Robinson Cano has put up some incredible numbers this season, with a .367 batting average that leads all major-league players. He has hit regardless of location (.379 on the road, .355 at home), pitcher-handedness (.399 vs RHP, .309 vs LHP), month (.400 in April, .336 in May, .377 in June), or the game outcome (.386 in wins, .337 in losses).
But perhaps his most impressive of all these numbers is 3-8-0, which is his batting average with runners in scoring position this season. Why is that so impressive? Consider that last year, while posting a .320 batting average overall that was the 12th-best mark in the majors, he hit just .207 with runners in scoring position, which ranked 224th out of 240 qualifying major-league players.
Let’s dig deeper, beyond the stats on the back of his baseball card, to see if we can figure out how he has been able to raise his game this season when coming to the plate with ducks on the pond.
One key change for Cano is that he’s finally learned to be patient and swing at more hittable pitches. Last year, he swung at 54% of all pitches and chased 35% of pitches out the zone with runners in scoring position – both of which were well above the major league averages of 46% and 24%, respectively. This year, he’s lowered his overall swing rate to 47.1% and his chase percentage has fallen to 29.1%.
Another important change for Cano with runners in scoring position is that he is hitting the ball with more authority. First, his slugging percentage has nearly doubled from .332 in 2009 to .620, and his isolated power has increased from .125 in 2009 to .240 this year. Also, according to Inside Edge data, 31 percent of his at-bats have resulted in “well-hit” balls, compared to just 19.6 percent last year. And 58.1 percent of his balls in play have been flyballs this season, compared to 51.2 percent last year.
In fact, this season, Cano already has already knocked out 10 extra-base hits and gone deep three times in 85 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, after managing just 13 extra-base hits and four longballs in 198 plate appearances last year.
Robinson Cano, With RISP
His performance during a recent six-game stretch at the end of May highlights this remarkable improvement in both his patience at the plate and in his ability to crush the ball with runners in scoring position:
From May 27 through June 3, he came to the plate 13 times with runners in scoring position and saw 39 pitches. Of those 39 pitches, he swung at just 17 of them (43.6%), and chased only four of the 20 pitches thrown out of the zone.
Of those 17 swings, he fouled off five pitches, putting the ball in play 11 times while whiffing just once. And of those 11 balls in play, eight were flyballs and seven of them were “well-hit” balls. Finally, seven of those 11 balls in play fell for hits, including three doubles and a homer!
Cano’s transformation into a patient, slugging machine with runners in scoring position has sparked the Yankees' league-leading offense this season. With Mark Teixeira still barely hitting his weight and Alex Rodriguez struggling to find his power stroke, Cano’s hot bat has carried the team to the top of the major-league standings.
Tune into Monday Night Baseball on ESPN at 10 ET tonight as the Yankees and Diamondbacks face off in a rematch of their epic 2001 World Series battle.