What Went Right: Don’t Ya Know


(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

It all started with a challenge.

The Yankees, fresh off their 27th World Championship, let World Series MVP Hideki Matsui depart as a free agent after the 2009 season in their never-ending quest to get younger and more athletic. When camp opened up in February, it was unclear who would replace Godzilla as the fifth hitter in the lineup, protecting cleanup man Alex Rodriguez and mopping up any messes left behind by the middle of the order. Joe Girardi and the rest of the shot-callers could have taken the easy way out and stuck Jorge Posada in the five-hole. He’s a long-time Yankee stalwart with plenty of credentials to claim that spot, so it was a natural fit. Even Nick Swisher, fresh off a 29 homer season, would have made sense.

They didn’t take the easy way out though. Instead of going with the easy pick they issued a challenge to Robbie Cano, one of their youngest regulars. It’s time for you to be more than just a (very good) complementary piece, we need you to be a cornerstone, a centerpiece off the offense. Robbie’s excellent 2009 season (.370 wOBA, 4.4 fWAR) was marred by his failures with runners in scoring position (.207/.242/.332, .251 wOBA) and in high-leverage spots (.255 wOBA), understandably causing some to question the decision to move him up into the heart of the order. If he couldn’t hit with runners on base, how is he supposed to protect Mark Teixeira and A-Rod? We all knew that Cano had all the talent in the world, but could he deliver in his new role?

Cano’s response to those questions was a quick and emphatic YES. He opened the season with five hits (including a double and a homer) in three games at Fenway Park, and it wasn’t until the 17th of April that Robbie went hitless in a game. His month of April was the best by a Yankee not named A-Rod in more than a decade, as he finished the season’s first month with a .400/.436/.765 batting line (.497 wOBA) and eight homers. The hot hitting didn’t stop after April ended either, Cano entered the All Star break with a .336/.389/.556 line (.400 wOBA) and as the league’s first 4.0+ fWAR player.

The overall season performance is MVP worthy; a .319/.381/.534 batting line that featured career highs in wOBA (.389), homers (29), runs scored (103), runs driven in (109), walks (57, more than 2008 and 2009 combined), isolated power (.214), bWAR (6.1), and fWAR (6.4). Cano didn’t stop there either, he was the team’s best hitter in the postseason, a .343/.361/.771 (.464 wOBA) effort with four homers in the team’s six ALCS games. When Tex’s season ended in Game Four because of a hamstring injury, Robbie stepped right into the three-spot and homered the very next day. Regular season or postseason, Cano was an absolute monster in 2010, and it was all because of some subtle improvements.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Remember those struggles in men on base in 2009? Forget about that. Robbie hit .322/.407/.515 (.352 wOBA) with runners in scoring position and an even sexier .449 wOBA in high leverage situations this year. He was even better away from the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium (.402 wOBA) than at home (.376), as hard as that can be to believe. Comparing his 2009 and 2010 spray charts (courtesy of Texas Leaguers), you’ll see that he traded opposite field singles and doubles for balls yanked hard into rightfield, mostly over the wall. Cano’s pre-game screen drill with hitting coach Kevin Long is the stuff of legend, designed to help him keep his hands in on pitches over the inner third of the plate while stilling hitting the ball with authority, and it certainly paid off this season. His defense went from strong to spectacular, with jaw-dropping plays on balls hit up-the-middle becoming his specialty.

On a personal level, Robbie also reached many career milestones in his sixth big league season. He picked up his 1,000th career hit with a bases loaded ground rule double in the eighth inning of a late July game against reliever Victor Marte of the Royals, reaching that milestone in fewer at-bats than any Yankee not named Derek Jeter and Don Mattingly. A fourth inning solo homer off Brian Moehler of the Astros a few weeks earlier tied the game and was Robbie’s 100th career long ball. He also notched his 200th career double in his second plate appearance of the season and his 500th career RBI on the third to last day of the season, both again the Red Sox in Fenway.

