Robinson Cano: Power Struggles

Generally, everyone expected Robinson Cano home runs, runs batted in and runs scored to be down in 2014 compared to 2013 as he went from the Yankees to the Mariners. The Runs (81 to 77) were about the same and the RBIs dropped a good amount (107 to 82), but it was the home runs which did owners in. They nearly halved going from 27 in 2013 to 14 in 2014. Today, I am going to look at the decline’s  cause and if there is any hope for 2015.

The first key is to see how many home runs Cano lost moving from Yankee Stadium to Safeco Field. Using Inside Edge data*,  I estimated his HRs in 2012 and 2013 if he played half his games in Safeco and half at a league average field. This value would give an estimate on how much his home run total would go down. He hit 60 for the combined two seasons and the estimated home run total was 54.0. On average, he would be down three home runs per season if he was a Mariner those two years. If we move to his 2014 home runs, he would be estimated to hit 14.4 HR. He wasn’t exactly unlucky this past season, he hit almost as many home runs as he deserved.

Cano has really quit hitting the ball deep and the change started in 2013. Here are some numbers from his last six halves of baseball.

Half: ISO, HR/FB%
2012 1H: .265, 26%
2012 2H: .207, 21%
2013: 1H: .229, 22%
2013 2H: .163, 10%
2014: 1H: .127, 10%
2014 2H: .157, 12%

He is just not hitting the ball as hard. It should not be a surprise since he was 31-years-old and power normally declines steeply at that age. Here is an aging curve for ISO with the HR component separated out:

The home runs numbers really begin to drop around age 30 or 31. The power decline just happened to occur at the same time as he changed teams. With a full season of at bats, I just don’t see him getting his power back. I would put 20 HR as a max value which is near the 18 predicted by Steamer.

As for the rest of his stats, he will feel the drop in Runs and RBIs because of the home run loss. The loss of ~15 automatic Runs and RBIs is tough to make up. As for his AVG, it has been over .300 since 2009 and he is keeping up his contact skills. Additionally, teams have not been successful using the shift against him even though he is normally a pull hitter.

Season: BABIP vs IF Shift, BABIP w/o Shift
2012: .313, .321
2013: .318, .321
2014: .388, .303

While the shift did not effect him too much in 2012 and 2013, he destroyed teams who used it in 2014.

One trait which may take a hit is his BB% and therefor his OBP. He had a career high 20 IBB in 2014. Depending on how he is performing, I could see teams not walk him has much. His BB% could drop to under 5% like it was early in his career.

Cano’s power looks to have peaked and it has dropped to a lower talent level. He may see a small jump in home runs, but 20 home runs is probably a peak value. Just reminder to not value him for his past value, but for his future value.



* Inside Edge data tracks 99 different zones a batter can hit the ball to. I collected the average amount of flyballs and line drives which went for home runs in each zone. Then I took the league average HR/(LD+FB) and multiplied by times an individual player hit a ball into those zones. Then, I can compared the actual number to the estimated number to get a difference. The data is only available from 2012 to 2014

Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won four FSWA Awards including on for his Mining the News series. He's won Tout Wars three times, LABR once, and got his first NFBC Main Event win in 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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Despite his decline he is still arguably the top 2nd baseman going into next year.