Will Cano prove 2012 performance vs. lefties was a fluke?

Cano’s 2012 struggles vs. LHP were likely a fluke.

Last season was a banner year for Robinson Cano, setting career highs in home runs, walk rate, wOBA, wRC+, UZR, and WAR. He was especially hot at the end of the season, finishing his last 39 at bats with 24 hits (.615). 10 of those went for extra bases, and 3 left the ballpark. Yes, he evaporated in the postseason, but so did everybody else.

Despite his remarkable 2012, Cano took a step back in one facet of his game. Left handed pitchers held Cano to a .239/.309/.337 slash line (78 wRC+). Only in his rookie season did he perform worse in terms of wRC+. This was a pretty alarming drop off considering that Cano annihilated same side hurlers just about every other year of his career, especially in the two seasons leading up to 2012: .303/.344/.527 (128 wRC+).

Last season, the Yankees had the luxury of right handers and switch hitters to take care of southpaw opponents. This season, gone are the likes of Nick Swisher and Russell Martin. Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, and Derek Jeter are on the shelf. Kevin Youkilis should be a big help against lefties, but others such as Vernon Wells and Juan Rivera don’t instill the same confidence vs. lefties. With Cano being the only elite bat healthy to open to 2013 campaign, it’s going to be essential for him to revert back to his historical performance against same side throwers. Are there any indications of him doing so?

The good news is that batted ball metrics indicate bad luck victimized Cano quite a bit last season in the lefty-lefty split. During these situations, 28.4% of batted balls were line drives, yet Cano only posted a .272 BABIP. The LD% seems rather high, but his BABIP certainly indicates a degree of bad luck. From 2010-2011, Cano hit 19.6% line drives against left handers with a more normal .311 BABIP. Furthermore, his lifetime BABIP in this split is .319. One final tidbit: according to Texas Leaguers, Cano lined out 8.5% of the time against lefties last season, vs. 3.3% from 2005-2011. So, even if Cano was hitting far fewer line drives than the 2012 metrics indicate, it’s still evident that he was pretty unlucky based on historical performance.

While the batted ball metrics point to a return to normalcy, Cano’s strikeout rate might be considered slightly worrisome. From 2005-2011, he was sent down on strikes 13.4% of his plate appearances. Last season, that mark spiked to 17.5%. Did that mean he wasn’t seeing the ball well? Probably not. We’re dealing with a sample size of 165 PAs, so giving or taking couple of strikeouts makes a big difference. Yes, a 4.1% increase is noticeable, but nothing to get up in arms about.

Given the current state of the Yankees, Cano will have the burden of carrying this offense for the first time in his career, making it paramount for him to revert to balanced splits. Luckily, just about all signs point to Cano mashing left handers once again. If the batted ball data is to be trusted, which I believe it to be, there is really not much to worry about. I would only be concerned about the increased Ks should it carry forward to this season. His performance vs. southpaws will be worth keeping an eye out for in the early stages of the year, but I expect to forget that it was ever a minor concern in the near future.

Photo by By Keith Allison (Flickr) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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