Cano steps up into the fifth spot

Open Thread: Pujols for Howard
Fan Confidence Poll: March 15th, 2010

Last year Hideki Matsui held down the fifth spot in the batting order. In the 267 plate appearances when he hit behind, for the most part, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, Matsui hit .266/.360/.489 with 7 doubles and 15 home runs. With his departure this off-season, the Yankees had to find someone to replace that production, and probably more. Sorting the lineup ranked high on Joe Girardi‘s priority list, and there is an early indication that he’s finished that task. His lineup card on Tuesday should reflect the Opening Day lineup, and as Mark Feinsand reports, Robinson Cano will hit fifth.

Cano actually saw the second most time in the fifth spot last year, 223 plate appearances. In those he hit .299/.318/.477, a downgrade from his season line of .320/.352/.520. His time in the fifth spot, of course, represents just a small sample, about 34 percent of his season. It’s tough to draw conclusions about his ability to hit in that spot from just a third of his plate appearances. We also won’t learn much by going into Cano’s history hitting fifth. Not only did he hit in front of and behind different hitters, but he also hit there just 61 times in his career before 2009.

The major concern with Cano’s bat in the middle of the order is his ability to hit with runners in scoring position. He should have plenty of those opportunities, since the four hitters in front of him could all have OBPs around (or, in the case of Nick Johnson, well above) .400. In 2009 he came to bat 198 times with at least a runner on second, and hit .207/.242/.332, an OPS about 50 percent lower than his season-long number. He has hit a bit better over his career, .256/.291/.398, but that’s still not a spectacular mark. It pales in comparison to his numbers with the bases empty, .331/.363/.528.

Why, then, would Girardi choose Cano to hit in this spot? As he tells it, Cano’s contact rate, the seventh highest in the majors last season, played a prominent role in his decision. If you look at the contact rate leaderboard, however, there aren’t many middle of the order bats near the top. Another factor, Cano’s high batting average, seems to make more sense on an intuitive level. Again, with four .400 OBP guys in front of him he’ll have plenty of RBI opportunities. If he hits anywhere near his .320 average from last year he’ll almost certainly drive in more than 100 in 2010.

Girardi has also said, and repeated, this spring that he believes Cano’s numbers with RISP in 2009 don’t tell the whole story. “There was a streak when he had made about 10 or 11 outs in a row with runners in scoring position, and he hit nine bullets,” he said when initially addressing the situation. “Over the long term that usually irons itself out, but when you don’t have 600,000 at-bats, it doesn’t iron out. His at-bats, a lot of times were very good with runners in scoring position. I didn’t think he had a lot of luck last year.” If Girardi is correct, and if those nine bullets find a hole this season, Cano could find himself climbing the RBI leader boards.

In terms of talent, Cano seems to fit perfectly into this lineup spot. Over his career he has demonstrated an ability to hit for average, which should play well with so many men on base ahead of him. Yet he has shown a deficiency with runners in scoring position, which doesn’t help his case for the fifth spot. If he turns it around, the Yankees will only benefit. If he does not, there are other options for the fifth spot, including Jorge Posada, Curtis Granderson, and even possibly Nick Swisher. Starting with Cano, however, seems like a solid move to start the season.

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

Open Thread: Pujols for Howard
Fan Confidence Poll: March 15th, 2010
  • Paul from Waltham

    This is a move to protect Granderson coming out of the gate. They don’t want to put too much pressure on him by batting him fifth. At #7 he can fly a bit more under the radar. If he thrives they’ll move him to fifth. His power is better suited to the slot.

    • pat

      I think it’s more of a move to put the guy who went .320/.352/.520 in a position to drive in runs and kill it. I don’t think it has anything to do with Granderson except for the fact he could be a considered candidate to hit 5th if Cano and Posada don’t pan out. Girardi basically said he’s not taking Cano’s 2009 numbers w/ RISP as indication he can’t hit with men on base.

      • Paul from Waltham

        Mine wasn’t an anti-Cano comment. He’s got a little bit of Soriano* in him, but this is a move to protect Granderson. Put it this way, the Yankees had two hitters who hit 30 HRs last year. They added a third this off-season. Sure, Grandy did it while struggling at Comerica, especially against lefties. And so the Yankees will give him time to adjust. Once he “gets” NY, he’ll be the 5th hitter, especially since he’ll be approaching 40 HRs this season. I give it until the end of May.

        My question is: Why announce this and make it a big deal, especially with three weeks left in the Spring? Seems like an opportunity to undermine the kid if he doesn’t produce. What’s the harm in having Cano and Grandy battle for the spot? They are the only realistic choices given their handedness and A-Rod at cleanup.

