Robinson Cano is mashing lefties once again

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

After being neutralized by lefties for all of 2012 and part of 2013, it looks like Robinson Cano is back on track against same side pitching.

At the very end of May, I wrote about Robinson Cano's development of a platoon split, something he hadn't exhibited in his career prior to 2012. It was pretty strange, considering Cano is in the midst of his prime years, and had always shown the ability to handle pitchers from both angles. After hitting .234/.298/.352 against southpaws from the beginning of 2012 up until May 31, I concluded the following:

While it still seems that Cano has run into some bad luck, and that a change in hitting approach could be beneficial, the two arguments are probably too simplistic in nature. What we've seen from Cano against lefties since 2012 may simply be who he is going forward.

It looks like I may have been wrong about this one, as Cano has batted .331/.402/.441 in 132 plate appearances since. Obviously, not only is this a sample size, but it's also arbitrary endpoints I'm working with. Plus, a .375 BABIP during this stretch makes it look even flukier. However, digging a little deeper, there may be reason to believe that Cano is reverting back to his old ways against southpaws (116 wRC+ through 2011).

During both his struggles and resurgence against southpaws, Cano's batted ball profile has remained steady. In particular, and most importantly, his line drive rate has improved from 24.6% to 25.7% against lefties since my last piece on Cano (both of these marks are 2012-time of publication). While that still makes his .272 BABIP vs. lefties in 2012 a head-scratcher, his recent performance shouldn't be so surprising. In fact, Cano has been hitting the ball better against lefties, even since he began scuffling against them in 2012. Through 2011, his LD% was just 18.3% in this split.

Although I had partially attributed Cano's left-on-left slump to poor BABIP fortune, I also blamed his approach. Citing his spray charts, I noted that Cano appeared to be attempting to pull the ball too often in same side situations. The majority of his outs were grounders to the right side. In reviewing updated spray charts, it appears this hasn't changed, despite an uptick in performance.

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Perhaps I discounted the element of bad luck in my prior analysis, while focusing too much on his approach. It does appear that he is taking the ball the other way a little bit more, but it's not like his batted ball profile ever worsened. In fact, perhaps I should have stuck to my guns from an article I penned in the offseason:

During these situations [L vs. L in 2012], 28.4% of batted balls were line drives, yet Cano only posted a .272 BABIP [in 2012]. The LD% seems rather high, but his BABIP certainly indicates a degree of bad luck...One final tidbit: according to Texas Leaguers, Cano lined out 8.5% of the time against lefties last season, vs. 3.3% from 2005-2011. So, even if Cano was hitting far fewer line drives than the 2012 metrics indicate, it’s still evident that he was pretty unlucky based on historical performance.

From 2005 through 2011, Cano hit .300/.343/.475 with a .319 BABIP against lefties. That's seven years of data - so even though his hot 128 plate appearance stretch seems to be a small sample size, perhaps 2012 through mid-2013 was the real outlying sample. It seems odd that a player of Cano's caliber could get so unlucky for an extended stretch with a favorable batted ball profile to boot, but that appears to be exactly what happened.

With his 2013 wRC+ against lefties up to 109, not far off from his 116 mark from 2005 through 2011, signing Cano to a long-term deal doesn't worry me as much as before. There are still caveats with any long-term contract, but that's a story for another time. Most importantly, Cano looks to have quelled any worries about being a glorified platoon player.

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