Robinson turned just 28 years old two weeks ago, so he’s very much in the prime of his career. In fact he should be just entering his prime years. That’s pretty impressive considering he was a .306/.339/.480 (.356 wOBA) career hitter with a pair of 4.4+ fWAR seasons before 2010. Cano proved to everyone that the young kid with a knack for getting the bat on the ball hitting in the bottom third of the order was capable of carrying the Yankees as their older stars continue to fade into the background, and his emergence as one of the game’s elite was far and away the highlight of the 2010 season. When he’s locked in, few are more fun to watch that the guy with the smile on his face.

Categories : Players


  1. Nebkreb says:

    Awareness Level: infinity

  2. Ana says:

    I am so aware right now it hurts

  3. Steve H says:

    Cano’s performance on the road was not a fluke either, which has always been the basis for my “I’d take Cano over Pedroia argument” with Sox fans.

    H .304/.340/.488 with 61 HR’s
    A .313/.353/.491 with 55 HR’s.

    That’s pretty awesome consistency.

  4. Johnny O says:

    Robbie is apathetic to the game and violent to the ball.


  5. Jerome S says:

    Obviously Marte was holding him back. Thank God he’s gone.

  6. pat says:

    .319/.381/.534 29 HR 109 RBI 6.1 WAR
    .326/.376/.493 17 HR 83 RBI 5.2 WAR

    One got an MVP one won’t :(

  7. Josh says:

    Robinson Cano? More like Robinson Ca-YES!

  8. Mike HC says:

    This season by Cano has been one the best I have ever seen. Up there with the best Jeter and Bernie years. And ARod of course, but he didn’t do it playing an up the middle position which is always a little more impressive in my book (and most other peoples books too, ha).

    • Jerome S says:

      Third is pretty hard, too. I would say that SS is the hardest position to field, but 2b and 3b are about equal in my book. A 3b probably doesn’t have to do all of the acrobatics a 2b does, but he does have to have an incredibly accurate arm. A-Rods arm, in my opinion, was (and to an extent, still is) one of the best ever to see the hot corner.
      Also, from 1995-2003, A-Rod was a SS, which is more difficult than a 2b. He did great at SS while winning a batting crown, an MVP, hitting hundreds of HR’s, etc.
      In conclusion, I have a secret man-crush on A-Rod and will defend him to the bitter end.

      • Mike HC says:

        I was talking about seasons by a Yankee that I have personally watched and can remember. Basically, 1994-present. So ARod at short is not counted. I’m not going to argue against some of the ARod seasons for the Yanks. He has been downright incredible.

    • The Tragically FIP says:

      A lot of A-rod’s best seasons were when he played up the middle.

  9. ZZ says:

    His defense went from strong to spectacular

    How do Yankee fans who continually defend and cite UZR, even in the context of comparing Cano and Pedroia, justify this statement?

    • Josh says:

      uzr also rates teixeira in the negative but are you going to say he’s short of spectacular at first? uzr only tells part of the picture (cano rates at about average) and doesn’t take into account positioning. cano is sure-handed and makes running, across-the-body throws on the shortstop side of second base to get the runner at first. plus, he had only one fielding error this year.

      • ZZ says:

        I’m not saying that. I have never said that. I am asking the people who defend UZR how they justify a statement like that, when UZR is in direct conflict with it.

        • UncleArgyle says:

          UZR, by its own admission, is worthless without 3 years of Data. By hey, why let something like accuracy get in the way of the pundits new favorite “statistic”.

          • ZZ says:

            1 This is simply not true. No one at fangraphs has said that.
            2. If a piece of data from one year is worthless it is in turn worthless as a set.
            3. Even if someone did say that it would be complete bs. Fans and the people at fangraphs make evaluations all the time primarily through WAR using much much less than 3 years worth of UZR data.

            But hey don’t let inaccurate and stupid comments get in the way of makin obnoxious responses.


              So a year of OPS data is roughly equivalent to a year and half to two years of UZR.


