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Posts Tagged ‘Robinson Cano’

Even though most studies suggest that incremental changes in batting order position have minimal impact on run production, each slot still carries a certain connotation. Leadoff is usually reserved for a player with speed, while cleanup is the domain of a slugger. The third position, however, is the slot usually reserved for a team’s best hitter. As the Yankees enter the 2011 post season, Joe Girardi has decided that Robinson Cano is the hitter on his team who best fits that description, at least against right handed pitchers.

Cano’s elevation in the lineup not only represents a promotion for the second baseman, but it also constitutes a partial demotion for Mark Teixeira, who has primarily occupied the role over the last three seasons. Most teams coasting into the playoffs with their league’s best record usually don’t make significant changes at the end of the season, but Girardi should be commended for his willingness to reverse course at such a late stage. With consecutive MVP-caliber seasons under his belt, Cano has firmly established himself as one of the American League’s best players and arguably the most feared hitter in the Yankees lineup. Meanwhile, Teixeira has seen his overall production decline, particularly from the left side. On that basis alone, the lineup adjustment seems warranted, but when you consider the relative post season performance of each player, the switch makes even more sense (although that’s more of an indictment of Teixeira than complement to Cano).

Mark Teixeira vs. Robinson Cano, Post Season Performance

  G PA R H HR RBI BA OBP SLG
Mark Teixeira 26 122 17 22 3 12 0.214 0.320 0.330
Robinson Cano 37 152 19 35 6 20 0.248 0.296 0.461

Source: baseball-reference.com

It remains to be seen whether Girardi’s lineup switch will be maintained after the 2011 post season,  but regardless, Teixeira has had a pretty good run in the three-hole. Since 1919, the Yankees have had 183 players bat third, but only eight have been penciled into that slot more than Teixeira. What’s more, Teixeira is one of only six Yankees to primarily bat third in three consecutive seasons.

Yankees Top-10 Third Place Hitters, Ranked by Games Started Since 1919

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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When the Yankees’ beat the Orioles on Monday night, Robinson Cano was batting in the cleanup spot. Then, in the team’s victory over the Red Sox on Tuesday, Dustin Pedroia was batting fourth in the opposition lineup. Why is that significant? Because of the position both men play.

Since 1919, only 7,096 lineups have featured a second baseman in the cleanup slot (or just above 2%). However, this year, that ratio has tripled, which signals the relative level of strength throughout the position in the current game.

Cleanup Hitters by Position, Since 1919 and Current Year (click to enlarge)

Note: Due to database errors, the position count differs from total games played by about 1%.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

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In 23 major league innings, Jose Cano surrendered two home runs. While pitching to his son during the 2011 Home Run Derby, he gave up quite a few more.

Robin Cano leaps into the arms of his father Jose, a former Yankees’ farmhand who helped his son win the homerun derby.

With his dad standing only sixty feet away, Robinson Cano dazzled the Chase Field crowd by belting 32 home runs, including a record 12 in the final round. By besting the Red Sox’ Adrian Gonzalez, Cano became the third Yankee to win the homerun derby, joining Tino Martinez (1997) and Jason Giambi (2002).

As soon as the final home run left Cano’s bat, father and son shared an emotional embrace. The hug was even more compelling than all of the titanic blasts launched deep into the stands. In an instant, the elder Cano was transformed from a stoic batting practice pitcher into a very proud papa whose face finally flashed a smile to equal his son’s. For years, baseball fans have heard the story about how Cano’s father named him after the legendary Jackie Robinson, but with that embrace, it became evident that he passed on more than just a name.

Although some might be surprised by Cano’s prolific power display, his performance was nothing new to anyone who has watched the infielder take batting practice. In fact, anyone who has witnessed Cano over the past seven seasons should be well aware of his developing power. Since 2008, he has gradually increased his homerun output, and after last night, it now seems clear the sky is literally the limit for Cano. Even if he simply maintains his current pace, the 28-year could very well exit the game as one of the best ever at his position.

