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.
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 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.
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.
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.