Over the past several days I’ve examined batted ball data and expected batted average on balls in play for several key Yankees: Mark Teixeira, Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher. The conclusions have varied for each player, but the one constant theme has been that batting average, and BABIP, only tell you a part of the story about a batter’s performance, and that examining other factors can often yield a more full picture. Today’s case is no different. A midseason MVP candidate, Robinson Cano has put together a remarkable 2010 campaign, clubbing 17 home runs and knocking in 63 RBI while posting a batting line of .333/.385/.558. Cano has had a high BABIP throughout the course of his career, averaging a 0.323. This year his BABIP sits at 0.341 (as of ASB), above his norm but not outrageously high. Is there any reason to doubt that his hot start will continue in the second half?
In 2010, Cano is registering the second-lowest line drive total of his career, down a percentage point from 2009. Additionally, he’s continued his career-long trend of lowering his ground balls and raising his fly-ball percentage. While a lowered line-drive percentage isn’t a positive sign, it’s also not axiomatically bad in this case. The difference between a LD% of 19.9% and 18.6% over 351 ABs is roughly 4 or 5 line drives. That’s a rounding error.
When examining the components of his batted ball data it becomes apparent that Cano, much like Nick Swisher, is achieving a very high BABIP on his grounders. His 2010 ground ball BABIP is a solid 90 points higher than the AL career average over that time. On fly balls, though, Cano’s BABIP is 30 points lower than the AL average. In fact, it more resembles his 2008 campaign, during which he had an overall BABIP of .283 on his way to a .275/.310/.410 line. On line drives, Cano isn’t nearly as fortunate as Swisher. His 0.759 mark is slightly higher than league average, but is essentially within the margin of error. What, then, is his expected BABIP?
Cano’s expected batting average on balls in play is 0.311, some thirty points lower than his current BABIP and twenty points lower than his batting average. So, as is often the case with hitters with great first halves, Cano has had things go his way. At the same time, there are several reasons why Yankee fans should be optimistic about his second half.
Cano has consistently outperformed his xBABIP throughout his career, except for his 2008 campaign (in which he underperformed). It’s certainly possible that he could do the same in 2010. Most encouragingly, he’s achieved a higher than expected BABIP in the least important area – ground balls. In other words, ground balls aren’t where Cano is making his impact and it won’t be the end of the world if his luck runs out. For comparison, his slugging percentage on ground balls is .371; on line drives his slugging percentage is 1.148. Regression on ground balls would hardly dent his overall slugging percentage. All of this is to say that Cano is in his prime and his power is legitimate. He may not see the same fortune on grounders in the second half, but I’m not certain that you’ll even notice a difference.