Robinson Cano has been something of a pet project for Yankee hitting coach Kevin Long in recent years. He visited Robbie last year during the off season in the Dominican to work on adjusting his stance, and again this year to help him make the necessary adjustments for what the Yanks just recently revealed their plan was, to bat Robbie 5th this year.
There has always been a question about which way Robbie’s career would go. Whether he would ever learn to draw more walks and become a lethal presence at the top of the order, or if he would fill out physically, develop more pop and use his outstanding ability to make contact to be a perfect 5 hole hitter. Clearly, the Yanks have decided the latter is where they think he’s best suited. The one thing holding him back has been his struggles with RISP. Unlike some Sabermatricians (who I respect) I’m not going to tell you this was some statistical anomaly based on a small sample size. I don’t believe that’s the case. I’ve watched him far too often uncharacteristically swing a pitches way out of the zone in those spots, and just look jumpy at the plate. It’s one thing to be aggressive, it’s another to swing at everything. Robbie has an (unfair) tag about him being lazy. But in clutch situations, I see the exact opposite. I see someone who’s trying TOO hard.
Yankee hitting Coach Kevin Long seems to agree. Check out what Long said about in a February Daily News interview:
As any Yankee fan knows, Cano is an aggressive free swinger, to the point where he drew only 30 walks last season. In clutch situations, pitchers take advantage of his aggressiveness and get him to chase pitches out of the strike zone.
“In those situations pitchers go to their out pitch against him,” said Long, “which means more movement, more down, and something that gets you off-balance. That’s where Robby has to be more patient, more selective, so that he brings the ball to the middle of the plate.
“We chart chase percentages for each of our hitters, and Robby chased 11% of pitches out of the strike zone, which was the highest on the team. Most guys are around 5 or 6%. And Robby’s chases go up with runners in scoring position.“
Bingo. Situations like his call for qualitative analysis as much as quantitative. Pitchers know his aggressive nature, and have been getting him out by throwing him garbage in clutch situations. His struggles with RISP have as much to do with how he’s being pitched as it does his approach in those spots, both of which conspire yield poor results. It’s not some statistical noise, it’s a function of his scouting report.
So how will batting him 5th help? Simple, hitting behind Alex means that opposing pitchers will often pitch around A-Rod to get to Cano. But that cuts both ways, with men on base pitchers will be forced to throw Robbie more strikes, to avoid walking the bases loaded or walking in a run. But they will also try to tease him with some garbage pitches to see if he’ll chase before he gets his pitch to hit. Look for Robbie to get deep into counts in those spots, forcing the pitcher to challenge him with fastballs in the zone. That’s when he’ll have the pitcher just where he wants him.
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