Robby Cano’s RISPy Business

Robinson Cano is an outstanding hitter, but much less so when there are runners in scoring position (RISP). This fact is well known to those who follow the Yankees, but the extent of his struggles, compared to other good hitters, might surprise you.

To be clear, this is not an anti-Cano piece; I’d be thrilled to have him on either of the teams I root for. And I have no theory to explain his difficulty or prove its predictive value; although I know these numbers, I’m still terrified when he comes up in a big spot with men on against my Mets or Tigers.

I just think it’s fascinating.

 

The Data

Since 1961, there are 127 hitters who meet these minimum criteria:

  • .290 career batting average (BA); and
  • 1,000 PAs with RISP.

Here are the bottom 25 in the ratio of their [BA with RISP] to their overall BA. In the table, “BA” is BA with RISP (the numbers in bold), “BA tot” is overall BA, and the ratio is expressed as a percentage, “%.” (See full list here.)

Rk Player Split From To G BA BA
tot
% PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO OBP SLG OPS GDP HBP SF IBB
1 Robinson Cano RISP 2005 2013 914 .273 .307 88.9 1502 1323 361 85 13 41 549 123 189 .333 .450 .783 54 15 36 56
2 Hal Morris RISP 1988 2000 798 .276 .304 90.8 1262 1046 289 63 3 10 400 161 165 .363 .371 .734 42 4 39 55
3 Ralph Garr RISP 1969 1980 772 .284 .306 92.8 1157 1019 289 36 10 16 313 91 106 .339 .386 .725 17 5 21 46
4 John Kruk RISP 1986 1995 852 .281 .300 93.7 1403 1087 305 54 8 26 465 265 222 .409 .417 .826 42 1 43 83
5 Matty Alou RISP 1961 1974 909 .289 .307 94.1 1320 1172 339 52 10 5 368 98 74 .342 .363 .706 30 11 28 38
6 Luis Castillo RISP 1996 2010 1099 .274 .290 94.5 1677 1370 376 29 15 6 400 216 195 .368 .331 .699 42 3 26 13
7 Matt Kemp RISP 2006 2013 653 .276 .292 94.5 1055 885 244 38 9 43 377 126 248 .357 .485 .841 38 6 37 51
8 Matt Holliday RISP 2004 2013 1008 .295 .310 95.2 1692 1420 419 89 11 54 623 211 272 .389 .487 .877 74 29 32 46
9 Jim Eisenreich RISP 1982 1998 837 .276 .290 95.2 1298 1109 306 51 11 13 406 138 135 .345 .377 .722 32 2 42 47
10 Ken Griffey RISP 1973 1991 1406 .285 .296 96.3 2126 1801 513 88 21 39 678 256 249 .365 .422 .787 43 4 55 51
11 Brett Butler RISP 1981 1997 1370 .280 .290 96.6 1968 1558 436 52 25 6 506 296 175 .387 .357 .744 24 8 51 23
12 Dmitri Young RISP 1996 2008 948 .282 .292 96.6 1478 1256 354 77 7 35 490 175 254 .366 .438 .804 55 11 35 66
13 Troy Tulowitzki RISP 2006 2013 598 .286 .296 96.6 1012 845 242 56 4 34 357 128 164 .374 .483 .857 34 6 27 35
14 Dustin Pedroia RISP 2006 2013 655 .294 .304 96.7 1082 895 263 53 1 18 339 125 98 .371 .416 .787 32 8 38 18
15 Edgar Martinez RISP 1987 2004 1516 .302 .312 96.8 2566 1951 589 123 2 79 918 511 339 .438 .488 .927 78 23 77 112
16 Larry Walker RISP 1989 2005 1422 .303 .313 96.8 2330 1843 559 119 23 75 860 373 348 .420 .515 .935 62 46 65 117
17 Derek Jeter RISP 1995 2012 1820 .303 .313 96.8 2934 2432 736 112 15 50 976 364 474 .395 .423 .818 100 43 53 38
18 Bill Mueller RISP 1996 2006 828 .282 .291 96.9 1308 1052 297 63 10 19 379 172 163 .374 .415 .790 33 11 48 17
19 Jose Vidro RISP 1997 2008 937 .289 .298 97.0 1435 1211 350 77 4 33 496 151 134 .363 .441 .804 41 15 44 35
20 Hanley Ramirez RISP 2006 2013 707 .289 .298 97.0 1094 913 264 51 4 31 360 138 196 .380 .456 .836 17 11 24 45
21 Bake McBride RISP 1973 1983 723 .290 .299 97.0 1104 956 277 43 12 19 359 91 129 .345 .419 .765 22 11 39 28
22 Tommy Davis RISP 1961 1976 1362 .287 .295 97.3 2245 1999 573 65 13 34 816 155 213 .332 .383 .715 97 12 64 65
23 Jose Reyes RISP 2003 2013 791 .286 .292 97.9 1183 1002 287 42 29 20 382 143 122 .368 .446 .814 13 1 25 50
24 Ivan Rodriguez RISP 1991 2011 1754 .290 .296 98.0 2763 2436 707 152 15 66 980 207 405 .342 .446 .788 115 23 76 67
25 Mike Piazza RISP 1992 2007 1386 .302 .308 98.1 2249 1857 560 84 2 105 871 338 314 .403 .519 .922 95 9 45 145
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used / Generated 6/15/2013.

 

A quick reaction to Robinson Cano’s career .273 BA with runners in scoring position might be, “Well, he gets pitched around a lot.” But he is hardly the only good hitter to face that challenge. Besides, if that were a major factor, it would show up in the OBP data. It doesn’t.

