The 2022 regular season has been just about everything any Mets fan could hope for. The Amazins are entering the final month with a three-game lead in the National League East and are one of baseball’s best teams.
FanGraphs currently has New York’s odds of winning the division at 84.8% and odds of winning the World Series at 17.5%. With an 83-48 record, we haven’t seen the Mets perform this well from start to finish since 2006. This kind of consistent success means contributions are coming from every part of manager Buck Showalter’s roster.
The offense has had its ups and downs in August, but the overall performance wasn’t that bad. The team’s 117 wRC+ and 137 runs scored both landed within the top six in baseball. One of New York’s biggest offensive contributors this past month has been outfielder Mark Canha.
It’s not that he was having a bad year prior to August. Through his first 329 plate appearances, Canha hit .271/.368/.380 with seven home runs, 34 RBI, 43 runs scored, and a 122 wRC+. Through 86 plate appearances in August, though, he was one of baseball’s hottest hitters. Canha finished with a .292/.395/.583 line to go along with four homers, 17 RBI, 14 runs scored, and a 174 wRC+.
The following three things were significant reasons behind a huge uptick in performance from the 33-year-old.
Canha is hitting fewer ground balls
If we look at specific stats, Canha’s Mets career got off to a great start in April. That’s evidenced by a .345 batting average through his first 63 plate appearances. Upon looking a bit deeper, we can see that number didn’t have a lot of meat to it.
Of the 19 hits Canha recorded in April, 18 of them were singles. The lone extra-base hit was a double. While his 139 wRC+ looked great, his on-base percentage (.429) easily outpaced his slugging percentage (.364). He received a bit of fortune from the Baseball Gods by registering a .452 BABIP while posting a 47.6% ground-ball rate and 19.0% hard-hit rate.
Despite it being the batted-ball event with the lowest upside, Canha has found some success hitting ground balls throughout his career. So far in 2022, he’s posted a .281 average and a 68 wRC+ on grounders. However, we know that in today’s game, the key to making a legitimate impact is by elevating the ball. He did just that throughout August.
After posting a 48.7% ground-ball rate through the end of July, that number dropped to 41.9% this past month. This coincided with a rise in fly-ball rate, too (30.8% to 40.3%).
His hard contact skyrocketed
Decreasing ground balls and improving launch angle are crucial ingredients for success on offense. It doesn’t do a whole lot if the quality of contact isn’t there, so it’s not surprising to see this be another part of his recent success.
Through the end of July, Canha posted a 20.1% soft-hit rate and a 25.9% hard-hit rate. His soft-hit rate went up to 22.6% in August, but his hard-hit rate improved dramatically to 38.7%. This is where all the improvements with his power have stemmed from. Canha recorded 13 extra-base hits over the past month (nine doubles, four home runs). That nearly matched the 17 extra-base hits he accrued over the first four months of the season (10 doubles, seven homers).
What you love to see here is that Canha’s approach at the plate didn’t change much – his execution just got better. The outfielder’s swing rate inside and outside the strike zone between the two periods being discussed is nearly identical to one another. The type of contact he’s making is changing, though.
Through the end of July, Canha made contact on 74.4% of balls he swung at outside the strike zone. That number dropped to 64.7% in August. Conversely, his contact rate on pitches within the strike zone rose from 83.8% to 87.8%. This also helps explain the huge improvements he’s seen in his quality-of-contact numbers.
Canha handled a change in pitch mix
Baseball is a game of constant adjustments, whether we’re talking about year-to-year, month-to-month, or game-to-game. Pitchers attempted to attack Canha in a different way in August compared to the rest of the regular season, and he took advantage.
During the first four months, here are some of the pitch usage breakdowns opposing hurlers used against the outfielder:
- Fastball: 51.4%
- Slider: 22.9%
- Cutter: 6.3%
- Curveball: 9.8%
- Changeup: 9.1%
Here’s how it changed in August:
- Fastball: 45.7%
- Slider: 27.4%
- Cutter: 9.7%
- Curveball: 6.2%
- Changeup: 10.3%
Among these pitches, Canha owns a wRC+ of at least 120 against three of them (fastball, slider, changeup). The only one with an increase in usage that he’s struggled with this year is the cutter (he’s posted a 66 wRC+ against that offering).
The Mets, like any team with championship aspirations, need to get production from all areas of the roster. And sometimes, it needs to come from unexpected areas. Getting a huge uptick in production from Canha wouldn’t necessarily qualify as coming from an “unexpected area” of the roster, but it was needed as other players go through their own peaks and valleys in performance.
What will be interesting to see is whether or not Canha can sustain some aspects of this breakout as New York continues to battle the Atlanta Braves for a division title throughout September.
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