        • Angelo

          Whatsup with all these fans thinking Granderson is a great homerun hitter? Its really odd…

          • Bo

            You make it sound like he hit 10 last yr. He hit 30 playing 81 games in Comerica.

            • pete

              Bo FTW!

              • Steve H


          • pete

            30 home run season: good power hitter anywhere (unless a total fluke, but considering Grandy’s previous two seasons of over 20, i’d say it ain’t)
            30 home run season playing half your games in comerica: very good power hitter
            30 home run season playing half your games in comerica AND while in a down year offensively: excellent power hitter

            excellent left handed power hitter coming off a “down” 30 hr season in Comerica and moving to Yankee Stadium…I don’t think he’ll hit more than 32-33, but if somebody hits 20 hrs on the road last year, it’s certainly not impossible for him to hit 40, especially if he’s playing half his games in a lefty homer haven now

  • KayGee

    .250 BABIP in high leverage situations compared to .324 BABIP overall for the 2009 season. Considering his ability to hit lefties and righties and high contact rate, I’ll put my money on a little bit more luck for Cano this year with RISP. Get em Robbie.

  • handtius

    I like the move…robbie will will take the 5th spot and destroy.

  • Dalelama

    Let’s hope so… I think the Yanks want to see if he will ever perform in the clutch… He seriously under performs in the post season also.

    • whozat

      Let me ask a question.

      Bases loaded, two outs. Cano up. He hits a ROCKET, really crushes the ball…right at the first baseman. Inning over before he can take two steps out of the box.


      Bases loaded, two outs. Jeter up. He rolls over on an outside pitch, but it takes a weird bounce on the lip of the grass and squeaks under the shortstop’s glove as he ranges into the hole.

      Who “came through in the clutch”?

      • A Lifetime of Question Marks


        Neither example, by itself, helps predict what would happen the next time either player comes up to the plate in the same situation.

        • whozat


          Jeter is a little more likely to not make an out, Cano might be a little more likely to get an XBH. That’s about all we can say :-)

          Well, except that if Cano makes an out, it will be harped on as an example of how he can’t hit with RISP and, if Jeter makes an out…no one will ever remember.

          • Gardimentary

            Over the course of his entire career, Jeter has been one of the most clutch players in the history of the game.

            Anyone harping on his batting average with RISP is a Red Sox fan, or a complete moron.

      • Bo

        because one hard hit ball in one at bat means a player gets defined as clutch. little thin on that one.

        You make it sound like all of Jeters clutch hits are flukes. Please be kidding

      • Gardimentary

        Does it matter how Jeter gets it done if he’s been getting it done for 15 years?

      • Dalelama

        Jeter obviously.

    • bexarama

      You’re basing his postseason performance on 116 PA. People act like he sucked this entire postseason, too, when he was very good against the Angels.

      • Jake

        .193 in October.

        And that, is the largest “sample” we’ve seen.
        Good against the Blue Jays in May is one thing.

        Good against the Phillies is another.

    • theyankeewarrior

      Go check out his 2005 post-season when he was a rookie. There’s a SSS out there that can prove almost anything.

    • Jake

      You can’t say that Cano underperformed in the post season just because he did. What about all of the great hits he had against Tampa, Kansas City and Toronto?

      Don’t those count for something?

  • Vinny the Bull

    Personally, I think Cano has grown to the point where he is primed for an MVP-caliber season. I’ll call it now and say he breaks the Top 5 for MVP voting when all is said and done. I think he’ll make it a very difficult decision for the Yankees when his contract is up in 2011. You get the feeling that the Yanks feel he’s expendable, and maybe he is with everyone else that’s around him. Or maybe we as fans really don’t expect too much from our second basemen.

    • A Lifetime of Question Marks

      I think that resigning Cano is going to be hard because he will want to get paid and we will already be paying a lot of other people

    • AndrewYF

      The only way the Yankees have a difficult decision after 2011 is if Cano regresses to a point where he’s not worth $14 million.

    • DerMegalodonster

      I’ll second that Vinny.

      It bodes very well that Robbie was able to overcome his disasterous early season slump of ’08, which also was psychological. I’ve got faith in his mental fortitude. Can’t wait!

      P.S. I’m callin a monster season from Nick Johnson too.

    • pete

      i don’t see it. I see a .320+ BA, and possibly 30 HRs, but i just don’t see him topping a .370 OBP, and if so, not by much. I’ll take Mauer or A-Rod as much, much better MVP candidates

      • Vinny the Bull

        Like I said, I’m not saying he wins it. Just that he’ll break the Top 5.

