After DH Khris Davis was placed on the injury list this past Friday, Mark Canha took his place in the lineup.
Historically speaking, Canha isn’t much of a stellar placeholder. Davis led the Majors in home runs last year, with 48 over 151 games. He’s hit at least 42 homers since joining Oakland before the 2016 season, and, over a 162-game pace, is on pace to keep his offensive dominance up.
Mark Canha isn’t necessarily bad — he’s just not Khris Davis. This year, however, he’s made significant improvements with the bat that might signify that the 30-year old utilityman could stick around somewhere in the lineup even after Davis returns.
To date, Mark Canha currently holds a .233/.360/.603 slash line with a 149 wRC+. He’s walking far more often than ever — his BB% currently stands at 13.8%, whereas his career average is just 7% — and striking out fewer times than each season since his rookie year in 2015 (21.2%, career average 22.9%). The number that jumps out most, however, is one that sumps his spectacular power surge up well — 8 home runs in just 88 plate appearances.
He’s watching pitches far more than ever, swinging at just 37.6% of all pitches, an 18% decrease from his career average — and, more importantly, swinging at just 20.5% outside of the zone, a tremendous 37% decrease from his career average. Canha’s hitting more fly balls, where 56.6% of his batted balls end up in the air. His launch angle currently stands at 22.8, a significant difference from his career average 15.6. Canha’s greatest weakness — hitting against right-handed pitchers (.227/.323/.343, 88 wRC+ in 2018) has been dismantled altogether this year (.216/.375/.649, 165 wRC+).
Canha’s recent surge — which includes 6 home runs in his past 10 games — has been enough to power the A’s through a hot streak, in which they have won their past eight contests in a row. This hot streak isn’t necessarily a sustainable one; 27% of his fly balls are leaving the yard, and his hitting metrics suggest that he “should” be hitting a .419 SLG, according to Statcast. He’s not necessarily making harder contact, either — his Hard Hit % hovers less than a percentage point above his career average, and a few ticks below last year’s. But Canha’s plate discipline is notably improved from years past, and he’s shown a statistically significant improvement overall from last year alone, where he still slugged decently (.249/.328/.449, 113 wRC+, 17 HR in 411 PA).
When Khris Davis returns from the IL and resumes his regular place at the DH, Canha may have shown enough to where he can start on a near-daily basis. Given Profar’s struggles at second base — where he’s made improvements offensively, yet continues to mismanage plays defensively — Oakland could be looking at starting Chad Pinder in his place, where Canha could take the reins in left field for Robbie Grossman for the time being. This would give Oakland a huge offensive boost as they move into the middle of the season, all while keeping their defense afloat. Canha’s numbers and Statcast data have proved that he’s worthy of regular plate appearances in the lineup.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, too. Mark Canha’s true value will fully be displayed when the MLB finally gets around to implementing bat flip data.