How Mark Canha Evolved Into One of the Most Selective Hitters in Baseball

If it seems like every Mark Canha at-bat lasts about 10 minutes, don't worry, you're not crazy.  

Between his elaborate pre-pitch routines and rapidly-improving pitch selection, Canha has made opposing pitchers work as hard as just about any other hitter in Major League Baseball this season.

Entering Sunday, the A's utility man was seeing an average of 4.34 pitches per plate appearance, tied for 11th-most in all of baseball among hitters with at least 150 plate appearances. Only four qualified batters rank above Canha in the category, with Philadelphia's Rhys Hoskins leading the way at 4.59.  

"For me, it just had to do with kind of shrinking the zone -- shrinking my zone -- and not worrying about falling behind in the count or hitting with two strikes," Canha said of his approach. "Just kind of letting it play out and waiting for good pitches that I know I can do damage on. I think (earlier in my career), I've been a little overaggressive and just trying to hit early in the count and not being patient. ... It's about being selective and that's helped me."  

That mindset has paid off in a big way. While Canha is only batting .233 this year, his .371 on-base percentage leads the A's and his .874 OPS ranks third, behind only Matt Olson and Matt Chapman.  

Canha also has belted 12 home runs in just 163 at-bats, a rate of one homer every 13.6 ABs. That's the 15th-best clip in the American League among hitters with at least 150 plate appearances.

"You give him consistent at-bats and he's going to perform," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "I think the big difference this year is the walks. You look at the average and that's really not indicative of what he's been doing. He's been getting on base, he hasn't been expanding the zone, and when you throw it over the plate, it's a homer. If you don't, he takes a walk and sets it up for everybody else."  

To Melvin's point, Canha owns the 12th-best walk rate in the majors at 15.7 percent. That's up from 8.3 percent last year and just 3.7 percent in 2017. Meanwhile, his 0.84 walk-to-strikeout ratio is tied for 11th, more than double last season's 0.39.  

"I just want to hit my pitch, whether it's the first pitch of the at-bat or the seventh or eighth pitch of the at-bat," Canha explained. "I think it's important to be aggressive early in the count if you get your pitch, and not be passive. That, in turn, will make guys a little more hesitant to attack you. If you're good at hitting early in the count, you might get yourself into some good hitters counts later. So it's a chess game. The main thing is just kind of trusting myself to attack my pitch."  

In order to do that, Canha has learned to lay off the pitcher's pitch. This season, he has only swung at 21.8 percent of pitches out of the strike zone, the 17th-best mark in MLB. Last season, that number was up at 31.1 percent. In 2017, it was 37.7 percent.  

[RELATED: A's firing on all cylinders heading into All-Star break]

Essentially, these stats suggest that Canha's plate discipline has been the primary reason for his improvement at the plate in 2019. The 30-year-old is on pace to set career-bests with 21 home runs, 55 walks, and only 69 strikeouts.  

Perhaps just as important, even when Canha does make an out, he forces the pitcher to really earn it.

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