Everything was looking up for Robinson Cano as the regular season came to a close: an incredibly hot nine game hit streak in which he was 24/39 (.615) with three homers. It was an impressive way to cap off a 2012 season in which Robbie finished with career highs in home runs (33), wOBA (.394), and wRC+ (150). He did all that despite being below average vs. lefties (78 wRC+); he hadn’t been below average vs. southpaws since 2006, posting wRC+ no lower than 114 in each year.
Then came the postseason: 41 plate appearances, three hits, and one walk. Brutal, to say the least. How could a guy go from one of the elite hitters in the game, to practically an automatic out? Obviously, his hot streak wasn’t going to last forever, but nobody foresaw this horrific performance.
Not all the blame goes on Cano, of course. Plenty of other hitters are culpable, but for the purpose of this post, we’ll take a look at what went wrong for Robbie this October.
First, let’s take a look at how Baltimore and Detroit pitchers attacked Cano, followed by what he swung at:
It’s pretty clear to see that pitchers tried to stay away from Cano as much as possible. It’s also pretty obvious that Cano was chasing quite a few pitches well out of the strike zone. Expanding the strike zone is obviously a recipe for disaster in terms of offensive performance.
Cano swung at four seam fastballs 10% more often than he did in the regular season, and whiffed on them 5.3% more often than the season as well. On two seamers, he actually swung 5% less frequently, but whiffed 3.9% more often. Could a weakness have been exposed, or was a strength minimized? It seems like the latter: in the regular season, opposing hurlers threw Cano a fastball (four seam or two seam) 47% of the time. In the postseason, that number spiked to 64%. Could this be attributed to sample size? Maybe. But a further look shows that this may have all been part of the plan. According to FanGraphs.com’s pitch values, Cano is a good hitter against all types of pitches, but is best against changeups and sliders. From that, it’s pretty clear that the Tigers and Orioles made a concerted effort to attack Cano with fastballs away as much as possible.
But Cano is a good fastball hitter anyway, right? So this approach shouldn’t have phased him. Normally, it wouldn’t as Cano has shown the ability to hit the ball to all fields. This postseason, though, it seemed far too common to see Robbie roll over an outside fastball to the second or first baseman for the easy out. His postseason spray chart confirms this notion:
We do see a fair amount of balls hit to the left side of play, but there is a concentrated amount of groundouts to the right side. When Robbie is on his game, he’s going with the outside fastballs to left field for line drive singles. In the regular season, roughly 21% of his at bats ended in a groundout. In the postseason, that mark jumped to 46%. This may be a sample size, but there is something to be taken from it considering the opposing pitchers’ approach. Here’s Cano’s spray chart over the entire season:
As you can see, Cano has the ability to rack up hits to any field. It’s just a matter of him taking what he can get, as it seems he was trying to pull the ball far too much this postseason.
Hitting Coach Kevin Long has become known for his “net drill”, in which the player participating in the drill practices pulling the ball for power. Cano, amongst others, has been a participant in this throughout Long’s time with the Yankees. Could this have contributed to Cano’s demise this postseason? Perhaps, but at the same time, we’ve seen Cano hit the ball to all fields with authority. I would consider Long’s effect marginal at best.
Ultimately, it was Cano’s approach at the plate that caused his struggles this postseason. An overly aggressive approach, pulling the ball, and not adjusting to the opponents’ strategy made for a disastrous playoff performance.
It’ll be interesting to see if the rest of the league takes notice of the approach the Orioles and Tigers took this postseason, and carries it forward to 2013. If so, Cano may have to adjust his approach somewhat, but at the same time, he’s more than capable of hitting the ball the other way.
Strike zone and spray charts provided by TexasLeaguers.com.