Can Cano turn things around playing in his favorite ballparks?
Robinson Cano’s .253 average and one home run 37 games into the season is enough to cause concern. But is it truly time to panic about the superstar who’s in just his second year of a 10-year, $240 million contract with the Mariners?
Give it at least another nine games.
The Mariners begin a nine-game, three-series road trip against American League East Division teams Tuesday, and if there’s ever an opportunity for Cano to turn his season around, this is it.
First up: Baltimore’s Camden Yards, perhaps Cano’s favorite place to hit over his MLB career. Of all the stadiums he’s played at least 20 games in, his .361/.412/.583 slash line in the Orioles’ home park is far and away his best. It’s certainly no fluke, either. He’s played 79 games there – the vast majority coming from his days with the Yankees – blasting 15 home runs along the way.
Also on the road trip, Cano and the Mariners will stop by Tampa Bay’s Tropicana Field May 25-27, another place he’s raked. In 82 games at the Trop, Cano has a .322/.367/.548 slash line and 17 homers – more than any park besides either the new or old Yankee Stadium. And yes, that even includes Safeco Field, where he has just 13 homers in 138 games.
With six games upcoming in two of his favorite stadiums, the road trip represents a golden opportunity for Cano to rediscover the sweet stroke that has produced six straight seasons with a .300-plus batting average. Then again, it may not be as simple as playing in more friendly ballparks.
There could be something fundamentally wrong with his approach, as David Schoenfield of the ESPN SweetSpot blog told 710 ESPN Seattle’s “Bob, Groz and Tom” on Monday.
“Checking the numbers, the walk rate is down, the strikeout rate is up,” Schoenfield said. “Watching the series against the Red Sox … just a lot of really weak contact, looks like he’s been off-balance a lot, which is unusual for him.”
Age doesn’t appear to be the culprit for the poor numbers, at least not yet.
“He’s 32, which seems a little early to get concerned that he’s aging quickly or falling off the cliff,” Schoenfield said. “Certainly early in the year it seemed like he was hitting the ball hard, hitting into some bad luck. I’m just a little concerned about that strikeout rate. That’s the one thing, why is that up so far?”
Schoenfield dug a little deeper for a SweetSpot piece and found some troubling numbers from Cano against off-speed pitches. In 2013, he hit .316/.358/.608 against the combination of curveballs, sliders, changeups and splitters. In 2014 it dropped to .279/.298/.466. This season? All the way down to .194/.206/.323.
The next week-plus will be very telling about the state of Robinson Cano. He may be playing a handful of games in parks he historically has success in, but he will almost certainly see a steady diet of the off-speed offerings that have been giving him fits. And with the Mariners inching back towards .500 in a season with massive expectations, there could be no more important time for their No. 3 hitter to figure things out.