In just the second year of a 10-year, $US200 million contract, Robinson Cano was looking like a bad investment by the Seattle Mariners.
After a solid first season last year, Cano was struggling mightily this season, batting a career-low .248 with an on-base percentage of .289 through June.
Cano had been struggling since last September, and said part of it was due to a stomach parasite that he contracted. Though he got treatment for the parasite, he was left with acid reflux disease, which he said made him feel bloated and nauseous at times, affecting his physical performance.
However, over the last month, Cano has steadily improved, and in his seven games since the All-Star break has suddenly caught fire and begun to look like the player the Mariners thought they were getting.
In July, Cano is batting .352 with a .399 OBP, a .655 slugging percentage — almost double his season average from April to June — and a 1.029 OPS (on-base plus slugging). Those numbers have been buoyed by a red-hot streak since the All-Star break, where in seven games and 19 at-bats, he’s hitting .421, with a .476 OBP, .947 SLG, and 1.423 OPS. In that same seven-game span, he also has three of his nine home runs, six RBIs, and perhaps more importantly, only three strikeouts.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how Cano has managed this turnaround. Cano hasn’t gone in-depth about his health or his turnaround, other than saying he’s improved mentally at the plate:
“I’ve hit balls hard, but when you start getting hits, it’s different. There’s less thinking for you. You aren’t thinking about what you are doing wrong and what you have to do to get hits. To be able to come through in that situation when we’ve been having trouble with men in scoring position, especially myself, is big.”
Beyond that, Cano’s turnaround could just be a matter of luck.
Cano has struggled with plate discipline all season. According to Fangraphs, on the year, he has 67 strikeouts to just 19 walks, a .28 walk-strikeout ratio, with a 17% strikeout rate and 34% swing rate at pitches outside the strike zone. These things haven’t particularly changed — in July, his walk-strikeout ratio is .25 and he’s still swinging at 33% of pitches outside the strike zone.
As Chris Towers of CBS Sports notes, Cano seems to have some better luck at the plate. He’s hitting the ball slightly harder, with an exit velocity of 92.5 miles-per-hour, 18th best in baseball, up from 90.6 miles-per-hour. Towers also notes that through much of the season, Cano was hitting the ball hard, but right into the ground or at fielders. Since June 17, is groundball rate has fallen from 58.2% to 43.7%, meaning he’s getting elevation on the ball to match his power.
Mike Petriello of MLB.com similarly recognises that while Cano was hitting hard all season, he’s now getting more elevation on the ball. In the past month, Cano’s average launch angle has improved from 6.79 degrees to 9.14 degrees. This could be the primary reason behind his sudden uptick in home runs, as he’s hit seven of his nine total in the past month.
Thus far, there hasn’t been any concrete reasoning for Cano’s resurgence. The Mariners are only 43-51 and are 14 games back in the AL — it’s unlikely they can make a run for the playoffs at this point. However, Cano’s turnaround bodes well for the future, particularly when they have invested so much in him.
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