. I have never seen of heard anyone criticize or mention this.

    • T.O. Chris

      Jeter has done that on almost every one of his GBs this season.

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  8. [...] few days ago, I looked at Robinson Cano and his swing data. Cano’s hit well, but there are red flags in his swing profile so far this year. The problems [...]

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