From the same group, here are the bottom 25 in ratio of On-Base Percentage (OBP) with RISP to their overall OBP (full list here):

Rk Player Split From To G OBP OBP
tot
% PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA SLG OPS GDP HBP SF IBB
1 Robinson Cano RISP 2005 2013 914 .333 .351 94.9 1502 1323 361 85 13 41 549 123 189 .273 .450 .783 54 15 36 56
2 Matty Alou RISP 1961 1974 909 .342 .345 99.1 1320 1172 339 52 10 5 368 98 74 .289 .363 .706 30 11 28 38
3 Dustin Pedroia RISP 2006 2013 655 .371 .372 99.7 1082 895 263 53 1 18 339 125 98 .294 .416 .787 32 8 38 18
4 Ralph Garr RISP 1969 1980 772 .339 .339 100.0 1157 1019 289 36 10 16 313 91 106 .284 .386 .725 17 5 21 46
5 Bake McBride RISP 1973 1983 723 .345 .345 100.0 1104 956 277 43 12 19 359 91 129 .290 .419 .765 22 11 39 28
6 Luis Castillo RISP 1996 2010 1099 .368 .368 100.0 1677 1370 376 29 15 6 400 216 195 .274 .331 .699 42 3 26 13
7 Bill Mueller RISP 1996 2006 828 .374 .373 100.3 1308 1052 297 63 10 19 379 172 163 .282 .415 .790 33 11 48 17
8 Hal Morris RISP 1988 2000 798 .363 .361 100.6 1262 1046 289 63 3 10 400 161 165 .276 .371 .734 42 4 39 55
9 Bip Roberts RISP 1986 1998 681 .360 .358 100.6 1006 874 264 52 9 10 312 89 111 .302 .416 .776 21 7 31 19
10 Tommy Davis RISP 1961 1976 1362 .332 .330 100.6 2245 1999 573 65 13 34 816 155 213 .287 .383 .715 97 12 64 65
11 Matt Holliday RISP 2004 2013 1008 .389 .385 101.0 1692 1420 419 89 11 54 623 211 272 .295 .487 .877 74 29 32 46
12 Jose Vidro RISP 1997 2008 937 .363 .359 101.1 1435 1211 350 77 4 33 496 151 134 .289 .441 .804 41 15 44 35
13 Jim Eisenreich RISP 1982 1998 837 .345 .341 101.2 1298 1109 306 51 11 13 406 138 135 .276 .377 .722 32 2 42 47
14 Johnny Ray RISP 1981 1990 956 .337 .333 101.2 1528 1323 378 81 12 14 514 124 86 .286 .397 .734 46 7 56 39
15 Mickey Rivers RISP 1970 1984 885 .331 .327 101.2 1323 1183 349 45 17 8 418 72 109 .295 .382 .713 15 8 35 20
16 Dante Bichette RISP 1988 2001 1223 .341 .336 101.5 2004 1794 548 104 11 80 846 120 310 .305 .509 .850 72 13 73 32
17 Kenny Lofton RISP 1991 2007 1355 .378 .372 101.6 2010 1663 500 69 30 22 614 239 218 .301 .418 .796 33 8 65 43
18 Ken Griffey RISP 1973 1991 1406 .365 .359 101.7 2126 1801 513 88 21 39 678 256 249 .285 .422 .787 43 4 55 51
19 Placido Polanco RISP 1998 2013 1197 .348 .342 101.8 1807 1565 468 59 9 23 574 123 119 .299 .392 .741 51 23 52 13
20 Troy Tulowitzki RISP 2006 2013 598 .374 .367 101.9 1012 845 242 56 4 34 357 128 164 .286 .483 .857 34 6 27 35
21 Roberto Kelly RISP 1987 2000 854 .344 .337 102.1 1325 1152 333 61 6 25 441 97 202 .289 .418 .761 37 20 41 16
22 Shan. Stewart RISP 1995 2008 899 .368 .360 102.2 1387 1198 363 79 7 23 456 126 156 .303 .438 .806 47 19 38 16
23 Matt Kemp RISP 2006 2013 653 .357 .349 102.3 1055 885 244 38 9 43 377 126 248 .276 .485 .841 38 6 37 51
24 Ivan Rodriguez RISP 1991 2011 1754 .342 .334 102.4 2763 2436 707 152 15 66 980 207 405 .290 .446 .788 115 23 76 67
25 Ryan Braun RISP 2007 2013 688 .384 .375 102.4 1122 968 302 68 8 51 439 113 209 .312 .557 .941 25 16 24 31
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used / Generated 6/15/2013.

 

That’s astounding. Cano is the only one in the whole group whose OBP is significantly lower with RISP than it is overall.

Finally, the bottom 25 by the ratio of their Slugging with RISP to their overall Slugging (full list here):