  • David in Cal

    I think Posada should bat 5th. He has comparable power to Cano and has a much higher OBP. Even if Cano can overcome his problem of hitting with runners in scoring position, Posada is a better choice.

    Furthermore, Cano is what he is. He has many strengths, but for some reason hits very badly with men in scoring position. Even if he improves to hitting moderately badly with runners in scoring position, he won’t be a good RBI man.

    • pat

      Even if he improves to hitting moderately badly with runners in scoring position, he won’t be a good RBI man

      Let’s not act like he’s a terrible “rbi man”. He still had 85 last year. Only Tex, Arod and Deki had more. Obviously he has plenty of room to improve, but it’s not like he’s a black hole.

    • Spaceman.Spiff

      You forget that Posada will sit around once a week, maybe more, leaving him a sub-optimal choice to man the 5-hole all year long. Also, with his age and injury history, there’s a good chance that he misses time or falters production-wise. Lastly, he is a switch-hitter which makes it nice to split up the lefties with (although that is the least important factor most likely).

      • theyankeewarrior


        Posada will be sitting at least once a week next season and has been injury prone over the past few seasons. Girardi wants someone who will play almost every day to hit 5th, giving the Yanks a solid, consistent 1-5.

        Not to mention the fact that whether we like it or not, Posada’s numbers are bound to tail off as he approaches 40. Cano is entering his prime and improving every season.

    • Gardimentary

      Posada is a savy hitter. Cano isn’t.

  • A Lifetime of Question Marks

    Having to decide how to arrange Cano-Posada-Grandy-Swish 5-8 in the batting order is an unbelievable problem to have.

    Will quick draw Girardi move Cano out of the five spot if he goes 0-4 with RISP against the RSox to start the season? I don’t think so, he seems more relaxed/patient after getting the managerial ring.

  • FL Yank

    If he is given enough chances, there is no reason to think that his numbers with RISP will not begin to resemble his career averages.

  • gargoyle

    Leave him down in the order.

  • http://Youcan'tincreaseyourrange TLVP

    Cano and Granderson are lefties so would fit better after A-Rod from a lineup perspective than Posada or Swisher. Until Granderson shows more success against lefties I believe they will stick with Robbie.

    After last years success no one is discussing in which order to bat A-Rod and Teix, but is there a case for flipping them? I know Teix hit better after A-Rod got back last year but i think it is far from clear that the cause and effect is clear.

  • Omar

    The lineup I’d trot out against righties would be:


    • Hangoverologist

      Cano hits righties well. Why would you have low in the order? Swap Grandy and Cano and your lineup would be good for both lefties and righties.

      • pete

        i’d also put swish in front of granderson rather than vice versa, as swish’s good obp will mesh well with grandy’s good power

    • Gardimentary

      Gardner is a lefty. Wouldn’t they want a righty hitter out there?

  • MattG

    I applaud Girardi for ignoring the splits and all, and eventually Cano will hit with runners on the same as he hits with the bases empty.

    That out of the way, Cano is kind of clueless with runners on. He’s never really had good pitch selection, and it appears to me his decision making is made worse by any sort of pressure. The talent is exactly the same, but the approach is not. Until he gets that sorted out, I like him hitting 7-8-9.

    Plus, there are very attractive alternatives. Posada, Granderson and Swisher would all make wonderful #5 hitters.

    This announcement by Girardi is more about psychology than anything to me. Tell Cano he’s the number 5 hitter now, and see how he approaches that role in the next 3 weeks. I say there is still a real good chance he’s hitting 8th on opening day.

    • Bo

      You really think Girardi ignores splits and stats???

  • A.D.

    They’ll give Cano the opportunity in the 5 hole, if he’s not hitting well after the beginning of the season, the lineup will be shuffled. He’s the option you want to succeed there, since he hits for a good avg, hits lefties & righties, is in the line-up everyday & has decent power.

  • Rose

    In 2009 he came to bat 198 times with at least a runner on second, and hit .207/.242/.332, an OPS about 50 percent lower than his season-long number.

    Seems like he batted 7th the most. Hitting in between guys like Posada and Nick Swisher. He had that horrible batting line but still had 85 RBI total.

    In 11 less games batting 5th (50 games), he had 1 less RBI than when he batted 7th (61 games)

    Pretty awesome.

    • Ana

      Well damn.

      Yeah, I’m kind of expecting awesome RBI totals from Robbie this year … love this move