Most Career Homeruns by a Second Baseman

Player Career   Player Season
Jeff Kent 351   Davey Johnson 43
Ryne Sandberg 277   Rogers Hornsby 42
Joe Morgan 266   Ryne Sandberg 40
Rogers Hornsby 264   Alfonso Soriano 39
Brett Boone 251   Rogers Hornsby 39
Lou Whitaker 239   Rogers Hornsby 39
Robinson Cano 131   Robinson Cano 29

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Once overlooked among the Yankees’ cavalcade of stars (Jim Leyland once referred to the Yankees’ lineup as Murder’s Row plus Robbie Cano), the sweet swinging second baseman has emerged as one of its top stars. And, if he isn’t there already, last night’s victory in the homerun derby should put him at the forefront of baseball’s center stage. His father should be proud. He raised a hell of baseball player.

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At first glance, Robinson Cano seems as if he has picked up exactly where he left off in 2010. His batting average, slugging percentage, wOBA, OPS+, and runs created per plate appearance are all in line with or even better than his near MVP season. However, there is one glaring indicator that has failed to keep pace: on base percentage.

When Cano first entered the league, he was a notorious free swinger, but the second baseman gradually increased his walk rate to a respectable 8.2% in 2010. In an admittedly small sample of only 18 games, however, Cano has only walked one time in 78 plate appearances this season. Is this the reversal of a trend, or a momentary set back?

Robinson Cano: 2010 vs. 2011

  BA OBP SLG OPS+ wOBA wRC+ BB% K%
2010 0.319 0.381 0.534 142 0.389 142 8% 12%
2011 0.316 0.321 0.566 141 0.384 146 1% 17%

Source: fangraphs.com and baseball-reference.com

A look inside Cano’s plate discipline percentages doesn’t really reveal anything amiss. Although he has been swinging at more pitches, most of those cuts have come at balls thrown in the zone. There have been a few extra swings at pitches out of the zone, but for the most part, Cano has continued a trend that has seen him eschew taking strikes in favor of swinging at them. This finding contradicts the conventional wisdom that Cano has evolved from a free swinger into a more patient hitter. Instead, it seems as if he has just become better at picking out a good pitch to hit…and doing more damage when he does. In other words, Cano’s increasing walk rate is more about respect than discipline (in fact, 14 of his 57 walks in 2010 were intentional).

Cano’s Strike Breakdown

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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Ten years ago today, the Yankees signed Robinson Cano as an amateur free agent out of San Pedro de Marcoris in the Dominican Republic. Then a shortstop, Cano’s signing was unheralded at the time. In fact, a search of Google’s newspaper database reveals that the first print mention of the young infielder didn’t occur until September 9, 2001, when the Brooklyn Cyclones met Cano’s Staten Island Yankees in the New York-Penn League playoffs (there was one prior report that stated Cano had signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers).

Robinson Cano started out as a shortstop for the Staten Island Yankees before making it as an All Star 2B in the Bronx.

From the day he signed until his major debut on May 3, 2005, Cano was really never considered a blue chip prospect. Baseball America never included him in their top-100 prospect lists, and most published reports referred to him in less than glowing terms. In fact, it seems as if even the Yankees weren’t very impressed, which might explain why he was rumored to be included in just about every deal the team considered in the early part of the decade.

The first mention of Cano’s name in trade rumors was in the New York Post on July 27, 2003. At the time, the Yankees were reportedly discussing a deal with the Reds that involved Ken Griffey Jr. The rumored cost was struggling right hander Jeff Weaver along with a prospect from among a group that included Cano, Alex Graman, Jorge De Paula and Juan Rivera. The validity of the rumor was rendered moot when Griffey sustained an injury on July 17 that ended his 2003 campaign.