Rk Player Split From To G SLG SLG
tot
% PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP OPS GDP HBP SF IBB
1 Hal Morris RISP 1988 2000 798 .371 .433 85.7 1262 1046 289 63 3 10 400 161 165 .276 .363 .734 42 4 39 55
2 Robinson Cano RISP 2005 2013 914 .450 .504 89.3 1502 1323 361 85 13 41 549 123 189 .273 .333 .783 54 15 36 56
3 Dustin Pedroia RISP 2006 2013 655 .416 .459 90.6 1082 895 263 53 1 18 339 125 98 .294 .371 .787 32 8 38 18
4 Larry Walker RISP 1989 2005 1422 .515 .565 91.2 2330 1843 559 119 23 75 860 373 348 .303 .420 .935 62 46 65 117
5 Matt Holliday RISP 2004 2013 1008 .487 .532 91.5 1692 1420 419 89 11 54 623 211 272 .295 .389 .877 74 29 32 46
6 Hanley Ramirez RISP 2006 2013 707 .456 .496 91.9 1094 913 264 51 4 31 360 138 196 .289 .380 .836 17 11 24 45
7 Bill Madlock RISP 1973 1987 1258 .407 .442 92.1 2013 1637 499 84 12 20 646 267 144 .305 .395 .803 69 23 69 121
8 Dmitri Young RISP 1996 2008 948 .438 .475 92.2 1478 1256 354 77 7 35 490 175 254 .282 .366 .804 55 11 35 66
9 Ralph Garr RISP 1969 1980 772 .386 .417 92.6 1157 1019 289 36 10 16 313 91 106 .284 .339 .725 17 5 21 46
10 Vlad Guerrero RISP 1996 2011 1598 .516 .553 93.3 2594 2102 662 116 11 95 973 400 286 .315 .420 .936 118 28 64 245
11 Jim Eisenreich RISP 1982 1998 837 .377 .404 93.3 1298 1109 306 51 11 13 406 138 135 .276 .345 .722 32 2 42 47
12 John Kruk RISP 1986 1995 852 .417 .446 93.5 1403 1087 305 54 8 26 465 265 222 .281 .409 .826 42 1 43 83
13 Troy Tulowitzki RISP 2006 2013 598 .483 .514 94.0 1012 845 242 56 4 34 357 128 164 .286 .374 .857 34 6 27 35
14 Luis Castillo RISP 1996 2010 1099 .331 .351 94.3 1677 1370 376 29 15 6 400 216 195 .274 .368 .699 42 3 26 13
15 Derek Jeter RISP 1995 2012 1820 .423 .448 94.4 2934 2432 736 112 15 50 976 364 474 .303 .395 .818 100 43 53 38
16 Edgar Martinez RISP 1987 2004 1516 .488 .515 94.8 2566 1951 589 123 2 79 918 511 339 .302 .438 .927 78 23 77 112
17 Tommy Davis RISP 1961 1976 1362 .383 .404 94.8 2245 1999 573 65 13 34 816 155 213 .287 .332 .715 97 12 64 65
18 Brett Butler RISP 1981 1997 1370 .357 .376 94.9 1968 1558 436 52 25 6 506 296 175 .280 .387 .744 24 8 51 23
19 Al Kaline RISP 1961 1974 1202 .455 .479 95.0 1840 1445 441 70 10 42 633 308 179 .305 .415 .869 51 11 69 87
20 David Segui RISP 1990 2004 970 .421 .443 95.0 1537 1268 367 68 6 29 526 204 199 .289 .380 .802 47 10 45 56
21 Ichiro Suzuki RISP 2001 2013 1243 .397 .417 95.2 1870 1524 489 48 13 14 536 271 167 .321 .419 .816 29 15 39 176
22 Mike Piazza RISP 1992 2007 1386 .519 .545 95.2 2249 1857 560 84 2 105 871 338 314 .302 .403 .922 95 9 45 145
23 Matty Alou RISP 1961 1974 909 .363 .381 95.3 1320 1172 339 52 10 5 368 98 74 .289 .342 .706 30 11 28 38
24 Alex Rodriguez RISP 1994 2012 1903 .534 .560 95.4 3238 2617 777 139 7 156 1240 441 591 .297 .399 .933 90 71 101 91
25 David Wright RISP 2004 2013 980 .484 .505 95.8 1636 1333 395 97 6 47 599 231 310 .296 .391 .874 46 13 59 64
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used / Generated 6/15/2013.

 

The Details

I ran the same search for high-leverage situations, using the same overall .290 BA criterion, but dropping the PA threshold to 750 to maintain the population size; Cano has over 1,000 high-leverage PAs. Cano ranked worst in all three hi-lev ratios — in BA ratio (88.6%), in OBP ratio (92.3%), and in SLG ratio (85.3%). In each case, he was at least 1.7 percentage points below the next-worst hitter — an awfully big margin, since the range in each measure was about 90% to 110%.

Even more curious: Cano fares just fine in late-and-close situations. In the group with .290 career BA and at least 500 PAs for that split, he’s well above the median in BA and OBP ratios, a little below median in Slugging but still in the meat of the curve. The most notable underachievers in those spots are Troy Tulowitzki (worst in BA, SLG and OPS ratios) and Manny Ramirez (bottom 5 in BA and SLG ratios).

Cano also has normal ratios in splits that don’t specifically require men in scoring position, and ditto with a man on 1st base only. The problem — to the extent that these data show a real problem — is strictly with men in scoring position.

The Baseball-Reference Event Finder lets us tease out the overlap from the various “clutch” situations.

  • High-leverage: With RISP, .250 BA and .422 SLG. Bases empty or a man on 1st only, .310 BA and .510 SLG.
  • Tight games late:* With RISP, .229 BA, .339 SLG. Bases empty or a man on 1st only, .319 BA and .488 SLG, with twice the HR rate.
    (* Tied or within one run either way, 7th inning or later. Not quite the same definition as “late-and-close,” but the Event Finder can’t give “late-and-close.”)
  • Game tied: With RISP, .237 BA, .390 SLG. Bases empty or a man on 1st only, .315 BA, .512 SLG.

 

The History

A brief overview of Cano’s seasonal progression in RISP performance:

As a rookie in 2005, Cano hit .297 overall and slugged .458, but was very aggressive, taking 16 walks in 551 PAs. He hit just .210 with men in scoring position, which was noticed, but was generally seen as rookie eagerness.

In year 2, he soared to .342 BA and .525 SLG, still with just 19 walks. His RISP marks, .306/.500, were still below his overall performance, but were also good enough that no one should mind.

Year 3 was consolidation. Cano hit .306 overall (.290 with RISP) and raised his walk rate. But he slumped in year 4, .271 overall (.263 RISP), with declines in power and walks.

In year 5, 2009, he was back on the beam, although the raw numbers were inflated by the new Yankee Stadium. Overall, he hit .320 and slugged .520 — but with RISP, just .207 and .332.

With 5 years of data now, there seemed to be a real issue with Cano’s hitting in RBI spots. Note that BA generally goes up with RISP, mainly because of sacrifice flies. All sac flies come with RISP, and although they are outs, they’re not counted as ABs. A medium fly ball with nobody on hurts your BA, but if it scores a runner, it’s left out of the BA calculation. Last year’s MLB batting average was 6 points higher with RISP than with bases empty, but those figures are much closer if you count sac flies as ABs. Anyway, Cano’s RISP numbers were well below his overall rates. His 5-year unweighted average BA was .307 overall, but .255 with RISP. He had also hit just .217 in 28 postseason games, with an empty 3 for 22 in the 2009 World Series.

Then, in 2010 and ’11, Cano seemed to reach a new plateau and put all that behind him. He had his first 100-RBI years, averaging 114 RBI, and he hit .320 with RISP for those years, .330 in high-leverage spots, both above his overall .311 mark. He hit well in the postseason both years, totaling .333 with 6 HRs, 15 RBI in 14 games. Most thought Cano’s clutch troubles were done. He was now firmly among the game’s elite. Two years from free agency, age 29, a megabucks long-term extension seemed certain within the year.

But last season, the bug bit back. While he hit .313 with 33 HRs overall, slugging .550, he had just 94 RBI thanks to a .268 RISP mark. He cratered in the postseason — 3 for 40, no homers, 1 walk (intentional), with an 0-for-26 skid that set a postseason record. The whole Yankee season was colored by the club’s postseason fade, and as winter set in with several top stars due to be shelved beyond spring, a frugal, wait-and-see policy emerged from the front office. No contract was done for Cano.

This year, with free agency looming, Cano has run hot and cold — .327 with a .988 OPS through May 1, but .250/.785 in his last 40 games, with the Yanks going 20-20 and struggling to score, as the fill-ins regressed to reality. For 2012-present, he’s hit .266 with RISP, .267 hi-lev, compared to .303 overall.

 

That’s it for me. If you have any thoughts on the cause of Cano’s RISP troubles, or a critique of the methods I’ve used, or an idea for further study — you know what to do!


Comments

Robby Cano’s RISPy Business — 80 Comments

  1. What is the difference between Cano not hitting to the situation, and Jack Morris not pitching to the situation? Clearly Cano is a different hitter with men on. Was Jack Morris a different pitcher when he was leading 8 to 2 or whatever?

    • Probably the fact that we can PROVE that Cano is not hitting with RISP. Prove to me that Morris was a different pitcher when his team was leading. It’s been tried. It always fails.

      • I doubt you could “prove” regarding Cano or Morris. You might be able to draw a reasonable conclusion based on statistics.

        • Well, careful, Tim. We certainly *can* prove that, in certain situations in the past, Robinson Cano has hit more poorly than he has on average. This is a well-documented, objective thing. What of course we cannot prove is that this is due to some inner weakness of Robinson Cano rather than due to random variation.

          • OK, I’ll go with that. Can we also prove that Jack Morris, despite an ERA on the high side won a lot of games? Can we explain, statistically how he did that? I don’t think we can, but some guy wrote a huge piece on how statistics could prove he didn’t change his pitching style, or pitch to the situation. You can’t have it both ways.

    • Timmy, I’m taking your question seriously. According to what I’ve read, the notion that Morris allowed runs at a higher rate when he was comfortably ahead (thus inflating his ERA) has already been studied and thoroughly disproved.

      But let’s see what we can get quickly from the Event Finder. I’ll measure from the 5th inning on, since I don’t think it would even be wise to “pitch to the score” before that.

      – Ahead in the 5th or later: .244 BA, .299 OBP, .378 slugging, and .676 OPS.
      – Tied in the 5th or later: .244 BA, .302 OBP, .360 SLG, .662 OPS.
      – Behind in the 5th or later: .241 BA, .314 OBP, .368 SLG, .682 OPS.

      So, nothing in that basic look — the only significant difference is a higher walk rate when behind, which makes sense, because you’re more careful when behind.

      But these are somewhat interesting:

      – Ahead by 4 runs or more in the 5th or later: .252 BA, .304 OBP, .401 SLG, .705 OPS.

      – Ahead by 2 or 3 runs in the 5th or later: .247 BA, .302 OBP, .366 SLG, .668 OPS.

      – Tied or within 1 run either way, 5th or later: .232 BA, .293 OBP, .349 SLG, .642 OPS.

      – Trailing by 2 or 3 runs, 5th or later: .258 BA, .332 OBP, .409 SLG, .741 OPS.

      – Trailing by 4 or more, 5th or later: .248 BA, .328 OBP, .362 SLG, .690 OPS.

      The best numbers there are for the close games, which (broadly) supports a “pitch-to-the-score” theory.

      And the biggest difference in the large-lead data is the slugging average. So let’s look at the HR rates:

      – Ahead by 4 or more: 3.1% of PAs
      – Ahead by 2 or 3 runs: 2.3%
      – Tied or within 1 run: 2.2%
      – Behind by 2 or 3 runs: 2.7%
      – Behind by 4 or more: 1.3%

      So, Morris’s highest HR% did come when he had a big lead.

      I won’t make too much of this quick look, but perhaps I should take a closer look at the study that dismissed the original theory.

        • Phil, thanks for that Pos link, which I found very interesting. But I’m not sure it’s a sound approach. As one of the comments there noted, just knowing the final level of run support and what the pitcher did for the game doesn’t directly address the question of what he did at point X, Y or Z when the score was A, B or C.

          I didn’t imagine going so far down this tangent road, but I am interested, so … I think the best approach, without reading 527 individual play-by-plays, would be to use the Event Finder and look at “3 true outcomes” — HRs, strikeouts and walks — for relative score situations.

        • I decided to approach this issue from a different angle. The notion that Morris pitched to the score is used by his supporters as an explanation for his high ERA. But perhaps there’s a simpler explanation?

          The fact is, Morris got blown out a lot. More than contemporary HOF pitchers. Obviously there’s no definition of a blow-out but it seems to me that one reasonable definition is pitching 5 or fewer innings and giving up 5 or more runs. Here’s how Morris compares to contemporary HOFers in terms of % of starts that were blowouts:

          Morris: 11.4% of starts
          Niekro: 9.6%
          Blyleven: 9.1%
          Ryan: 9.1%
          Sutton: 9.1%
          Perry: 9.0%
          Seaver: 7.3%
          Palmer: 5.6%

          This then seems to me to be a more reasonable explanation for why Morris had a high ERA. He got blown out a lot. More than we would expect from a HOF pitcher. As one final comparison, I decided to look at Dan Petry, a pitcher who was a teammate of Morris for several years and who has a very similar ERA (3.95 vs. 3.90). And who no one thinks was a HOFer. Petry’s blow out percentage was 12.0% almost the same as Morris 11.4%.

