Mark Canha is on fire. On Friday night, the 1B/OF clubbed his eighth home run of the year. It was his sixth home run in his first nine games since returning from the Injured List on May 13.
The A’s will need Canha to produce in the absence of designated hitter Khris Davis, who was placed on the IL on Friday with a lingering oblique/hip contusion. And if he continues to hit a homer almost every day, the A’s will be thrilled.
But he probably won’t, and a closer look at the numbers paints a puzzling picture. Through his first 89 plate appearances of the season, Canha has been one of the weirdest hitters in baseball.
Canha has always been a power hitter, but never like this. His .370 ISO ranks eighth in baseball, minimum 80 PAs. He is in the midst of the hottest power streak of his career. Via FanGraphs:
The peak on the far right represents his .606 ISO over the last 10 games, marking the best 10-game power stretch of his career. His six home runs are the most in all of baseball over the last 10 days. There’s no doubt that Canha is on an unsustainable power streak. But how much of a fluke is it?
Disappointing Batted Ball Data
With all that power, you’d expect Canha to be crushing the ball. But that isn’t the case. His 90.1 MPH average exit velocity is the second-highest mark of his career, but ranks just 92nd in baseball (minimum 50 batted ball events). His hard-hit rate sits at just 38.9%, which ranks 152nd.
A quick glance at Canha’s batted ball distribution explains the issue. He has always been a pull-heavy fly-ball hitter, but this season he’s taken that to the extreme. His 58.2% fly ball rate is the second highest in baseball, while his 15.6% infield fly ball rate ranks 41st. At 22.8 degrees, he has the sixth-highest average launch angle in the game. Unfortunately, these fly balls have come at the expense of line drives — at 7.3%, he has the lowest line drive rate in baseball by far.
This profile suggests that his .191 BABIP might not be a fluke — and that his absurd slugging probably is. In fact, his expected batting average and slugging percentage are just .188 and .448, respectively. Canha is outperforming his xwOBA by nearly 70 points.
Of Canha’s eight homers, only five were barreled, and he has totaled only five barrels on the season. He just isn’t consistently hitting the ball hard, and he’s been fortunate to see balls he didn’t barrel leave the yard.
So what should the A’s expect from Canha going forward?
On the bright side, Canha’s 13.5% walk rate is easily the highest of his career, while his strikeout rate is right around his career norm. He will not continue to run a BABIP below .200 for the rest of the season. He has more home runs (eight) than singles (six) — that won’t last.
But he will need a change in approach to continue his above average production. He won’t find success if he keeps popping up and handing over free outs, and he’ll need to start hitting his fly balls with authority.
Some of this change is likely to come naturally — we’re still dealing with a very small sample here, and there is no reason to believe that Canha can no longer hit the ball hard on a line. His opposite field double in the eighth inning on Saturday is a great example of some positive regression. But a look at his mechanics may be necessary, just to make sure he is getting as much as he can out of the ball upon contact.
It isn’t often that you recommend a swing change to a player in the midst of a power surge like Canha’s. But given the underlying numbers, it might be necessary. While fun, Canha’s success has been strange and likely unsustainable. If he doesn’t make a change, struggles could be coming.