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Robinson Cano never needed Yankee Stadium to hit for power

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Despite moving to the more pitcher-friendly Safeco Field, Robinson Cano has silenced critics who said he needed Yankee Stadium to be a power hitter.

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

We are now three full seasons removed from Robinson Cano's controversial departure from New York, and tension between Yankees fans and the star second baseman appear to have dissipated. Amid a busy 2013-2014 offseason, the Seattle Mariners signed Cano to a 10-year, $240 million deal. After signing with Seattle, Cano expressed his belief that he felt disrespected by the Yankees' efforts to resign him, drawing the ire of some fans.

One of the common beliefs among Yankees fans was that he would be out of place at Safeco Field, which is a notoriously pitcher-friendly stadium. Cano's smooth lefty swing often made it look like he could flick his wrists and send a ball into the right field bleachers at Yankee Stadium, so it was tough to imagine him maintaining his power output out west.

At first, it looked like the intuitive hypothesis was correct. Cano didn't even hit his first home run at Safeco until June 11 of 2014, and finished with 14 homers on the season. He had at least 25 home runs from 2009 to 2013, and his .454 slugging percentage was his lowest since 2008.

Despite a low power year, Cano still hit for average in 2014. He got off to an even slower start in 2015, stumbling into the All-Star break with a .251/.290/.370 slash line. He admitted to battling a stomach illness that made it difficult to eat as much, making it difficult to maintain his stamina throughout the season.

But with Mariners fans bracing for an Albert Pujols-like contract, Cano flipped a switch after the 2015 All Star Break. Since then, he has a .308/.361/.535 slash line, good for a wRC+ of 143. In 2016, he hit a career-high 39 home runs, with 17 of them coming in Seattle. He had a .972 OPS on balls hit to the pull side at home, which is still lower than his numbers as a Yankee. But his home run total clearly shows that he did not need the short porch in right field to be an elite power hitter.

The easiest explanation is that he just hit the ball harder. For the year, Cano had a 35.5% hard-hit percentage, his highest total as a Mariner. He also increased his fly ball percentage by more than ten percentage points, to 36.1%. Instead of accepting his limitations as a Safeco inhabitant, he has gone against intuition, becoming more of a fly ball hitter. So far, it has paid dividends, as the second baseman tallied 6.0 fWAR on the season.

The tail end of Cano's contract in Seattle will still probably be unpleasant, but for now, the former pride of the Yankees' development system appears to have entered a second prime. It will be interesting to see how long he can keep producing as a reinvented hitter. With a few more seasons like this one, he could easily find himself in Cooperstown after it is all said and done.

Data is courtesy of Fangraphs.