          • Thanks, John—wasn’t sure if it was one of those things that could be retrieved easily on Baseball Reference. The 300 players seems like a decent sample (titled towards better players, obviously, since they had the most playing time, but I wouldn’t think that would affect the comparison between overall/RISP). Looks pretty even: BA slightly up, SLG slightly down, the kind of difference that might be explained by defensive positioning that’s willing to give up a single before a double.

          • I say we blame Derek Jeter for this one. Nobody has to bat with Jeter on base as many times as Cano.

          • But that IS pitching to the score … picks up Rosin Bag, glances back at scoreboard.. whoaa! I’m getting shelled tonight , theyv’e scored in every inning — might as well give up a crooked number , hit the showers and save my good stuff for when we’ve got a chance to win.

          • Ed I like that explanation for Morris, and just from memory I always thought the same thing. When Morris lost he lost bad. Also he pitched for Sparky and if I remember correctly Sparky was not big on specialized relief pitching and such. He left his starters in longer.

          • I don’t know, Timmy.

            They didn’t call Sparky Anderson “Captain Hook” because he was left-handed.

            From his wiki page, referring to his days running the Big Red Machine:

            “…Anderson became known as “Captain Hook” for his penchant for taking out a starting pitcher at the first sign of weakness and going to his bullpen, relying heavily on closers Will McEnaney and Rawly Eastwick…”

          • bstar @66 — Sparky really managed to his personnel. In his Reds tenure, he had several very good relievers, but his best starters were either not so hot or were somewhat fragile. And that’s when he earned his nickname.

            But his style definitely evolved during his Detroit years. Tigers were last in CG in ’79, Sparky’s first year. But then, 4th, 2nd, 1st, 4th, through 1983.

            In 1984, Willie Hernandez and Aurelio Lopez both got off to great starts out of the bullpen, so Sparky rode them — and the starters finished 10th in CG.

            But in ensuing years, the bullpen wasn’t so hot, so Sparky rode the starters — back up to 5th in CG, then 3rd, etc.

      • John – The problem with this sort of approach is that it looks at Morris in isolation. Perhaps all pitchers give up more HRs when comfortabl

        • Oops somehow my #22 got posted before I was done. Let’s try this again.

          The problem with this sort of approach is that it looks at Morris in isolation. Perhaps all pitchers give up more HRs when comfortably ahead. Without some sort of context, it’s impossible to interpret those numbers.

          • Great point, Ed. Without a baseline for comparison, Morris’s situational stats can’t tell us anything.

          • That’s what I’d like to see for RISP: overall totals for all players since 1961. Is there an easy way for John or someone else to access and post those numbers? Say, BA, OBP, and SLG for all at-bats since ’61, followed by the same with RISP. That’s the only way I’d have some context for Cano’s numbers, beyond the fact that he’s first on the list of BA drop-off. Obviously he fares poorly. But how poorly relative to everyone?

          • Phil @32 — Too much grunt work to produce those numbers for everyone since 1961. Which would you rather see:

            (a) Composite numbers for the 127 players in the original study; or

            (b) Composite numbers for the 300 players with the most RISP PAs during Cano’s career?

          • Phil @32 — Composite numbers for the 300 batters with the most RISP chances during Cano’s career (2005-13, at least 503 RISP PAs):

            With RISP — .276 BA, .439 SLG (.267/.425 with sac flies counted as ABs)

            Overall* — .273 BA, .444 SLG

            * Due to the data-collection method (B-R Split Finder), I don’t have the overall sac flies, so can’t present the overall BA and SLG with the sac-fly adjustment.

          • John: Do you mind telling me how you retrieved the data for post 34. I find RISP with 2 out only on the Split Finder.

          • John: Never mind, I found it. I ran the PI for Team Batting in the Split Finder and found that the overall RISP BA from 1961 to present is .260 and the overall RISP SLG is .396 (incomplete data). For Cano’s career years the numbers are .263 and .411.

          • Richard @38 — Thanks. I completely forgot about the Team Split Finder! Tunnel vision…

      • John – One guy that is a die hard Morris hater did a “study” and wrote an article a few years ago. That one article/study is sited every time Morris is brought up.

  2. The heart of Cano’s struggles with RISP seems to be with runners on 1st and 2nd. In that situation, he has a career .636 OPS in 476 PAs. In other RISP situations, his OPS ranges from .783 to .995.

    So it seems to me the question isn’t why Cano struggles with RISP but rather why he struggles with runners on 1st and 2nd.

    • Ed, that’s an interesting point. But when we look to the specific men-on-base situations, now we’re talking about less than 500 PAs.

      The other thing is that if we parse those situations, we really need to add the sac flies back in as ABs, because it makes a significant difference with the small samples. And I just don’t want to do that math right now; I’m leaning on the Event Finder. :)

      But let’s just compare his 1st-and-2nd numbers to all other RISP spots:

      – 1st and 2nd: .230 BA, .363 SLG, .636 OPS
      – All other RISP: .295 OBP, .494 SLG, .854 OPS

      If we add the sac flies back in as ABs in the “other RISP”, that drops the BA to .283, which is still way above the “1st and 2nd”.

      So, yeah, maybe that’s the right focus. I just don’t know if 476 PAs is enough to reason with.

      • 476 PAs is quite a lot in my opinion. If one were doing statistical testing, that would give you a lot of power to detect differences.

        • Just to add to my #19…Cano would need to get hits in his next 36 PAs with runners on 1st and 2nd to bring his batting average in those situations up to the level of his batting average in all other RISP situations. Obviously getting 36 consecutive hits is impossible. No ones’s ever come close to doing that. So I feel quite comfortable in saying that Cano’s performance with runners on 1st and 2nd is quite different than his performance in other RISP situations.

          • Ed, here’s a counter to your “36 hits in a row” angle:

            In 2008, Cano batted .271 for the year. Had he tacked on 36 hits in 36 ABs, he’d have hit .313 — which is roughly his actual BA for all other years combined.

            Should we then conclude that Cano must have had a particular problem in 2008? Or is it still possible that his .271 BA was mainly a matter of luck?

            After all, his BAbip that year .283, 37 points below his career mark. His K rate that year was well below his norm.

            So, I still don’t know if a 36-hit deficit in 476 PAs is very meaningful.

