First Half Review: Middle infielders

The best sub-.300 OBP seasons
Giving up something to get something

At 51-37, with the third best record in baseball, leading the Wild Card and just three games back in the AL East, the Yankees had a fine first half. Yet it was a tumultuous three months, wrought with streaks and injuries and strange trends, causing mass panic at times among Yankees fans. Over the extended All-Star Break, we’ll go over each position to see what went right, what went wrong, and how things look for the second half. We already looked at the starting pitchers, relievers, corner infielders, and catchers, so now it’s time to take a look at the middle infielders.

The expectations

For one half of the double play tandem, the expectations were simple. Derek Jeter just had to be Derek Jeter. No, not Derek Jeter 1999, or even Derek Jeter 2006. Rather, we expected a solid Jeter season: around a .300/.390/.430 line. It’s the other side that had us scratching our heads.

Robinson Cano is a strange case. He was always known as a talented kid, but put up pedestrian numbers in the minors. Things started to look good in 2005, which was good timing because the Yankees were suffering through Tony Womack at second. He came up and was okay, but had stellar seasons in 2006 and 2007. Then came 2008, in which he started out slow and somewhat recovered. This made it tough to pin expectations on him, but I think most people expected him to at least hit .300 this season.

The results

The Yanks have been solid up the middle. They haven’t been great, though Jeter has been having a mighty fine season. The defense seems to be there, as both Cano and Jeter continue to play solidly to, in Cano’s case, occasionally phenomenally in the field.

Look around the league, though. Very few shortstop-second base combos both have OPSs over .800. Scutaro and Hill, Cano and Jeter, and that’s it. Even in Philadelphia Jimmy Rollins is slacking (though Chase Utley is destroying enough for both of them). We might expect a little more of Robbie, but that doesn’t mean the Yanks aren’t getting excellent production from their up-the-middle guys.

Derek Jeter

Jeter, believe it or not, has been better than expected. His .321/.396/.461 line has been a revelation in the leadoff spot. The new Stadium has added a bit to his slugging line, but he’s still hitting for average and taking his walks when needed. In fact, his walk rate is way, way up this year. Not only that, but his defense has been markedly better. Yes, we can see it with our own eyes, but UZR agrees, giving Jeter a 0.5 rating to this point. Good showing, Derek.

Robinson Cano

Cano, on the other hand, has had his ups and downs. His .308/.341/.490 line looks good, but it’s been wrought with streaks. From April 6 through May 1 he hit .378/.410/.592, which is just incredible. He couldn’t sustain it, though. From May 2 through June 1 he hit .248/.274/.434. So while there was some power, there wasn’t much average or walking. Cano was looking more like 2008 Cano.

He’s recovered a bit since, hitting .308/.346/.466 since June 2. That’s the kind of line you’d like to see him put up for the whole year. It includes 11 doubles, four homers, four walks, and 12 strikeouts.

The big complaint on Cano is his lack of hitting with runners in scoring position. He’s at a horrid .211/.248/.321 with at least a runner on second — though he’s at .308/.379/.654 with just a runner on second. Basically, he goes from a .947 OPS with the bases empty to a .705 OPS with runners on. That’s not going to cut it, Robbie.

It seems the key to Cano is throwing him a first pitch strike. He’s hitting .235/.249/.249 when the opposing pitcher throws him a first-pitch strike, as opposed to .329/.400/.541 when he avoids swinging at the first pitch out of the zone.

He can be better in the second half, for sure.

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The best sub-.300 OBP seasons
Giving up something to get something
  • whozat

    Curious…do Cano’s first-pitch-strike numbers include those where he swung at the first pitch and got a hit? He swung, so it seems it should be classified as a strike. I think hits are classified as strikes it is when you’re counting strike-to-ball ratio for a pitcher.

    • Zach

      Cano is hitting .449/.449/.739 during 0-0 counts, I think that’s what you’re asking

  • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

    Who the hell is Robinson Cano? I thought his name was Jose Cano.

    Sincerely, Jonathan Mayo

    http://riveraveblues.com/2009/.....ent-478440

  • Reggie C.

    Where should Robbie Cano bat in the lineup. According to B-R, Cano’s hit mostly out the 5 whole this year and has experienced success: in 211 ABs – .303/.324/.483. Hitting 7th, Cano has hit well also (46 ABs) and sported a much higher OBP (.390).

    Should Joe G. look to mitigate Cano’s mental weakness in hitting well in RISP situations and bat him 7th going forward, barring an off-day for Po here and there.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      All things considered, here are the guys on our team who are currently better hitters than Cano:
      ARod
      Tex
      Jeter
      Damon
      Posada
      Matsui

      So, when they’re all in the lineup, Cano should bat 7th since he’s the 7th best hitter that day. When guys get days off, he moves up. Simple as that, IMO.

      • Mike Pop

        You’re so wise, like a miniature Buddha, covered in hair.

      • Reggie C.

        Matsui? Really? He’s OPS’ing nicely but he’s hitting .265

        Don’t you think that the fluidity of Cano’s hitting position could mess with his head and stunt his plate discipline?

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

          Matsui? Really? He’s OPS’ing nicely but he’s hitting .265

          Robbie Cano, 2009 – .308/.341/.490 (116+)
          Hideki Matsui, 2009 – .265/.367/.517 (130+)

          Did you really bring batting average to argue with me? Don’t you know me better than that by now, Reggie?

          Don’t you think that the fluidity of Cano’s hitting position could mess with his head and stunt his plate discipline?

          Possibly. I don’t know how else better to deal with it, though. When all the vets play, they’re better hitters than Cano and should hit higher than him. When they rest and Ransom/Hinske/Cervelli/Molina/Melky/etc. play, they hit worse than Cano and he should be moved up.

          • Reggie C.

            i deserve a good pwning for bringing BA into the lair of a sabremetiger. not that i’m into that stuff…

            • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals

              i bet he hits better later in the order tho…maybe he hits best in…TEH EITHG!!1!

        • Ed

          Matsui? Really? He’s OPS’ing nicely but he’s hitting .265

          He’s getting on base a lot and hitting for power. That’s all you can ask for. Sure, a higher average would be nicer, but the other numbers matter more.

          Don’t you think that the fluidity of Cano’s hitting position could mess with his head and stunt his plate discipline?

          Sure it could. It could also help. Or it might not change anything. You’d have to be a regular in the dugout to have any sort of meaningful guess to how he’d react to it. Psychology is enough of a pseudo-science when done properly, let’s not get into random baseball fan guessing from home variety…

          • Reggie C.

            Listen up. Once Michael Kay starts the “Cano-has-no-home-in-teh-lineup” argument, i will be vindicated.

  • Mike Pop

    Hopefully Cano can be more consistent in his path to greatness. If he is more consistent with higher OBP’s, he will be a better player.

    Joe Morgan

    • whozat

      Joe Morgan would never call for a higher OBP. He’d talk about swinging at strikes and looking for a good pitch to hit and winning a batting title.

      • Mattingly’s Love Child

        The great thing about Joe Morgan is he says all this crap on SNBB, and yet he averaged 90 walks per season for his career. His career OBP is .392. He doesn’t even realize that his a sabremetician’s wet dream!

  • http://www.onedayonejob.com/ Willy

    Ummm…..

    You say: “His .308/.341/.490 line looks good”

    Then you say: “He’s recovered a bit since, hittin .308/.346/.466 since June 2. That’s the kind of line you’d like to see him put up for the whole year.”

    That is the kind of line that he has put up the whole year to this point!

    Robbie could definitely stand to improve his OBP, and we all know that he can be a lot better, but you’re ripping on him for having a great season.

    I’m not sure I buy into all this stuff about his not batting well with RISP. A lot of statisticians seem to think that it’s more about luck and small sample sizes than actually having a skill to drive in runners in scoring position.

    Cano is always going to be a frustrating player to watch. It’s his style, but I’ll take it.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      I’m not sure I buy into all this stuff about his not batting well with RISP. A lot of statisticians seem to think that it’s more about luck and small sample sizes than actually having a skill to drive in runners in scoring position.

      FWIW, Cano’s BABIP in all situations this year is .304, which is below his career average of .318.

      His BABIP with RISP is currently .212. As compared to a career number .274.

      As we’ve discussed recently, BABIP for hitters is more skill-centric, so Robbie’s lowered BABIP numbers compared to league averages in both all situations and RISP situations is probably due to his great ability to make contact coupled with his poor plate discipline (basically, his balls in play are converted to outs more than an average player because he hits more poorly-struck balls). He’s always going to be a good hitter but always going to hit the ball into more outs than a typical player.

      That being said, a 2009 .212 RISP BABIP is also a pantsload of horridly bad luck. His BABIP struggles are partially his fault, but that number can’t be ALL his fault. That’s shitty luck. An unfortunate spike of atom balls. Nothing you can do about that, other than pray to Jobu.

      • Ed

        This:

        FWIW, Cano’s BABIP in all situations this year is .304, which is below his career average of .318.

        Contradicts this:

        FWIW, Cano’s BABIP in all situations this year is .304, which is below his career average of .318.

        Average BABIP is .290 – .300 area, so Cano is above average overall. He’s hitting into less outs than the average player.

        • sabernar

          “fewer outs,” not “less outs.” You can count outs, hence the use of “fewer.”

  • mryankee

    Cano is the least of our problems concering up the middle, its haveing the tin man(wang) the excuse made for him by girardi man(joba) and grandpa(pettite) as our 3-5 starters. Nw I know I am off topic but would anyone disagree this is a major problem as opposed to cano and jeter? Time to pony up for Halladay or Lee or someone significant.

    • I Remember Celerino Sanchez

      Here is mryankee.

      Here is the point.

      Notice that the two do not meet …

    • JobaWockeeZ

      YEAH WANG IS SOO BAD HUGHES IS 20 TIMES BETTAR!!!!

      Except that they have nearly equal stats in starting when Wang came back from the DL. Your subjective reasoning due to his first three starts is the second most annoying thing I’ve ever heard from any Yankee fan.

      We don’t need another starter, we don’t need every big time starter to win. That too is rather annoying how every big name guy we absolutely must have. Let’s give up our entire farm system for one starter and look what happened to the 2009 Mets.

      • mryankee

        Well if your going to spend 423.5 million or whatever on three players then you may as well go all the way. If that means you give up something to get something I say do it, obviously you have to be reasonable. However if the team does not engage in talks with Toronto and maybe if Halladay has a limited number of placeshe is willing to go the price might drop. The Mets did not give up their best prospect Fernando Martinez in that deal. I would certainly rather see CC-AJ-Roy Halladay-against Verlander-Jackson-Porcello-or Lackey-Santana-Weaver-or Beckett-Lester-Penny.

        • JobaWockeeZ

          Roy Halladay would be great to have but the Yankees don’t “need” him especially at the price they Yankees will have to give.
          K I’m done.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      Let’s sum up:

      mryankee: Here’s something that’s not related at all to middle infielders: Wang, Girardi, Pettitte, and Roy Halladay. We need Roy Halladay. Who’s with me!”

      Nobody’s with you, mryankee. All of this tangent is one massive OAKTAG.

  • mryankee

    How do you figure that? what part of the team needs more improving? The starting pitching or middle infield? You do relaize the Ynakees were swept in Anaheim by the Torri Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero less Angels? and that Chamberlain and Pettite were terrible.

    • I Remember Celerino Sanchez

      The guys are going through every part of the team and judging result against expectations. They started with starting pitchers, then went to relief pitchers, etc. This is, like, the fifth in the series.

      They’re not only talking about Jeter and Cano.

      Of course the starters are not performing, something that was said … in the post on starting pitching.

      Did you read the first paragraph of the post?

    • V

      Are you really this stupid?

      I’m honestly asking. I don’t think I’ve ever had the pleasure to speak with someone this separated from reality.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      You do relaize the Ynakees were swept in Anaheim by the Torri Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero less Angels? and that Chamberlain and Pettite were terrible.

      You do realize that there’s a reply button and a set of commenting guidelines, don’t you?

  • mryankee

    I dont care what it says, if I want to state an opinion on why I think the team won’t win, then I will I did not know there were rules to posting an we have to stay on topic. This is a free country if you dont want to respond then that is fine. I believe the issue is the starting pitching and if someone wants to engage the topic that is fine if not that is fine to. I assume as we are all Yankee fans the most importatnt thing is winning the world series and that should be teh overall topic and if anyone thinks we have enough pitching to do so I would like to hear why I am wrong.

    • I Remember Celerino Sanchez

      First of all, the Reply button on the bottom right of each message is not there for decoration.

      Second, it may be a free country, but, thankfully, a blog has rules to direct the discussion so it doesn’t become a free-for-all.

      http://riveraveblues.com/river.....uidelines/

    • JobaWockeeZ

      The reply button will not bite you. Grammar would also be helpful.
      And if I’m reading your post correctly which I may not but the issue here has nothing to do with starting pitching only because you brought it up. The main discussion here was the middle infielders. Anyways if you want to bring up your opinions of the team that’s not on topic you can always do it in an open/game thread.

    • The Lodge
    • Rob H.

      stop using “this is a free country” and “free speech”. That is in regards to the government and them holding you down and taking away liberties. This is a blog that has rules associated with commenting on it. Either you follow the rules or Joe, Mike, and Ben have every right to ban you for not following clear-cut rules. Either stay on topic in specific topic posts, or risk getting banned. It’s pretty simple really.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        Moreover, free speech guidelines don’t stop private individuals from curtailing your speech. The First Amendment prevents the government from curtailing your speech. Mike, Joe, and Ben are perfectly within their rights to censor the fuck out of you.

    • V

      1) This blog is not a free country. It’s run and owned by three people who will limit your ‘free speech zOMG’ if you’re an idiot.

      2) No, the issue is not starting pitching. It’s the shortstop and second baseman, if you’d actually read the post.

      3) Read the fucking guidelines.

      4) Even if your post were on topic, it’s still stupid.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      I did not know there were rules to posting an we have to stay on topic.

      That’s hot bullshit. I personally brought it up to you yesterday.

      http://riveraveblues.com/2009/.....ent-479423

    • Tom Zig

      RAB IS SOCIALIST!11!!

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

      You had a chance to state your case in the pitching thread. Now we’re moving onto other topics. I suggest you do the same.

      This isn’t Nam. There are rules.

  • Rob H.

    Umm, Joe, just an FYI but in the first paragraph shouldn’t that end with “middle infielders” and not “catchers”?

  • Rob H.

    I think one of the more pleasant surprises this year has been Jeter’s defense. Always a hot topic amongst fans, Jeter seems to be doing a lot better on defense and even getting to balls that usually he wouldn’t get to the previous couple of years.

  • John J

    Just curious…I was talking to one of my bosses today who is a huge yankees fan and he made an interesting point about Cano’s defense and how in the past it seemed like he was lazy. My boss’s theory (so to speak) is that Cano has made some great plays this year because with Teixeira at first, Cano has had to cover less ground as opposed to when Giambi was at first.

    Just curious to see what you all think…

    • Rob H.

      I don’t necessarily think that is the case. I think Cano has gotten a bad rep for being Lazy in the field. He just makes plays look so effortless that some think he is being lazy when that really isn’t the case.

    • Rob in CT

      I don’t think Cano’s lazy. I think he’s just not all that fast (look at his baserunning: he’s fine, but no basestealer), but he looks smooth. That smoothness leads people to think he’s rangier than he really is, so when he doesn’t get to a ball they think “lazy!” No, he just couldn’t get there.

      It’s possible Tex might be helping a bit, but I imagine the impact is small. Maybe a grounder or two, maybe a picked throw in the dirt or two, but that’s it.

    • Klemy

      Probably not only covering less ground, but also Tex saving him errors at first that Giambi couldn’t.

      I remember one throw Derek made last year that one hopped to Giambi. Giambi dropped it and the camera on Jeter afterward clearly showed him mouthing, “Come on Jason.” You could see the disgust in his face and I remember thinking, he’s not going to miss him next season. lol

      Summary, the addition of Tex seems to improve the entire infield. This is my opinion anyway.

  • http://deleted RollingWave

    Jeter is on pace to out WAR his 2006 season, when he should have won the MVP, I think saying that he’s doing alright is a mild understatement.

    As for Robbie, his first half is actually significantly better than his first half in 06 and 07. so here’s hoping that he have a 06/07 like second half. where he was basically hitting like Ken Griffey Jr in his best days.

    Certainly some of Robbie’s RISP problem is luck, but at times you have to take that into account. it’s a little hard to watch him go at it without saying that it’s getting to his head.

  • http://bronxbaseballdaily.com Matt ACTY/BBD

    I’m glad DJ is back to the hitting we’re all used to. Being hit on the hand by Cabrera last year really messed with him worse than we like to think. The return of his power is pleasant (though NYS has helped him a little bit there. His SLG is ~.100 pts. lower on the road).

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