One of the biggest questions posed to the Seattle Mariners from the outset of the season was where Robinson Cano‘s power had disappeared to. The $240 million-man had only one home run through the first month of the season and his ISO sat at a measly .082 on April 30th. PI’s Chris Moran analyzed Cano’s early-season struggles and noted that Cano was failing to hit balls in the air often and had been swinging at pitches outside of the strike-zone more frequently than he had in his career. The 31-year old did have a .296 average and .346 on-base percentage at that time, and there wasn’t much concern over where the power had gone. Fast forward three months later and Cano has had an outstanding season and his power numbers have actually started to resemble his previous marks.
Since June 29th, or the past 34 games prior to Sunday’s contest, Cano has put up a 184 wRC+ and a .206 ISO alongside five home runs. He also holds an 11.3 percent walk rate against an 8.0 percent strikeout rate in that time– he’s yet to strike out in a game in August. For comparison sake, the Dominican had a .202 ISO with 27 home runs in 2013 and a .238 ISO with 33 home runs in 2012. Now for those unfamiliar, ISO or isolated slugging percentage, measures a hitter’s raw power by dividing extra bases by at bats. Naturally, the more home runs one hits, the higher their ISO will be as a result.
In the aforementioned stretch Cano also hit ten doubles and a triple adding to a total of 48 hits in 150 plate appearances and his slash line read .366/.447/.573 — his season line is now .330/.399/.465. The slugger has been at the top of the batting average leaderboards throughout the season and only Jose Altuve and Troy Tulowitzki have higher numbers entering Sunday’s games. Given Cano’s outstanding consistency at the plate this year, his lack of home runs haven’t or at least shouldn’t have been alarming. Though when you pay a guy $24 million a season you’re expecting a lot more of the long ball. Unless one signs Jacoby Ellsbury, but I digress.
If we go back to that 34-game sample and stretch it across an entire season it would give Cano about 25 home runs, and nobody would be complaining about his output — especially since he’d still have that excellent average and on-base percentage to boot. Obviously maintaining a batting average above .350 for an entire season almost never happens anymore, but Cano’s BABIP during that stretch was only .377 so skeptics can’t really point to luck being the main variable in play. For what it’s worth, Cano has typically had a BABIP around the .330 mark over the course of his career and holds a .357 mark for the 2014 season. Since his batting average is also about 20 points higher this year than in the last several years, we can infer that Cano has simply been making better contact this season.
[pullquote]Cano has now put together 44 multi-hit games on the year and could break the 200-hit plateau for the third time in his career before the season is complete. He has 142 hits through the M’s first 117 games heading into a three-game set with the Blue Jays beginning on Monday.[/pullquote]
Many have talked about the transition process the six-time All-Star would have to make going from New York to Seattle: Safeco being less hitter-friendly than Yankee Stadium, their being little in the way of lineup protection, and the expectations of a huge contract and a new city. If you watched Cano’s at bats, especially in the first half of the season, he was getting very little to hit, let alone drive out of the park. So, as all great hitters do, he made adjustments. Cano’s O-Swing rate is now down to 35.3 percent from the 41 percent mark he held through the first forty games of the season and his wRC+ has seen a monthly improvement. He’s taking his walks when the pitches to hit aren’t there and making excellent contact when he does have opportunities.
The slugger is still shy of the double-digit home run mark — he’s stuck at nine — and is on pace to finish the season with 14 long balls. That’s wouldn’t be a great power output if he finishes around that number, but it’s also nothing to scoff at either, all things considered. It’s important to look at how the landscape has changed towards the stretch drive as well. As mentioned, Cano has hit better as the season’s wore on and figures to continue seeing better pitches to hit with Austin Jackson and Dustin Ackley frequently getting on base in front of him and Kyle Seager turning into a solid hitter behind him. On the year Cano owns a 186 wRC+ with runners on base compared to a 110 mark with the bases empty.
A great hitter will find a way to get hits regardless of the field’s dimension, who hits behind him in the lineup, and where he’s playing, and Robbie is exactly that — a great hitter. So what if he doesn’t crack the 20 home run plateau? It may be slightly disappointing for some, especially since he’s consistently been a 25-dinger guy, but I’d be far more impressed if he finishes the year with a batting title and the club has played meaningful games towards the end of September if not into October.
The power numbers are finally starting to roll in for Cano, and it’s going to be exciting to see what he’s able to do with a lineup that’s growing more legitimate by the day down the stretch.