Angels starter Griffin Canning getting stung by location issues

Griffin Canning, Los Angeles Angels (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Griffin Canning, Los Angeles Angels (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

Griffin Canning is one of several Angels pitchers that are struggling in 2020, but the right-hander’s pitch location may be to blame.

Coming off his August 1st start against the Houston Astros, Angels’ starter Griffin Canning seemed to be putting things together. He had just tossed a season-high six innings of one-run ball, allowing six hits, two walks, and striking out five in a no-decision.

Oh, how the wheels have fallen off since.

Canning has looked like a completely different pitcher in his last three starts, giving up 11 runs (eight earned) over his last three starts and 12.1 innings of work. From a six walk performance in Texas to allowing four home runs and 12 hits over his last two starts (8.2 innings), it has been a rough landing for Canning in 2020.

Overall, Griffin Canning sports an 0-3 record with a 4.70 ERA, a 5.64 FIP, a 1.522 WHIP, and a 7.8 K/9 mark.

While a precursory look will tell you that Canning is much the same pitcher he was a year ago (4.70 ERA vs 4.58 in 2019), his peripheral stats tell a much different story. He is trending the wrong way in strikeouts (7.83 K/9 vs 9.56 in 2019), walks (3.91 BB/9 vs 2.99), and home runs (1.9 HR/9 vs 1.39).

Quantifying Griffin Canning’s struggles for the Angels in 2020?

The rise in the home run ball is a fairly telling statistic when it comes to Canning’s issues in 2020. However, it only tells part of the story. In short, the right-hander is simply getting hit harder this season.

Looking at Canning’s batted ball statistics, Angels’ fans should almost count their blessings that the results haven’t been worse. After seeing his contact type split as 16.0% soft, 42.4% medium, and 41.6% hard in 2019, Canning has seen his soft contact plummet to just 5.6% in 2020, with medium (44.4%) and hard (50.0%) rising significantly.

It’s hard enough to win games giving up 40+% hard contact, but when that number rises to 50%, it means that MLB hitters are teeing you up at a pretty good clip. While his fly ball rate has dropped about 0.8% in 2020, his HR/FB rate is 3.3%, his exit velocity against has gained nearly two miles per hour (up to 89.7 MPH), and his line drive rate has climbed 1.7% as well.

So why is Griffin Canning getting hit harder in 2020?

If you watched last night’s start against the San Francisco Giants, you likely saw the home run that Brandon Belt hit off of Griffin Canning in the top of the 1st inning. If you didn’t, we’re going to include it here so that we can illustrate our point a bit.

As you can see, that was a 91.5 MPH fastball, left out over the plate in the upper part of the zone. It left the bat at 104.8 MPH with a 37 degree launch angle. Sadly, it is a snapshot in time of exactly what Canning has been seeing in 2020.

Angels, Griffin Canning
Angels, Griffin Canning, Courtesy of Baseball Savant /

While that chart doesn’t yet show last night’s results, it illustrates the damage that opposing hitters are doing to Canning on pitches left up in the zone or even above it. The rise in launch angle focus hitting led to a rise if pitchers throwing up in the zone more often. That has typically been a strong approach for pitchers with higher velocities. However, Canning is living in the low 90s range on his fastball in 2020 (down 1.5 MPH from 2019) and is getting burned by hitters getting on top of that pitch.

Also illustrated in that graphic is the effectiveness that Canning has when pitching down in the zone. To further prove that point, let’s take a look at his wOBA by zone.

Angels, Griffin Canning
Angels, Griffin Canning /

With the exception of the one outlier zone, Canning has shown a lot more promise when keeping the ball down, as opposed to in the middle of the plate or up in the zone.

If Griffin Canning wants to turn things around in 2020, he needs to learn to pitch down in the zone more often. He simply lacks the fastball to challenge hitters up in the zone, even when mixing in his offspeed stuff more often, as he has done in 2020.

In a normal season, Canning may have been optioned to try and work through his mechanics in the minor leagues. However, the lack of that option and any available upgrades means that the Angels will have him tinker and try to fix things at the big league level in 2020.

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Angels fans are just hoping he figures it out sooner than later.