Sunday, January 24, 2010

24 Days Until Spring Training: Robinson Cano

Robinson Cano isn't young for a baseball player anymore. He seems like a bit of a fledgling in comparison to the rest of the established stars on the Yankees but he turned 27 last October and is now entering his physical prime. Cano is slated to make $9M in 2010, so he is becoming less of an automatic bargain and more of a good value contingent on good performance.

With the departures of Melky Cabrera and Chein-Ming Wang this offseason, Cano alone now bridges the gap of home grown talent between the old guard of Jeter, Rivera, Posada and Pettitte and the newer generation of Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Brett Gardner. He's the only outstanding hitting prospect the Yankees have developed and retained in recent years and provides elite production at an important defensive position.

Cano's abilities at second base are tough to quantify, as Joe from River Ave. Blue pointed out before last season began. He possesses the ability to make plays on balls that are hit outside of his zone, but is also prone to making sloppy mistakes on relatively easy opportunities. UZR rated Cano as slightly below average last season (-5.2) which is close to his career norm. Fortunately, Robby hits more than enough to make up for any deficiencies he might have in the field.

After a terrible year at the plate in 2008, Cano rebounded last season with a .370 wOBA, the second best mark of his career. He set new career highs in home runs (25), doubles (48) and ISO (.199) without adversely affecting his batting average (.320). He batted significantly better at Yankee Stadium than on the road, but hit a fairly balanced 14 of his homers in the Bronx.

Cano's only real flaw as a hitter is his lack of patience, an attribute which is exacerbated by the fact that he is near the top of the league in contact percentage - both inside and outside of the strike zone. He made contact with 77% of offerings outside of the zone in 2009, a number which has increased every year he's been in the league. The percentage of pitches out of the zone he offers at has remained close to 30%, meaning that he's either getting more selective, getting better at putting the bat on the ball or some combination of the two.

Robby is also near the top of the league in first strike percentage, despite the fact that he only swings at the first pitch of the at bat 34% of the time. It's easy to understand why Cano or the coaching staff might take this tact - he's already near the bottom of the league in pitches seen per plate appearance - but it appears that pitchers are a little too comfortable grooving a strike in there and putting Cano in an unfavorable count. Clearly opposing hurlers are trying to exploit this tendency and Cano could benefit by being more aggressive on the first pitch.

As has been the case throughout his career, Cano struggled with runners in scoring position in 2009. Mike from River Ave. Blues identified BABIP as a major culprit for the discrepancy but clearly there is something in his approach that keeps him from racking up more RBIs. Similarly, Cano didn't fare very well in the 2009 postseason either, hitting a paltry .193/.266/.281 surpassed in futility on the Yankees only by Nick Swisher. But all's well that ends well.

Cano is probably my favorite Yankee. During a time when the farm system wasn't turning out many prospects, Robby emerged to fill a position that the Yankees have had very few stars at over the course of their history. He has plenty of flaws as a player, some of which we didn't even discuss, but those make Cano who he is.