2012 Statistical Trends: Robinson Cano’s Hitting Against LHP

Looks like a GB out reaction to me. Courtesy of Getty Images

(The following is being syndicated from An A-Blog for A-Rod)

In hopes that this will become a running series for the rest of the offseason, I want to take a look at some of the big statistical surprises from the season that was.  There was a large handful of significant statistical shifts this season, some good and some bad, and I want to try to figure out what caused them, what they mean, and what to expect moving forward.  For the first installment, I want to investigate Robinson Cano‘s awful year against left-handed pitching.  It’s almost crazy to think of a hitter of Cano’s caliber as a platoon bat, but that’s just what he was this year.

Cano finished the 2012 season with a career .290/.338/.453 line against LHP (.344 wOBA), and that’s after the down year he had this season.  Entering 2012, Cano was coming off a season in which he hit .314/.354/.525 against lefties, a result we’ve become accustomed to seeing from Robbie and the type of L-on-L production that makes him one of the best all-around hitters in the game.  In 2012 something changed, and Robbie struggled mightily against lefties to the tune of .239/.309/.337 (.290 wOBA) in 269 plate appearances.  He still drew a fair amount of walks, for him at least, against southpaws.  But the drop in batting average and power was significant, and something that could potentially raise a red flag given Robbie’s pending free agency.

As for the causes to this negative shift in Robbie’s “vs. LHP” production, let’s go to the charts:

Cano’s spray chart against LHP from this season shows a bit more of a pull-heavy BIP distribution than we typically see from Robbie.  One of his greatest calling cards is his ability to go the other way with the ball, often with power, and there just isn’t a whole lot of that being shown in this chart.  Most of his hits are to right field or back up the middle, and there are a high number of GB outs.  Those might be a very telling sign as to what was going on here, as another one of Robbie’s calling cards is his tendency to roll over and hit a lot of ground balls when he’s struggling.  Pitchers usually accomplish this with Cano by pitching him low and away, an area difficult to generate any real power from on a swing, especially a pull swing lefty-on-lefty.  This could very well have been a case of Cano trying to pull the ball too much on pitches low and away instead of either taking them for balls or taking them the other way.

The pitch location distribution shown in Cano’s called strike zone and swing plots from 2012 lend support to that theory.  It’s pretty clear from these plots that the approach against Robbie in 2012 was to stay away.  A very high proportion of his called strikes were on the outer half and a lot of attempts were made to get the outside corner, and there’s a much bigger collection of offspeed pitches on the corner or low and away that Robbie swung at than there are on the inside corner.  Taking pull hacks at pitches in that area should result in a lot of groundball outs, and thinking back to his slumps during this season that was a common occurrence for Robbie.

So what’s really going on here?  Is Cano falling victim to K-Long’s pull-happy preachings like Teix and C-Grand?  Are we starting to see the erosion of Cano’s skills as an elite all-around hitter already?  Based on his superior track record and the fact that this season was the first in many that Cano didn’t perform well against lefties, I’m willing to give him a pass and just call it an off year.  It wasn’t like Cano was just wildly swinging at everything up there.  His 7.4% BB rate against lefties, while lower than his rate against right-handed pitchers, was still above his career average.  And he actually did hit a lot of balls on the screws against lefties; his 28.4% LD rate against them was better than his LD rate against righties, suggesting that some bad BABIP luck could have been in play.

It seems to me like Cano got caught up in trying to pull the ball too much against LHP and was never able to make the adjustment back to a balanced approach once pitchers started exploiting it, and that he just ran into some rotten luck on well-hit balls, an idea supported by the aforementioned strong LD rate and his measly .272 BABIP off southpaws.  There’s a chance that this is the beginning of a regression against lefties for Cano, but 1 year of data is not even close to being definitive proof.  If Cano can get back to being more balanced in his approach against lefties and being content with taking the ball to left when they pitch him away, something he’s done for years, I think we’ll see his “vs. LHP” splits get back to normal in 2013.

(All charts courtesy of Texas Leaguers)

Born in Dover, Delaware and raised in Danbury, Connecticut, Brad now resides in Wisconsin, where he regularly goes out of his way to remind Brewers fans that their team will never be as good as the Yankees. When he’s not writing for IIATMS, he likes to spend his time incorporating “Seinfeld” quotes into everyday conversation, critiquing WWE storylines, and drinking enough beer to be good at darts.

One thought on “2012 Statistical Trends: Robinson Cano’s Hitting Against LHP

  1. hawaii dave

    First, does anyone know why pull hitters “pull” the ball?…(and I mean from the stand point that they have made the decision to pull the ball before they step into the batters box). It is simply because it is easier to decide what you’ll do before hand, rather than try to adjust in the 1/10 of a second you have between the ball leaving the pitchers hand and the time it gets to the swing zone.

    And if you choose the easier, softer way, as Long wants, you get more power. But there is a price to pay. The price is being exploited, the way Tex and Granderson have been, and now Cano.

    The funny thing is, you are taught in Little League on up to keep your back elbow up and to “step into the pitch”. If you are lefty, and a lefty pitcher throws away, and you step into it and refuse to pull it, all the power will still be there. The glory numbers will actually increase. That is the irony of all this pull stuff. The belief is that there will be a loss of power if I go the other way. I don’t think there is any truth to that. All things being equal, I don’t think an outside pitch being correctly hit the opposite way would not travel as far as an inside pitch being correctly pulled. The whole point is to hit the ball correctly. And that is keeping your back elbow up and stepping into the pitch….plus, you can’t have chosen to pull the ball before you even get to the plate.

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