The story had become familiar around the American League. Robinson Cano's batting average dropped from .342 in 2006, to .306 in 2007, and then finally .271 in 2008. His on-base percentages in those years: .365, .353, .305. Those low numbers were due to walk totals of 18, 39 and 26. The word around the division was that Cano had no patience, and there was no reason to throw him good strikes. He didn't seem to get the message no matter how apparent it was to the world that he could not hit a double on a slider six inches off the outside corner.
But this year, Cano's approach has changed, and the early results are very encouraging. He has walked six times in his first 20 games, which puts him on pace for 48 walks this season. While that may not sound like much of an improvement, he has been having better plate appearances. He has been working the count into his favor, fighting off tough pitches and making contact. He has only struck out eight times so far, which is right on par with his career numbers. The kid makes contact. But this year, he is waiting for his pitch to do so.
The results so far are staggering. Cano is hitting .381 with a .418 OBP, and his slugging percentage has jumped from .410 last season to .619 so far this year. If Cano can keep hitting quality strikes, he is one of the most dangerous hitters in the Yankees' offense.
His newfound patience was illustrated last night in an outside-the-boxscore way. He had great at-bats against a dominant Edwin Jackson in the fourth and sixth innings. The first at-bat was a 12-pitch infield single, and the second a 10-pitch strikeout. Neither result was particularly awe-inspiring, but if you can take 22 pitches out of a pitcher's arm on a day when he is shutting your team out, you are doing your job. The Yankees reaped the benefits in the seventh, when they jumped all over the Tigers' bullpen.