  3. Good article. In 2011, Cano drove in 21% of his inherited runners. In 2012, that fell to 13%. He currently stands at 16% for 2013.

    • dj, thanks for suggesting another avenue.

      Two difficulties with using % of runners plated, one logistical, one conceptual.

      Logistically, the data are presented only year by year; that stat is not available in a search, as far as I know. So studying a period of years would require a lot of leg work.

      Conceptually, we don’t just want to know how he compares to all other hitters in the measure of BR%; we want to know how he compares to middle-of-the-order guys, and to other good hitters.

  4. Yeah, that makes sense, but it sure doesn’t help his defense, that’s for sure. Checking B-R (my source), you’ll find that batters plating more than 20% of their runners is quite an accomplishment. Over his career, the league average is 15%. His career stands at 16%, slightly better. For context, when Tommy Davis drove in 153 in ’62, his number was 26% – there haven’t many that have reached that, not even the crazy figures generated by the Colorado boys during the ’90s. Again, this number has stood out in my mind for awhile now, and was refreshed by your excellent research.

  5. Jack Morris is a legend in Detroit, Minnesota, and Toronto. Pitched some of the most memorial games in playoff history.
    But you guys are obsessed with WAR. The guy deserves the Hall.

    • David, I wonder who’s really obsessed here. You are the only one who has mentioned WAR in this entire discussion, directly or indirectly.

    • And if you want to know why Morris isn’t in the Hall, go ask the Hall voters. I’ll bet 9 out of 10 say it has nothing to do with WAR, and everything to do with his 3.90 ERA.

      • It is true, though, that he pitched some of the most memorial games in postseason history. The shellacking he took in game 5 of the 1992 World Series was at least memorial — it was downright funereal!

        • Ugh… which is why we’ll always remember Jack Morris anyway, even if he doesn’t go in the hall

          I’m not sure if you’re arguing for HOF or not, but this is the same B.S. logic why Lynn Swann is in the NFL HOF even though he absolutely should not be. And true football fans will, again, always remember Lynn Swann for his SB performances anyway!

          Re: Cano and the runners-on-1st-and-2nd, I wonder what the splits are for other Yankees who have been with the team a long enough time to generate a large # of PAs in that situation. Perhaps it is the Yankees staff/culture instructing hitters to approach their PAs differently in that situation to avoid a DP, for example…

      • “I’ll bet 9 out of 10 say it has nothing to do with WAR, and everything to do with his 3.90 ERA.”

        As it should be John.

      • Morris was on the ballot for many years before WAR was even invented. And even now, I’d be surprised if more than 25% of HOF voters use it as a serious factor in their decisions.

        • “And even now, I’d be surprised if more than 25% of HOF voters use it as a serious factor in their decisions.”

          As it should be, Ed.

      • While I am truly loving this two-headed debate regarding Cano and Morris, perhaps High Heat Stats needs a debate split finder to separate the two.
        My huge Morris bias permits me from joining the HOF debate, I’ll only say that perhaps his high blow-out percentage is due more to era than anything against him, as HOF’er Bert is a only a couple perc pts lower.

        By the way Miggy making ground tonight on Machado for WAR, beating out an INFIELD single against the best 3rd base arm in the league (plus a two-run homer so far).

        • “Debate split finder” scores the early :) for robbs.

          But what’s this? — starting up a 3rd front on Miggy vs. MannyMac? Anyway, I hope you caught the Scherzer-Davis showdown in the 5th.

      • JA I respect your opinion on Jack Morris not being in the HoF. I’m not sure what your opinion of Pettitte is, but I would vote Pettitte in except for his PED usage. On stats alone I would have both Morris and Pettitte in the HoF.

        I think RISP is a very important stat, but in the past you’ve pooh-poohed RBI’s as a stat. How do you jive your 2 views?

        • Timmy, I didn’t raise the Cano RISP subject as a question of his value, relative to anyone else — just a matter of curiosity.

          The main pooh-poohing I recall doing on the subject of RBI is to say that they depend a lot on opportunities, and that they shouldn’t be the main focus of evaluating a hitter. But Cano has had plenty of RBI chances. And clearly, getting hits with men on base is important in winning — not raising your game, or being clutch, but just doing what you normally do. It’s the fact that Cano hasn’t done what he normally does that fascinates me.

    • Lol a legend in Toronto? He was actualy pretty bad in Toronto, and terrible for the Jays in the play-offs. The team was just so good that it batted an average pitcher to a 21-6 season.

    • @62/Timmy Pea,

      Pettitte should go in the HOF after Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina and Kevin Brown are inducted. Except – Brown isn’t even on the ballot anymore (one-and-done), and won’t be eligible for the Veterans for a long time. So, guess I’m saying he isn’t _close_ to a good HOF candidate yet.

      Pettitte has been good-to-excellent most of his career, rarely great. That type of pitcher (see also Early Wynn) can get in the HOF if he pitches forever and puts up great career totals, like Don Sutton. Even with 326 wins, it took Sutton five years to get in.

      If Pettitte can pitch decently for several more years, his career totals will become somewhat more impresive,but I still think he’d be a fairly marginal HOF candidate with his leak of a great peak. Yes,I know about the post-season stuff – it helps him,but nowheres enough.

      • Kevin Brown’s post season IP? 81.2
        Schilling post season IP: 133.1
        Mussina’s post season IP? 139.2

        These are accomplished post season guys!

        Andy Pettitte:
        276.2 IP

        I mean say what you want but he pitched A LOT in the post season. You’re leaving off 8% of his career looking at regular season stats. This is a guy who’s got just shy of 400 decisions on his resume! That’s just an amazing percentage.

  6. Who gives an ish about Jack Morris in this Cano RISP deliberation.

    At a certain point, at a certain number of at bats, years, failed attempts, perhaps your inability to hit with guys on second or third gets in your head like a beautiful melody. Like Nickelback, for instance.

    I’d like to coin a new baseball term here: a failed suicide bunt attempt will hereby be labeled simply a “cry for help.”

  7. The “sacrifice” fly should be amended to include run scoring ground balls.
    If we are going to reward the productive plate appearance by not counting it as an “at bat”, fine, but it should be consistent.
    Get rid of the SF. and let’s have instead the RSO (run-scoring out)

    • Agree 100% Voomo! Not sure why baseball decided to treat these two events differently but I can’t see how it makes any sense.

    • I never heard that before, but I think that´s an interesting idea, Voomo.

      I´ve seen many times how a hitter tries to hit the ball in the ground aiming to the right side of the infield, to get runner in from third base.
      What I´m not sure is, how often does a player intentionally lifts a fly ball to the outfield in the same situation.

      I think the grounder is more of a ¨sacrifice¨ than the fly ball. Yet only gets credit for the RBI while being charged with an AB.

  8. One interesting sidelight to Cano’s RISP numbers: at the new Yankee Stadium (his home park since 2009), his relative lack of success with RISP more or less disappears.

    Cano at current Yankee Stadium overall: .304 BA, .895 OPS
    Cano at current Yankee Stadium with RISP: .296 BA, .896 OPS

    • Interesting, birtelcom, but here’s how I’d express Cano’s splits since 2009 (and counting sac flies as ABs):

      – Home, with RISP: .288 BA (107/372)
      – Home, no RISP: .307 BA (304/990)

      – Away, with RISP: .247 BA (89/360)
      – Away, no RISP: .336 BA (362/1076)

      Which still supports your point, just a little less so. But I wanted to show that we’re talking about less than 400 PAs for those RISP home/away splits since 2009.

  9. I’d love to hear Cashman arguing in an arbitration hearing concerning Cano’s struggles with RISP….arbtiter deliberates, pauses, and says, “you better sign this “bumb” to a long term contract because the rest of your team is getting real old. Say, maybe 7 years – $ 140,000,000.”

    • I don’t think $20 mil a year will land Cano. Using B-R’s current figures, Prince Fielder and Joe Mauer are making $23mm this year, Teixeira $22.5mm, A.Gonzalez and V.Wells $21mm, and $20mm each for Crawford, Howard and Kemp. And the salary structure is going up.

      My guess for Cano’s contract: 6 years, $150 million.

  10. I wanted to throw my two cents in before reading the piece or comments. To me the biggest weakness is Canoe expanding the zone. He does it when he is slumping, and even when he gets the bat on the ball he often seems to roll over to the right side.

    My feeling for a while has been that whatever else is going on it’s a further failure in the weakest part of his game; lack of plate discipline.

  11. I watch a lot of Yankees games. Cano is an interesting hitter to watch. I would say the reason for all of this is that he presses in big situations. Expanding his zone is part of it but he will also take longer swings sacrificing some of his usually excellent bat speed.

    It’s more than that though, you can sort of gauge Cano’s abilities on a day by looking at his expressions he plays better calm and has an almost effortless follow through. He seems to get rattled though and press for a bigger hit. He is not a guy I would give the green light to very often, I think it’s detrimental to his production. That would probably cost a few home runs but it would also lead to more walks and a return of the opposite field mastery he showed in his younger days. Cano the agitated is a pull hitter with considerably power, especially against right handed pitcher with softer stuff. He can sit fastball and punish it. Cano the calm is more about plate coverage and pitch recognition. He’s a doubles hitting machine with superb contact across the plate.

    • Good narrative, mosc. The image of calm Cano that will always stay with me is an at-bat against the Mets in June 2010. The Mets had led 1-0 since the top of the 1st, and the little lefty Hisanori Takahashi had blanked the Yanks into the 6th (second time in a row). Cano came into the game on a hellacious tear and was hitting .372 for the year; this was the first year that he hit very well with RISP.

      Anyway, Takahashi had popped him up twice on 2-0 pitches with nobody on, but now in the 6th Cano came up with 2 outs and 2 in scoring position, 1st base open. A similar moment had occurred in their first meeting — man on 2nd and 2 outs, scoreless in the 6th — and Takahashi won that one with a full-count whiff. This time, Takahashi threw him every pitch in the book to every corner of the zone, nothing in the middle, but Robby looked relaxed in the moment and had them all covered.

      Watching that AB, which went 8 pitches, ending in a walk, I felt in my gut how talented Cano is. There are ABs when it seems you can just tell, there’s no way a hittable pitch will get past him. That’s why it’s so interesting that he has these RISP difficulties.

      http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NYA/NYA201006180.shtml
      http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NYN/NYN201005210.shtml

    • Cano reminds me a lot of Bernie Williams in his prime. When Bernie was younger, and he was in the right state of mind, he could wait on a pitch until almost the last moment and then drive it effortlessly. When he was out of sync, either mechanically or mentally, he underperformed.

  12. Very illuminating re: Cano, John. I also found it interesting that Captain Clutch showed up on all three lists, and that Cano’s “natural nemesis”, Dustin Pedroia, was even closer to Cano on all three.

    Since 2007, Cano and Pedroia are within 0.3 WAR of each other despite hugely different OBPs (Pedroia by .21 [career]), SLGs (Cano by .44) and Rfields (Pedroia by 27). Perhaps the one “skill” they have in common is a fear of RISP.

  13. What strikes me from these lists is how many of these batters are Left handed. It seems disproportionate. And even more so if you start counting up the LH hitting slap hitters. Ralph Garr, Matty Alou, Brett Butler, Ken Griffey Sr, and Bake McBride are all on the BA list. They are all on the OBP list too, along with Bip Roberts, Mickey Rivers, Kenny Lofton. Some of them are on the SLG list as well, along with Ichiro. (and Luis Castillo, who spends 2/3 of his ABs as a LH hitting slap hitter is on all 3 lists as well)

    My guess is that having a force play at 2nd base, which often happens when runners are in scoring position, is not helpful to hitters who like to hit the ball on the ground and beat the throw to first. But that is but a guess, not supported by any hard evidence.

    • Brent: RHB/LHB Splits for 2013 based on whether there is a force play:

      RHB-No force: .248 BA (.247 with SF as ABs)
      RHB-w/Force: .262 BA (.258)

      LHB-No force: .247 BA (.245)
      LHB-w/Force: .272 BA (.269)

      So, broadly, there is a BA edge to having 1st base occupied, and more so for LHBs.