              1. 1 year of UZR data is on par with about 50-55 games worth of offense.Would you judge Miguel Cabrera’s talents at the plate on just his games from April 1st through June? I wouldn’t, and neither would you (or so I hope). So don’t do it with defense. Personally, if I have three years of UZR data for a player, I’d rather have four. If I have four years of UZR data, I’d rather have five. I don’t believe that you can have enough.

              • ZZ says:

                Increasing reliability corresponding with increasing sample size is a very different statement than 1 year of UZR being labeled “worthless.”

                • 1. You said no one stated a single year of UZR data was unreliable. There are two instances, one from the UZR primer, of stating just that.

                  2.I think you’re taking Argyle’s use of “worthless” too literally. Would it be better if he said “incomplete”? T

                  • ZZ says:

                    Where did I say that no one state one year of UZR data is unreliable?

                    I never take the word “worthless” lightly. It has a very clear meaning which is very, very different from unreliable, incomplete, etc.

                    • I never take the word “worthless” lightly. It has a very clear meaning which is very, very different from unreliable, incomplete, etc.

                      It never crossed your mind that he was being hyperbolic? If we can’t agree on that, then there’s no point in moving on with this discussion.

            • UncleArgyle says:

              Gee thanks for getting personal. You haven’t read much on UZR huh? Its pretty upfront that one season of defensive opportunities is not enough to draw conclusions. Its generally accepted that to be accurate you need 3 years of data. Also, I personally don’t like WAR as a measurement of worth for that EXACT FUCKING REASON, it uses (too) small sample sizes regarding defense. There’s a nasty tendency in the SABRmetrics community to believe anything that involves an equation is accurate and beyond questioning.

              • ZZ says:

                Like I just said to Matt, your response right now is VERY different than your original statement.

                It is not at all the same thing.

                But anyway, with this corrected stance, lets further my original question using it. The statement in the post is that Cano went from strong to spectacular this season defensively. If he made such a drastic change this year, how does it make sense to use the 2008 and 2009 data to evaluate him today?

                And, how do you make statements about improvement year to year, if you need 3 years worth of data?

                • UncleArgyle says:

                  My original statement was that it takes 3 years of data for UZR to be “accurate”. I’m not sure how I deviated that far from that. Anyway,as far as how I “prove” Cano got better defensively, I have no idea. I was more voicing my skepticism over stats like UZR and WAR (which heavily weights UZR). I don’t think you can have a
                  “perfect” defensive stat. Probably the best way is to take all the measurments (UZR, Plus/minus) and do an agregate for some sort. As far as improvment, maybe thats something that just can’t be accurately measured.

    • JobaWockeeZ says:

      Right because if you use UZR you HAVE to live and die with it.

    • Thomas says:

      Total Zone and DRS have Cano equal to Pedroia. UZR and RZR have Pedroia better.

      • UncleArgyle says:

        I don’t get it? If UZR, Total Zone, RZR, etc, are all accurate, why do they have conflicting conclusions? Defensive Metrics are like Polling Data, intresting on there own, but better when you combine them all and look at “average” results.

      • It’s worth noting that UZR’s system also had Can with the most out of zone plays among AL 2B, so it liked him there.

    • You could look at other statistics, too, since everyone who has ever used UZR has admitted that it is in no way perfect. For instance, DRS ranks Cano as the 6th best 2B this year. It has also historically been kinder to Cano than UZR, except in 2008, when it was clear that he was playing like shit in the field.

      • ZZ says:

        But, how do you decide in this case that UZR is not correct? How do you decide to put more emphasis on the other statistics in this case?

        • I’d start by saying don’t default to UZR.

          Second is to apply a balanced approach. UZR has Cano slightly below average, DRS has him well above. Why? Well, we could do some research and find that DRS works better for infielders and UZR better for outfielders. We could also try to reconcile the numbers with what we saw.

          • ZZ says:

            I really don’t know if you can say that DRS works better for IF and UZR better for OF based on that conversation. It seems they are saying there is more correlation year to year for UZR with OF and DRS with IF.

            In my opinion that does not necessarily mean that DRS is better for infielders. