How well is Robinson Cano playing?

joe_blog_bible_070109.jpgGIRARDI VS. CANO
Joe Girardi is a polarizing figure for Yankees fans. It was inevitable that the first manager to guide the Yankees to a finish out of the postseason in what seems like a hundred years would become a lightning rod. Some decry his handling of the bullpen, others his love of small-ball tactics — the Yankees bunt often for a present-day American League team.

These criticisms are debatable; the bullpen has risen in effectiveness throughout the season, as weaker sisters have been weeded out (Tuesday’s game notwithstanding), and those Yankees that Girardi has asked to bunt are either those who don’t generate much offense anyway (Francisco Cervelli) or just might beat one out (Brett Gardner). The place where criticisms of Girardi find a more legitimate place are in his construction of the batting order.

Variations in the batting order are not terribly significant. They won’t ruin your season, but they can cost you a few runs on the margins. Since the manager’s job is to maximize his team’s performance, that is, to capture every run that he can, that the batting order is not a top-priority item is no excuse for putting out the best one possible.

For reasons that aren’t obvious, Girardi has fallen in love with Robinson Cano as his fifth place hitter. Cano has started 46 of the team’s 76 games in the  No. 5 spot. In putting Cano there, Girardi has delivered Cano some very special plate appearances with runners on base. Mark Teixeira has seen the most baserunners of any Yankees hitter, but Cano is second, having seen just seven fewer runners.  The problem is that despite a .300 average on the season, Cano is hitting only .254/.289/.415 with runners on and .213/.248/.340 with runners in scoring position. The offense is setting Cano up, but he isn’t knocking them down.

cano_blog_070109.jpgAnother way of looking at Cano’s production with runners on is to consider the percentage of baserunners he’s driven in (statistics available at Baseball Prospectus). Cano has scored 30 of the 233 runners he’s seen. That’s 12.8 percent.
The American League average is 14 percent. It’s a small but significant failing. Three more runners driven in would get him to the league average. Were he carrying Jorge Posada’s rate of 17 percent, he would have driven in 10 more runners. Even with all of his struggles, Alex Rodriguez has driven in a greater percentage of his baserunners, 16.4 percent.

Intriguingly, no Yankee is among the league leaders. There are currently 308 hitters who have batted with 75 or more runners on base. The top 10 in percentage of runners driven in:

Posada is the top Yankee, 53rd on the list.

Cano compounds his impatience and failure to hit with runners on base with groundball hitting tendencies that lead to double plays. Cano ranks 11th among Major League hitters who have batted in 30 or more double play situations:

This makes Cano a less than ideal RBI man, but since Girardi chooses to emphasize him in the order, his deficiencies trouble the Yankees far more often than they need to. Of course, it might be hard for Girardi to truly admit the damaging consequences of all those double plays. After all, he holds the team record for hitting into double plays, banging into 17 twin killings in 50 chances in 1999. In the 55 years for which we have records, no one else has come close.



    I’ve only got some here-and-there pregame and post-game Girardi comments to base this on, but it has been my understanding that Girardi liked Cano batting 5th because he wanted to keep a Righty / Lefty alternation through the line up as much as possible.

    Cano is the only one fitting of a spot after the clean-up slot who HAS to bat lefty, and because of that, Girardi wants him to hit after Rodriguez, a righty. If he were to move Cano down in the order, Girardi’s precious righty/lefty scheme would be thrown off with 2 righties or 2 lefties in a row somewhere. I’m not saying it makes sense, or that it is even the right strategy, but I think that Girardi thinks it’s important, and that’s why he stuck with it so long.

    Of course, if you check the posted lineup for today’s game, Cano is batting 6th (after Posada), so maybe Girardi finally wised up to Cano’s rally-killing ways.

  2. 4everbronx

    vinnyboy….please do myself and the other readers of this blog a HUGE favor….don’t come back! the beautiful thing about free choice is you don’t have to visit steve’s blog. i’m sure there are plenty of blow sunshine up your behind blogs out there you can visit.

    love the blog steven, keep up the good work.


    Come on now. You’re going to attack a man for his weight? That’s all you got? Mr. Goldman provides some of the most insightful and analytical opinions you can find on the web. He provides us with a fascinating view of the game of baseball; one that isn’t too prevalent in the game today. I actually owe a lot to Mr. Goldman. My understanding of the game has greatly increased since I began reading the Pinstriped Bible (Blog). Please don’t come onto the blog and use idiotic, immature and insulting language. Disagree with the man if you’d like, but please, please do so in a respectful manner. And if you don’t like his opinions or writing, there’s plenty of places for you to troll.

  4. senatorbobdole

    The Cano situation is very frustrating. Posada and Swisher should both be hitting ahead of Cano. Maybe Matsui too.

    As far as lineup injustices go, I think Joe Torre’s treatment of Matt Kemp has been terribly poor. Kemp consistently bats in the lower third of the batting order. He even batted in the 9th spot during 3 interleague games, behind guys like Loretta and Furcal.

    The main problem is that Blake, Hudson, and Pierre all got red-hot in May, while Kemp struggled that month, and so Kemp was pushed to the bottom of the lineup at that time. But Kemp and Ethier were the only well above-average hitters for the Dodgers in June, yet Torre is still batting Kemp in the 7th and 8th spots all the time throughout that month (unless backup catchers/infielders were starting on an odd day game). Blake batted cleanup for most of the month with an ISO barely above .100 for June! It’s crazy. Hudson and Pierre were terrible in June. They are not hot anymore so demoting them in the order shouldn’t be a hard choice to make. Furcal has struggled all year yet always finds himself batting 2nd in the order. I don’t know why Torre insists on batting Kemp behind lesser bats like Martin and Loney and Hudson and Furcal and Pierre. Kemp’s speed is also being wasted by batting ahead of a pitcher who will just try to bunt him over anyway, even though Kemp doesn’t even need to be bunted over. Torre will probably use a Hudson-Manny-Blake middle of the order once Manny returns. But it should probably be Kemp-Manny-Ethier, or some rearrangement of those 3 names. Torre needs to have his head checked. Who would ever bat Mark Loretta over Matt Kemp??

    Also, Mike Napoli’s management in Anaheim is terrible. That’s because he isn’t even in the lineup half the time. Instead, the Angels seem to prefer the .207/.305/.288 performance that Mathis is currently giving them. Call me crazy, but I think Napoli’s less than stellar defense (if that’s even the case) is easy to swallow when he is OPSing 0.888. That weak lineup especially needs his potent bat in there. He might be the team’s best or second-best hitter, but they just constantly leave him on the bench. This guy would be a perfect co-starting catcher with Posada for 2010, if the Yankees are paying attention. It doesn’t seem like the Angels put much value on him, so perhaps he could be had in a reasonable trade.


    Cano is a terriblly frustrating guy to watch at times. He has plus plus bat control and generates a lot of power for a middle infielder with such a high contact rate. and he’s a real middle infielder. not just a guy faking at 2nd. if he has a reasonablly long career (say, if he plays effectively until 35 or more) he should easily blow past 2000 hits with 200-300 HR or more. a little more than that and we’re walking into special territory. He has everything you want in terms of raw baseball talent (except speed), he can put the barrell of hte bat on just about any pitch. AND generate significant power while doing it. and play good up the middle defense.

    At the same time, he can’t walk to save his life . and have these frustrating tendency to go hot and cold (both offensively and defensively) and apparently can’t hit when guys are on base (but also can’t walk enough to lead off)

    I really hope Cano’s best days are ahead of him . he has the neccesary tools to be awesome beyond believe.

  6. letsgoyankees

    I agree, Posada should be battig fifth…but Steve, you know who this Chapman guy is from Cuba? Heard he hits 100 on the fastball…details, please.


    If only Cano could be patient enough to take a walk. If we could some how fuse Swisher’s plate discipline with Cano’s contact we’d really have something. I’m curious on how many of Cano’s hits come from the first pitch of at bats because I feel like that’s the case most nights (at least lately).
    Vinnineboy your attack on Mr. Goldman is way out of line, but your assault on this English language is downright deplorable.


    If only Cano could be patient enough to take a walk. If we could some how fuse Swisher’s plate discipline with Cano’s contact we’d really have something. I’m curious on how many of Cano’s hits come from the first pitch of at bats because I feel like that’s the case most nights (at least lately).
    Vinnineboy your attack on Mr. Goldman is way out of line, but your assault on the English language is downright deplorable.


    Mr. Goldman, the LIST appears to be missing from the article.

    Second, the fact that some of the players asked to bunt might make it to first… MIGHT… doesn’t really address the positive or negative value of bunting, nor does it take into account the situations in which Girardi has chosen to do so, which have occasionally verged upon the surreal.

    On the other, I think that a few bad games in terms of bullpen management (esp. those of the “keep changing pitchers until we find the guy who doesn’t have it today and blows the game” variety) – and, really, these have been pretty few – have overshadowed what’s really been a strength for Girardi, esp. relative to Torrean bullpen management. He uses everyone – last year, that radically increased the effectiveness of the bullpen in the second half, and it might do that this year, too.

    Also, writing grammatically correct and rational objections to posts like Vinny’s only eggs him on (This comment probably will, too, I admit.) The only effective tactic is to ignore them.

  10. sadaharuo

    “…Cano has been STELLAR this season…”

    I think this is a serious overstatement. Cano had a hot April, during which we kept hearing that this was the new, more-selective Cano. Then he had a couple of at-bats where he took a called strike three down the middle. After that he must have said “screw it, I’m hacking.” And he’s been hacking ever since. He puts together some of the least-disciplined ABs you’ll ever see. It’s only his tremendous talent that allows Robinson to have any success at all. His OBP has been steadily declining since his torrid start. Last season Cano had the worst season of his life and walked 26 times. This season, this huge bounce back year, he’s on pace to walk 30.
    So no, STELLAR is not the word you’re looking for.


    ehhh, Cano is currently 9th amoung MLB 2B in WAR. he was 4th in both 06 and 07, the only guy who’s been consistently above him is Chase Utley.

    He is having a steller season. whatever negatives aside. playing a reasonablly good defense from 2B and hitting .800 OPS does NOT grow on tree. in fact very very few players manage to do that for any extended period of time.

    He’s durable. he can flat out hit the baseball with power. he can field his position well. that’s a lot more than what you can ask for .

  12. sadaharuo

    So there are 8 guys above Cano with a higher WAR? Do you mean WARP? If Cano is having a “stellar” season, I can only imagine what those other 8 guys are having! Something above stellar, I guess.
    My argument is not that Cano is having a lousy year (he’s not) or that Cano is untalented (he’s not). The point is that he’s not maturing as a player. He is, in fact, regressing. He had an awful season last year, and has to make some adjustments if he’s ever going to reach elite status. Most players never do make the adjustment. Alfonso Soriano springs to mind. At least Soriano is a potential 40-40 guy.
    Cano needs to have smarter, more disciplined ABs or he’ll never be a great player. I wish this for him. He’s the second baseman on my team, why would I not wish success for him? I just don’t know if he’s ever going to put it together.

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