Robinson Cano is off to a terrible start with the Mets, and his struggles could be tied to this key issue

Wednesday night was not a good night for the New York Mets (WAS 5, NYM 1). Fill-in fifth starter Wilmer Font got blasted for five runs in 2 1/3 innings and the offense mustered only one double and three singles in eight innings against Nationals lefty Patrick Corbin. Corbin struck out 11 and allowed just one run.

New York's 3-4-5 hitters went a combined 0 for 12 with seven strikeouts in Wednesday's game and it's tough to win when the middle of the lineup does that. Pete Alonso, the No. 4 hitter, has been a monster all season. Michael Conforto, the No. 5 hitter, has been great as well. No. 3 hitter Robinson Cano? That's a different story. He's struggled pretty much all year.

Robinson Cano 2B •
BA.245
R14
HR3
RBI12
SB0

"Historically, he's a Hall of Fame-type player," manager Mickey Callaway told reporters, including MLB.com's Anthony DiComo, following Wednesday's game. "There's always going to be high expectations on Robbie. He went through a spurt there where he was unbelievable. He's had a couple of droughts. But if anybody knows how to fix it, and fix himself, it's going to be Cano."

Forty-one games into the season, the 36-year-old Cano is hitting .245/.297/.374 with three home runs, numbers that are decidedly un-Cano-like. He is 9 for 52 (.173) in his last 14 games and both his strikeout rate (21.5 percent) and swing-and-miss rate (11.4 percent) are far above his career averages. Check it out:

robinson-cano-strikeout-whiff-rates.png
Robinson Cano is swinging and missing much more than at any other point in his career. FanGraphs

"I don't have frustration. We have a great team and I'm always positive. I'm never frustrated," Cano told reporters Wednesday, including DiComo.

Cano (and Edwin Diaz) was the Mets' most high-profile addition over the winter. He came over in a seven-player trade that sent top prospects Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn to the Mariners. Factoring in the portion of Cano's salary covered by Seattle, the Mets still owe him $100 million total from 2019-23. Any signs of decline are understandably worrisome.

For what it's worth, Cano told reporters he blames his struggles on an inability to punish fastballs. He is hitting .297 with a .446 slugging percentage against fastballs this year, and while those numbers look good, Cano hit .319 with a .511 slugging percentage against heaters from 2016-18. The league is hitting .266 with a .457 slugging percentage against fastballs in 2019.

Here are some contact quality numbers for Cano:


Exit VelocityHard-Hit RateLaunch Angle

2016-18

90.8 mph

44.7 percent

9.3 degrees

2019

90.4 mph

42.5 percent

8.5 degrees

There's a decline across the board, albeit only a slight one in average exit velocity. We're now one-quarter of the way into the 2019 season, so while it's not that early, we are still in the small sample size noise phase. Cano's contact quality could improve over the next few weeks. To date, there has been a bit of a decline though, and that is a red flag for a player Cano's age. Bad things can start to happen at age 36, even with the greatest players.

The elephant in the room here is Cano's performance-enhancing drug suspension. He served an 80-game ban last year and did come back very strong, hitting .317/.363/.497 with great contact quality numbers in 41 games after the suspension. That said, Cano has been busted using performance-enhancers, so he's opened himself up to questions about how much they've helped him throughout his career, and how much not using them (assuming he isn't hurting them) is hurting him now.

We know five things for certain about Cano: 

  1. He is now 36, which is an age where age-related decline often sets in. 
  2. He is swinging and missing this season more than ever. 
  3. When he does make contact, it hasn't been quite as solid as the last few years. 
  4. He served a performance-enhancing drug suspension last year. 
  5. He changed leagues over the winter, which requires some level of adjustment, even if he is playing in a familiar city.

How much is each of those things contributing to his poor performance to date? It's difficult to say exactly, though chances are they are all contributing in some way. There's not one big problem, it's several smaller problems adding up, you know? Second base is a demanding position and Cano has played a lot of baseball over the years -- he averaged 159 games played from 2007-17 -- and it takes a physical toll. All that wear and tear may be manifesting itself now.

At 20-21, the Mets are off to a disappointing start this season, and Cano is hardly the only reason. The bullpen behind Diaz has been generally sketchy, free-agent additions Wilson Ramos (not hitting) and Jed Lowrie (hurt) haven't produced, and the vaunted rotation has hit some bumps these first few weeks. After giving up two top prospects and absorbing $100 million in salary obligation, Cano is the team's biggest worry though, and right now no one seems to have any answers.

CBS Sports Writer

Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for MLBTradeRumors.com, FanGraphs.com, RotoAuthority.com,... Full Bio

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