Robinson Cano was once one of the best second basemen in baseball. Those days are long gone now, but the New York Mets are hoping they can squeeze a little more out of Cano during the last two years of his contract.
One trend that is promising is that he’s become a much better breaking ball hitter as a member of the Mets.
There are several ways to measure this. One is launch angle. Cano’s average launch angles in 2018, his last season with Seattle, were 11 degrees on breaking balls, eight degrees on fastballs, and four degrees on offspeed pitches. In 2019, there were some minor changes. His breaking ball launch angle stayed the same, but his fastball launch angle dropped one degree and his offspeed launch angle rose one degree. In 2020, there were massive changes. His launch angle on breaking balls soared to 21 degrees, while his fastball and offspeed launch angles plummeted to just two. Obviously the short season and small sample size is a factor, but that’s a stark change.
Playing off of his launch angle, his batted ball stats have also improved. His fly ball rate was up from 19.5% in 2019 to 30.3% in 2020, and his ground ball rate dropped from 48.1% in 2019 to just 30.3% in 2020. He’s also pulling breaking balls more, up to 15.2%.
His hard hit and barrel rates have also improved. In 2018, it was at 39.4%. In 2019, it rose to 42.9% and it rose again to 48.5% in 2020. His barrel rate was perhaps his biggest improvement, jumping from 6.5% in 2019 to 12.1% in 2020.
Naturally, when you’re hitting the ball harder and at the opportune launch angle, your batting average, slugging percentage, and xwOBA reflect that. In 2019, he hit just .221, slugged .423, and had an wOBA of .288 off of breaking balls. His expected stats didn’t love him either, with an xBA of .243, an xSLG of .372, and an xwOBA of .284. However in 2020, all of his stats jumped. He hit .286, he slugged .595, and his wOBA was .365. His xBA matched his real batting average of .286, his xSLG was .587, and his xwOBA was .363.
Whatever changes Robby Cano has made to his swing and/or approach against breaking balls is working spectacularly.
I know that Robinson Cano is one of the more dreaded players on the Mets in recent years, and I feel that too. When Brodie van Wagenen made the bonehead trade with the Seattle Mariners, shipping out stud prospects like Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn, I was confused and angry. Then Cano tested positive for PEDs for a second time, which is why he didn’t appear in 2021. He didn’t even release a statement about it, which is pathetic.
There’s a part of me that hopes Steve Cohen buys out the rest of his contract and sends him packing. However, I think the main reason the Mets are keeping him around is to mentor younger players. Let guys like Ronny Mauricio and Brett Baty spend time with Robby in spring training and soak up as much as they can.Make sure Mauricio takes plenty of grounders with him too, since he’s likely the second baseman of the future.