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Quick Look: Mark Canha Has Broken Out

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And not a moment too soon

MLB: New York Yankees at Oakland Athletics Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Aside from about 75 games spanning 2016 and 2017, Mark Canha has been a very productive major league hitter and a slam dunk rule-5 draft pickup. In 2019, however, Canha has finally broken out to become not just one of Oakland’s most productive players but one of baseball’s best hitters.

Mark Canha’s year-by-year wOBA.
Fangraphs.com

Among major leaguers with at least 300 plate appearances Canha’s 141 wRC+ is 19th best. His wRC+ mark exceeds that of Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Anthony RIzzo, JD Martinez, and anyone on Oakland’s roster. He has now set career-highs in home runs and just about every offensive category. And with Ramon Laureano’s extended absence he has picked up many starts in centerfield. Canha would be the leading candidate for the Sixth Man of the Year award, if such a thing existed.

What is different about Canha this year compared to previous seasons? Plate discipline and pulled balls.

Swinging Less, Walking More

There are some very noticeable and positive changes in Canha’s plate discipline profile. First and foremost, his 13.6% walk rate is a career-high. However, walking more doesn’t necessarily mean he’s become a more disciplined hitter. That could mean a player is simply being passive. With Canha that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Canha’s Plate Discipline Profile

Season O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone% F-Strike% SwStr%
Season O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone% F-Strike% SwStr%
2015 32.9 % 62.9 % 47.2 % 67.3 % 85.8 % 79.1 % 47.7 % 62.9 % 9.8 %
2018 31.1 % 61.0 % 44.0 % 73.4 % 87.0 % 81.5 % 43.0 % 61.6 % 8.1 %
2019 24.8 % 59.7 % 39.7 % 73.6 % 81.8 % 78.8 % 42.7 % 60.6 % 8.4 %
Fangraphs.com

In the chart above I purposefully omitted Canha’s “lost” 2016 and 2017 seasons and just went with the seasons in which he’s played often and was productive. You might notice that in the first three columns Canha’s numbers all trend downward. Canha is swinging less overall, with the biggest change coming on pitches outside of the zone. Nothing else in his plate discipline profile really stands out. He has merely become a more selective hitter by not reaching out of the zone, and this has led to an increase in walk rate and ultimately a big boost in on-base percentage.

Pull-Heavy Approach

The second thing that stood out to me at first glance was Canha’s batted-ball distribution. In past seasons the direction on Canha’s batted-balls were primarily left field and center field. In 2019, though, Canha has heavily favored left field and is pulling the ball at a career-high 54.3%. Compare 2018 to 2019:

2018

Canha’s 2018 spray heatmap.
BaseballSavant.com

2019

Canha’s 2019 spray heatmap.
BaseballSavant.com

This is a good thing because Canha’s pulled balls have a greater average exit velocity, and therefore are more well-hit, than balls hit straightaway or to the opposite field. This is even more true for balls hit in the air.

Canha’s Batted Ball Distribution/Exit Velocity

Year All Batted-Balls Pulled Balls Middle/Opposite Field Pulled FB/LD Middle/Opposite Field FB/LD
Year All Batted-Balls Pulled Balls Middle/Opposite Field Pulled FB/LD Middle/Opposite Field FB/LD
2018 87 MPH 90.6 MPH 84.6 MPH 95.2 MPH 91 MPH
2019 88.6 PMH 89.8 MPH 87.1 MPH 95.8 MPH 92.5 MPH
BaseballSavant.com

Conclusion

These changes are small, and perhaps deliberate ones that have seemingly fueled Canha’s breakout. With Khris Davis locked in a devastating slump and Laureano’s absence Canha’s red-hot bat has been much needed. It’s important when good players become much better, and even more so when the circumstances require individuals to step up. Canha has met that call.