After Aaron Boone sustained a serious knee injury while playing basketball in the 2003 offseason, Cano once again found his name bandied about in several trade rumors. Almost immediately following the injury announcement, Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune wrote of a rumored three way deal between the Yankees, Angels and White Sox that would have sent Troy Glaus to New York. In exchange, the Yankees would have sent Cano and fellow infield prospect Joaquin Arias to Chicago and Anaheim (who would also have swapped Paul Konerko and Jose Valentin for Jarrod Washburn and Darin Erstad). That deal apparently fell through, which was a good thing for the Yankees because less than one month later the team acquired Alex Rodriguez in a blockbuster deal with the Texas Rangers. In exchange for Arod, the Yankees sent All Star second baseman Alfonso Soriano to Texas, and also allowed the Rangers to select from a list of prospects that once again included Arias and Cano. Luckily, the Rangers selected the younger Arias, and Baseball America’s scouting reports at the time seemed to agree with that decision.

Although Cano survived the offseason, his name remained a fixture in trade talks throughout 2004. The most persistent rumor involved Cano being part of a package for Kansas City Royals’ centerfielder Carlos Beltran, who was eventually traded to the Houston Astros. As early as June, the New York Daily News reported that Yankees had moved Cano to third base at the request of Royals’ scouts, who wanted to watch the potential trade target play that position. Around the same time, the Daily News also reported that the Mariners might be scouting Cano for a potential deal that could include either Freddie Garcia or Jamie Moyer. However, the Mariners rejected a Yankee offer that included Cano and instead opted to trade Garcia to the White Sox for Miguel Olivo, Jeremy Reed and Michael Morse. Finally by the end of June, the newspaper had Cano being evaluated by the Atlanta Braves in a deal for Russ Ortiz.

With just about every team scouting Cano in the summer of 2004, it’s a wonder he remained with the organization past the trade deadline. During that timeframe, Cano was also rumored to be part of a trade with the Diamondbacks for Randy Johnson. So, when the two teams resumed negotiations after the season, it seemed all but assured that Cano would finally be packing his bags. However, after months of contentious discussion, the Yankees evenutally agreed to send Javier Vazquez along with prospects Dioner Navarro and Brad Halsey to Arizona for the Big Unit. Once again, Cano managed to stay put.

Yankees’ fans and officials are all smiles because several attempts to trade Cano eventually fell through.

Despite failing to trade Cano in the offseason, the Yankees still seemed reticent to give their 22-year old prospect a chance to make the team. So, instead, they signed Tony Womack to play second base, one of the team’s more ill advised decisions under Brian Cashman’s tenure as GM (which is saying a lot considering that same offseason included lucrative deals for pitchers Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright). Ironically, however, Womack’s utter futility eventually forced the Yankees to promote Cano to the major leagues by May 2005, after which there was no looking back for the young second baseman.

Within days of Cano’s ascension to the majors, talent evaluators around the game were suddenly praising his abilities. The scouts that once seemed to doubt his defense or patience at the plate were now heralding his smooth swing, strong arm and athletic ability. Privately, many in the Yankees’ organization expressed gratitude that the team had been unable to trade their burgeoning new star.

Thank God we didn’t trade him. Imagine if he was doing this for someone else? We’d never hear the end of it.” – Anonymous Yankees’ official, New York Daily News, July 29, 2005

I’m so happy they didn’t trade me. I love this team.” – Robinson Cano, New York Daily News, July 29, 2005

Before truly breaking out with an MVP caliber season in 2010, Cano had his ups and downs along the way to stardom. In fact, after a disappointing 2008 season, the second baseman once again found himself at the center of trade rumors, which this time had him going to the Dodgers for centerfielder Matt Kemp. As in the past, Cano remained with the Yankees and returned to his All Star form the next season.

Cano is the epitome of the old adage that states the best trades are the ones you don’t make. With Cano, however, that old bromide has been taken to an absurd extreme. Not only should the Yankees consider themselves fortunate that they never dealt away a man who is now arguably their best player, but countless teams around baseball should also be kicking themselves for failing to snatch him from New York.

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