It’s no secret that Robinson Cano is in arguably the worst slump of his career. Since August 11th, he’s hitting an abominable .138, including a period of fourteen straight at bats without a hit. He’s showed a little bit of life in Chicago, going three for twelve (.250), including a double off Chicago’s lefty phenom Chris Sale. Still, though, we’ve grown accustomed to Cano having five or six hits over every series.
This cold streak is just a microcosm of what’s really been the problem with Cano this season. Before I get into the analysis, I know he’s hitting .304 overall with a .381 wOBA and 139 wRC+, so it’s not like he’s having a down year. In fact, only in 2010 has he had a better wOBA and wRC+, and the difference is marginal.
What’s holding Cano back from having an absolutely monster season is his performance against left handed pitching. This season, he’s hitting just .237 with five homers in 190 plate appearances, which adds up to a well below average .282 wOBA and 71 wRC+. This is bizarre, considering he’s a career .292 hitter against southpaws with a .344 wOBA and 109 wRC+. Clearly, the left-on-left matchup has never bothered him. In fact, last year his wOBA was .373 against both sides. Plus, he hasn’t had a wRC+ against lefties below 100 since his first two seasons, and it hasn’t been lower than 112 since 2007. Even more amazing is the way he’s pounding righties: a career best .447 wOBA and 184 wRC+.
The Yankees have faced quite a few lefty starters since Cano’s slump began on the 11th: Aaron Laffey, JA Happ, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Franklin Morales, Jon Lester, Francisco Liriano, and Chris Sale. That’s eight out of twelve southpaw starters during this period. Against all lefties since the slump began, Cano is two for 25 (.080) with one home run (off JA Happ) and one double (off Chris Sale). He’s drawn four walks, been hit by pitch once, and fanned six times. That’s good for a 20.7 K% and 13.8 BB%. This is a sample size of course, but his K% on the year is 13.9% overall and 17.6% against lefties. The walk rate is much higher than any split in 2012, which can be attributed to the sample size.
These 25 at bats vs. lefties make up for roughly 69% of his total 36 at bats in the duration of this slump, which is remarkable, considering that about 60% of his at bats this season have been against righties. In his career, 67% of his at bats have been against right handers. Undoubtedly, seeing this unusual amount of lefties as of late has not helped him break out of this slump. Still, though, why has he reverted back to 2005 and 2006 performance against lefties?
First, thanks to PITCHf/x data from TexasLeaguers.com, lefties have changed their pitch selection against Cano this season. From 2007-2011, his peak vs. southpaws, Cano saw sliders 17.8% of the time. This season, that has spiked to 21.5%. It’s an even bigger jump from 2011, when he only saw sliders 15.6% of the time. Why this increase? Simple: it’s a pitch he whiffs against frequently vs. left handed pitching. From 2007-2011 he swung and missed at sliders 11.4% of the time. This year, he’s missing it 12.6%, so the added sliders are compounding to the swing throughs.
He’s also rolling over the slider and hitting grounders to the right side more frequently than ever. In fact, he’s generally not waiting on the pitch nearly as much as he did from 2007 through 2011. Take a look at the spray charts against sliders, starting with 2012 (ignore the fact the field is Yankee Stadium, it is technically at all stadiums):
Without even counting, it’s clear at first glance that there is much more of the contact to the right side, with the majority of the outs being grounders to the second or first basemen. Now, take a look at how balanced all contact from 2007-2011:
Clearly, Cano’s approach was much more balanced against a southpaw’s slider from 2007-2011. He hit the ball to all fields, which makes me believe Cano may be getting fooled by the slider much more than in the past. In fact, he may not have adjusted to seeing the slider this frequently in 2012, and could be sitting on fastball too often. He’s seeing about 2% less fastballs from lefties compared to 2011. While that may not seem like much, take into consideration how many pitches he sees against lefties in a season.
Interestingly, it also seems Cano has been a victim of bad luck against lefties in 2012. His line drive rate is way better than his career norm against southpaws: 28.6% vs. 19.5%. Same goes for BABIP vs. lefties: .268 in 2012 against .313 for his career. Clearly, there is also an element of bad luck holding back Cano.
Ultimately, I would bet that 2012′s left-on-left problem is just a blip on the radar for Robbie. He hasn’t had issues against lefties in five years prior, so I wouldn’t be concerned going forward. While it is clear that left handers are taking a different approach vs. Cano and that he’s seeing them much more frequently, Cano has also run into some bad luck. Yes, he has looked pretty bad at the plate as of late, but don’t be surprised if he turns it around against lefties sooner than you think. Plus, he gets to face three righty starters in Cleveland this weekend, so this slump could be a distant memory after Sunday.
Photo by Keith Allison [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons