After a season in which many analysts fell over themselves comparing the .342 hitting Robinson Cano to Hall of Famer and 3,000 hit club member Rod Carew, he has seemingly taken a step backward in 2007. The notion that he was a high-average hitter was foolish when you took a look at his batted-ball data; here was my conclusion for his player profile:
If you take a look at left and right field, you can see that a great deal of flyouts from 2005–most likely line outs as well, which MLB.com doesn’t seem to track–are now singles. He has hit a few more balls down the left field line than previously, which accounts for some of the increase in his slugging percentage, but it looks as if he’s just had a great deal more singles land in front of outfielders than he did last season. Is this a repeatable skill? Looking at his minor league track record, I’d have to say no. Cano still has room for growth as a player–after all, this is just his Age-23 season–but the growth should be an addition to the numbers he displayed in 2005, not the outlier of 2006.
In 2006, Cano should have hit roughly .298/.321/.481, which is still a quality offensive season, but not anything like his actual line. His .363 BABIP was to blame for this, but given his line drive rate of 19.9% you get the adjusted line above. Looking into his numbers a little deeper, we find that his hit percentage on groundballs jumped considerably in 2006 (30.4%), and has dropped back down to 2005 levels this year (24.7% for ‘05, 23.1% for 2007). Basically, his groundballs had eyes, and they’ve lost them this season, much like in 2005. This accounts for the drop in production from 2006, but what about the drop from 2005’s numbers? After all, he’s hitting just .268/.308/.420 in 2007.
Cano has not been unlucky with his BABIP so far; his .315 figure is above the league average and 33 points higher than you would expect given his low 16.2% line drive rate. He has hits on 85.7% of his liners this season, 13% higher than last year. This accounts for the high BABIP, even with the low line drive rate. His problem so far has been on flyballs, where he has hits in just 17.1% of the time, compared to 28.2% and 32.6% the two prior seasons. If Cano’s line drives were to come towards his career rate of 19.6%, he would replace some of the lost production, although the fact that he’s outperforming his expected BABIP means the change wouldn’t be as significant as if he were underperforming. If his flyballs were to smooth out as well though, then Cano would probably be closer to where we expect him. Overall, he has hits on 33.5% of his batted-balls, against 38% in 2006.
One of the more interesting things I’ve noticed about Cano this year is that he has lost his power to the opposite field almost entirely. He lacks an extra-base hit going the other way at Yankee Stadium, according to MLB.com hit charts, whereas in 2006 he hit bunches of doubles and singles down the lines and to the warning track. This is one for the readers, since I don’t get to see Cano all that often, and we don’t have enough Enhanced Gameday info to make a definitive statement: are pitchers going inside on Cano more often than in years past, taking away the opposite field and contributing to the increase in his strikeout rate? He is popping up less often, but the increase in strikeouts coupled with the lack of power to the opposite field, a once successful weapon of Cano at the plate, makes me think pitchers are keeping balls inside on him. I’d like to hear from readers on this matter; his strikeout rate has dropped 2% from when I first looked at this a little over a week ago, which makes me think he could be adjusting in bits as the season goes on, but any information you provide would be appreciated.
Regardless of adjustment, I’m of the mind that Cano is a .290/.320/.475 type hitter as he currently stands. He may develop further and improve his game–he’s still just 24 years old–but as previously stated, it will be improvements from his 2005 line, and not the anomaly of 2006.
Thanks to Jason Pare for putting together that batted-ball hit percentage data, and to Fangraphs.com for existing and making this research that much simpler.