Cantu, Wrists and Power Outage


Reader Smilin Jay broght something up in my email that I think all Marlins fans have been thinking since the beginning of the year.

"Cantu started the season so strong. Had a bunch of HR’s early. Then came the injuries. Since then, he’s had virtually no HR’s or what appears as hard hit balls. Is is possible he’s playing hurt and may require some sort of off-season surgery? He’s putting the ball in play and has an okay average, but what happened to the long ball?"

(Note: Props to reader Fishcrazy for bringing that up in an earlier post as well. We were thinking it, he said it earlier, but I felt at this time, concluding August, it would be interesting to break it down.)

He of course is referring to Jorge Cantu’s wrist injury along with a number of random, assorted injuries. Early in the season, Cantu was on fire. In April, Cantu hit a scorching .365/.444/.778, good for a .510 wOBA. His power was an obvious plus with a capital P; Cantu had 12 extra base hits in the month, seven of which were home runs. tfa

However, since then Cantu has only hit seven more this year, including tonight’s jack in Washington. What gives? Well, on April 12th, Cantu was hit by a pitch on his hand and missed a few games. He came back quickly, but then suffered a wrist injury on the same hand a week later and missed a few more games. However, he never went on the DL and returned to lineup as quickly as possible. Soon after, however, the massive power decline came and he has been punchless since, mostly a singles hitter. Many of his swings that may have been homers early in the year were dying for doubles now, and sure enough Cantu has posted another high doubles season with 33 two-baggers.

Was this a case of regression to Jorge Cantu’s mean or has the wrist legitimately hampered Cantu’s power since the injuries? Cantu has a HR/FB% this year of 7.4%, a far cry from his 12.3% from last season. His batted ball data has been essentially the same this year as last year, so this isn’t an issue of Cantu hitting less fly balls in addition to losing power.

Of course, no home run power analysis is complete without a look at the simply awesome Hit Tracker Online. Let’s take a look at Cantu’s home runs chart from last year and this year and compare. First, let’s look at 2008:

Now, here’s 2009:

The average “true” home run distance for Cantu’s 29 shots in 2008 was 388.6 feet, while the average 2009 distance is currently 385.4 feet. In addition, the average speed of the ball off Cantu’s bat in 2008 was 102.7 mph, while this year’s average is 101.2 mph, a loss of 1.5 mph on his batted ball speed.

Hit Tracker Online also classifies home runs into three categories: Just Enough, Plenty, and No Doubt. The classifications are self-evident, but you can find the technical descriptions here. This year, Cantu has hit six home runs classified as “Just Enough,” one less than the total number of home runs of that type that he hit all of last season. In addition, he has two home runs this year that are classified as “Lucky,” the same number he had all of last season as well. Here are the breakdowns:

Cantu 2009: six JE (43%), five PL (36%), three ND (21%)
Cantu 2008: seven JE (24%), 16 PL (55%), four ND (14%), one unclassified

The “Just Enough” home runs have been far more abundant, while the “Plenty” home runs have dropped as a result. This is obviously a small sample size, but you can see that Cantu’s home runs are just getting over the fence these days.

What about the balls that aren’t getting out? Well, I figured a lot of the shots that wouldn’t leave the park would land for extra-base hits. However, Cantu’s extra-base hit percentage has dropped from 13.5% last year to 11.5% this season. I calculated that based on his balls in play, but he’s been hitting more singles this year and striking out less, so this may unfairly judge his power. Cantu’s extra-base hit percentage based on plate appearances has also dropped, but a bit less; he has gone from 10.2% last year to 9.1% this season. His doubles rate has accounted for half of that difference (around 0.5%), so the power loss is spread evenly.

I wouldn’t say that these results are all that conclusive, but looking at the data as a whole, I would say that Cantu’s power drop from last year to this year has a good deal to do with a lack of luck. He wasn’t hitting towering blasts last year, but more of them were getting out. He’s likely gone through some regression this year and gotten a bit unlucky. However, the drop in doubles and home runs combined tells me that there is something with his wrist that is causing a power drop as well. We can’t blame the wrist entirely, as I don’t think Cantu is a 30 HR guy anyway, but I do think his drop in ISO has something to do with the wrist and something to do with some good old fashioned regression. In other words, it’s inconclusive. But again, let’s not blame JUST the injury, because last year’s version of Cantu just isn’t likely to be the real Cantu.