Last night, Robinson Cano hit a three-run walk-off home run in the 10th inning. This got me thinking about how Cano has been widely regarded as being un-clutch this season. The main reason for this belief is the stark difference between his numbers with the bases empty and his numbers with men on base:
Robinson Cano, 2009 with the bases empty: .357/.387/.587 with 14 HRs in 283 ABs
Robinson Cano, 2009 with men on base: .259/.290/.422 with 7 HRs in 232 ABs
To some, this would indicate that Cano is a significantly different hitter with runners on. However, a sample of 232 ABs isn't enough for me to draw any conclusions about Robinson Cano's clutch prowess.
In order to find out more, I'd enlarge the sample size by using Robinson Cano's career statistics.
Robinson Cano, career with the bases empty: .325/.357/.520 with 52 HRs in 1443 ABs
Robinson Cano, career with men on base: .281/.311/.427 with 31 HRs in 1290 ABs
Again, this is a very big difference. His career OPS with runners on base is .137 lower than with the bases empty. In this large of a sample, I wouldn't expect BABIP(batting average with balls in play) to play a big role but it's worth looking at anyway.
Cano's BABIP with the bases empty is .340, while it is only .300 with runners on. This only tells part of the story, though. If you neutralize the BABIP on both lines to his career BABIP of .321, there is still a significant difference in OPS, .074.
If it isn't from a fluky BABIP, what can we attribute this difference to? He strikes out in 11 percent of his at bats with the bases empty and 12 percent with runners on—that's not significant. He walks in four percent of his PAs whether the bases are empty or not.
The main difference is his power output. With the bases empty, he homers once every 27.8 at bats. With men on, he homers once every 41.6 at bats. This results in an ISO of .195 with the bases empty versus .146 with runners on base. That is a significant difference when we're talking about samples of over 1300 PAs.
This evidence indicates that Robinson Cano is, in fact, a player who struggles to hit in the clutch. In order to verify this, I figure it's necessary to consult The Book.
Batters perform slightly differently when under pressure. About one in six players increases his inherent "OBP skill" by eight points or more in high-pressure situations; a comparable number of players decreases it by eight points or more.
These eight points are the standard deviation, meaning about one-third of batters won't fall within this range. Cano would definitely be one of these, as his OBP changes drastically.
It is very evident that, to date, Cano has been very un-clutch in his career. This does not, however, signal that he will be un-clutch going forward. Another conclusion on clutch hitting from The Book is:
For all practical purposes, a player can be expected to hit equally well in the clutch as he would be expected to do in an ordinary situation.
Robinson Cano showed us last night that while he hasn't come through in the past, there is no reason to think he will continue to fail in the future. I really believe that for the rest of the season and for most of Cano's career, his numbers in clutch situations will be very close to his numbers in normal situations.