2014 Fantasy Baseball: Robinson Cano — Down and In
It happens often in sports. We hear a narrative and it becomes scripture to us. Ideally, prior to forming that belief someone along the way gave us some fact-based or even statistical analysis on why said narrative is true, and we move on. Our mind is made up on this topic, and we get lazy. In fact, it happened to me when I looked at Robinson Cano’s 2014 stat line. ‘Wow, only six home runs for Cano? Man, Safeco is a real SOB! Tough break! Enjoy that cash, Robbie.’ Turns out, I’m stubborn so I kept digging. Let’s breakdown what I found and find out what it means for Cano’s fantasy value for the rest of the season.
During draft season, it was hard to find someone that didn’t have Robinson Cano ranked as the top second baseman on the board, and rightfully so. Despite moving to the Pacific Northwest and away from a far greater hitting environment in Yankee Stadium, Cano was regarded as tops at the position. Every Cano write-up was required to tell you that Seattle’s Safeco Field is a pitcher’s park, and Cano’s power will surely suffer. Independent of each other, those statements are correct. New York’s short porch in right field was home to many Cano long balls over the past decade and conducive to a left-handed hitter’s power stroke, but we knew Seattle wouldn’t be quite as friendly. After five consecutive seasons of 25+ home runs, we’re halfway through the 2014 season and Robbie Cano has six. Guess what? He’ll be lucky to get to 15 and it has nothing to do with Safeco.
Robinson Cano has never been a prototypical ‘power hitter’. He’s just a great hitter, and at times, that’ll produce above average home run totals. A simple glance at his fantasy stat line and you wouldn’t think much has changed. He entered Sunday with a .323 batting average, with counting stats in line with his typical output. His plate discipline and contact rates are also in line with his career totals, ensuring us that he’s essentially the same player he’s always been. The red flags arise when we look at his batted ball profile.
Robinson Cano is hitting grounders like he’s Dee Gordon. Sadly for Cano owners, he’s hitting home runs like he’s Dee Gordon, too. It’s hard to hit home runs if 53.7% of your batted balls go into the ground. #Analysis. He has been able to produce strong power numbers in the past despite a sub 30% fly-ball rate though. In fact last season, Cano was the only player in the league to top 20 home runs and have a fly-ball rate below 30% (29.8%). That was supported by a strong HR/FB rate of 17.3%, which has been about the norm for Cano’s career. So far in 2014, Cano is below the league average in this category, at just 9%. If Kyle Seager hadn’t hit 11 of his 13 home runs at home for example, I suppose we could try and take a look at Safeco Field again, but this is about the player and not the park.
Hit Tracker tells us that he’s not hitting the ball as far either. Cano’s true distance of 386.8 is down; it was 403.9 last season, and he’s typically been in the 400 range on average. A closer look at heat maps from Fangraphs tells us what’s changed. The RAA/100P (Runs Above Average per 100 pitches) used in the graphs below are a linear weight metric that gives you’re the sum of a batters outcomes in a specific zone. It tells you how the players fairs when compared to the league average. Any number you see that’s ‘0’ or above is at or above average. Essentially the more red you see, the better.
You weren’t wondering, but I’m a left-handed hitter. We LOVE the ball down and in. It fits a lefty’s swing perfectly to take a ball down and in and drive it. It’s never been Cano’s favorite place to see a pitch, but clearly it’s giving him fits this season. He’s below average in a few zones, but nowhere is he more susceptible than down and in. There’s never been a clear place to attack Robinson Cano, but that appears to be changing. He’s below league average anywhere down and in and it’s not even close.
Throughout his career Robinson Cano has rolled out of bed and played 160 games with .300/25/100 season after season, but I don’t see that player right now. He’ll continue to produce a strong batting average though his BABIP is a tad high, and his six steals are a pleasant surprise but clearly not shifting the stolen base category in your league’s standings. Maybe it’s not that bold of a take, but I don’t see Robinson Cano topping 15 home runs this year, and if I can get top-20 value in a trade, then I’d move him faster than you can say $240 million.