“It’s more than an honor to hit behind A-Rod and in front of Posada,” Cano said. “That means I’m going to have to step it up early in the season.”
Those were Robinson Cano’s words when talking about hitting fifth in the potent, loaded, and likely to be dangerous offense. This will be a relatively new experience for Robinson, who has amassed only 290 plate appearances in the five spot, hitting to an unimpressive .774 OPS.
Girardi’s move to put Robbie in this prominent spot in the batting order represents a sort of “sink-or-swim” position to Cano. I’ve always said that Cano should bat in the lower part of the order so the Yankees’ high-on base guys could be on in front of him. Then, Cano’s power could drive them in. Of course, this works in theory, but Cano’s troubles with runners on base are well noted. By being placed in the fifth spot, Cano is being asked to improve on his relatively poor numbers.
It is worth noting that Cano’s BABIPs with runners on base (.294), RISP (.267), and high leverage situations (.271) are lower than his career BABIP of .321. This means a combination of two things; it means that Robinson is experiencing a little bit of bad luck and is probably hitting the ball a little bit weaker in those situations.
Looking at Robinson’s batted ball splits in the different leverage situations, we can see some interesting things. First, he has his lowest (among the three leverage categories) line drive percentage, 17.7%. This tells us he’s not hitting the ball with as much authority as he does in other situations–his career LD% is 19.3.
The next two items blend together and reinforce the point about line drive percentage. In the high-leverage situations, Cano has his lowest ground ball percentage (46.8) and highest fly ball percentage (35.5), as well as his lowest HR/Fly Ball ball percentage (6.4). It would seem that when Robbie is hitting in high leverage situations, he’s not getting as on top of the ball as he should be, and this is leading to a higher amount of outs.
Robinson also makes slightly less contact when he hits in high leverage situations. His career strikeout percentage is 11.7% and goes up to 14.6% when in high leverage situations. While both of those numbers are good–they’re well below the league average strikeout percentage–the uptick in strikeouts with men on is concerning.
As I’m not a batting coach and I haven’t dissected hours and hours of video, I can’t reliably prescribe something to fix Mr. Cano’s ills. What I suggest is likely to be the “Spark Notes” version of what hitting coach Kevin Long will say: focus on making contact and make sure you’re swinging down on the ball.
Like Girardi, Long, and hopefully all of you reading this, I have every confidence that Cano will right himself in situations with runners on and will come through this year. Remember, he’s driven in at least 70 runs each season for the last four seasons with these poor numbers with runners on and high leverage situations. With just a bit of improvement at the plate–and a small up-turn in luck–Cano could potentially drive in 100 runs.