      Now, obviously, that will most help those who can hit it in the hole between the first baseman and second baseman — LH pull hitters and RH spray hitters. So there might still be a disadvantage to LH slap hitters like Matty Alou — but I wouldn’t know how to tease it out of the data, except by looking at specific individuals.

    • More LHB/RHB to Brent — Historically, LHBs have a somewhat higher BA than RHBs. And since the Cano study group had a minimum .290 BA, there naturally would be more LHBs there than in the general population.

      BTW, the BA edge for LHBs seems to be at a low ebb in the current era:

      Year — LHB — RHB — Margin for LHB
      1963 — .253 — .242 — .011
      1973 — .263 — .253 — .010
      1983 — .267 — .257 — .010
      1993 — .270 — .261 — .009
      2003 — .267 — .262 — .005
      2013 — .254 — .252 — .002

  14. hey bro – very interesting (the jack morris stuff more so to me, since i really enjoyed his career) but i have a comment on risp. you said pitch around theory does not flesh out, but looking at data quickly (the only way i ever do) it appears that most of these hitters were low on-base guys leading me to believe that low ba with risp when you do have a high ba may be more likely for those with lower on-base percentages in general. dont know if this matters, but just sayin’…

    • Well, hey, big bro — Interesting theory. I’m not sure if the guys on those lists really are “low on-base” relative to others with similar batting average, but you’re suggesting that those who are less inclined to take a walk, in general, may tend to be less effective with RISP. And I would not be surprised if that were true. I must cogitate and see if it can be tested….

      P.S. Seeing the Tigers play the Orioles makes me nostalgic for “tennis ball.” I almost blogged about how you broke Maris’s record. :)

  15. What I find interesting is everyone’s boy, Larry Walker, is on this list and high on it. #4 lowest slugging%, #16 lowest BA. Also another COG player Mike Piazza although 22nd and 25th. Two COG players…wow!

  16. I also find these numbers very intriguing.

    Tony Gwynn vs Wade Boggs

    Gwynn Avg w/risp – .349(career .338)+11, Boggs .324 (Career .328), -4

    Gwynn OBP w/risp – .432(Career .388)+44, Boggs .448(Career .415), +33

    Gwynn SLG% w/risp – .491(Career .459) +32, Boggs .426(Career ..443) -17

    Despite Boggs recent enshrinement in the COG shows here that Gwynn was and is a better hitter overall.

    Just for fun…

    Barry Bonds Avg. w/risp .310(Career .298) +12
    OBP w/risp .527(career .444) WOW +83. IBB’s galore!
    How many RBI would Bonds have if he wasn’t pitched around for so long?

  17. jeff – tony gwynn was a GREAT hitter and did it in a tougher place to hit than boggs. however, i’m a little disturbed by HOW MUCH HIGHER his obp was with risp. his regular obp not overly high for a hitter with such a high average, yet his obp goes WAY UP with risp. don’t know if thats the very best thing for a great hitter (maybe it is, i’m really not sure) btw – wonder what frank thomas’s numbers were in these situations. he was oft criticized in chicago for taking walks when he “should have been driving runners home.” i don’t agree, but there it is…

    • Big Al, I´ve read the same complaint from phillie phans about Bobby Abreu, regarding his large amount of walks when he should have been hacking.

    • Just so folks know — “big al” is JA’s really-o, truly-o big brother, who probably bears the main responsibility for my interest in stats: See, I never did beat him in about a million games of real-live one-on-one whatever. :)

      P.S. to Al — I saw John Michael last week and mentioned that I recently saw (while getting my car washed) someone who looked so exactly like you that I did a double-double-take. Without a pause, John asked, “Are you sure it wasn’t Terry Bevington?”

    • Al — Since Big Hurt was in the middle of a (usually) pretty good lineup, it seems absurd that anyone would fault him for taking a walk and passing the baton. I mean, if Frank’s hitting 3rd, how the bleep could anyone be pissed about handing off to the cleanup man?

      It reminds me of a short Bill James essay in the Historical Abstract, on the question of whether there’s ever been a hitter who was so good and so much better than his teammates that he should have been intentionally walked every time. James constructed a fantasy lineup of Babe Ruth in his best year (he actually enhanced Babe’s average) surrounded by a lineup of below-average MLB hitters, then he computer-simulated a thousand seasons. That team was an offensive juggernaut. The guy behind Ruth batted about .260 with 8 home runs, and 150 RBI.

      Walks are good. :)

  18. just so folks know (don’t know if anyone will go back and read this) but JA is more than 2 years younger than me, so what was i doing playing him in real-life one-on-one whatever anyway?

    p.s. to john – the grown-up son of the former commissioner of the little-league where i coached your nephew still calls me “boomer” (bevington’s nickname) lol

  19. John – You missed another great Cano split. Or perhaps there will be a second part. Among players with 500+ PA in the first inning, Cano has the second worst performance of all-time relative to his overall performance. He has a .710 OPS in the first inning and .855 overall. Only Damion Easley has a greater difference between his 1st inning and his overall performance.

    Cano must be really dreadful with RISP in the first inning!!!

  20. There is no such thing as batting average with RISP. There’s such a thing as batting average, but if you show me a guy who hits well with RISP I’ll show you a guy that hits well.

    The explanation for Cano’s sudden and remarkable success in 2010 and 2011 is not that he “figured it out” in 2010, nor that he “forgot it” in 2012. Rather, it is simply the noise one sometimes see in the signal, particularly in a small sample size.

    Keep in mind this kind of random fluctuation can occur over entire seasons: Jeter hit > .300 in 2008/9, only to “slump” to .270 in 2010. Only to go right back to .308 from 2011-12. What, exactly, did he “forget” in 2010?

    birtelcom’s comments actually help confirm this: Early “struggles” with RISP were merely noise in the signal. Since 2009 he’s been nearly the same hitter.

    You may as well discuss Pujol’s batting average whilst the moon is aligned with Jupiter.

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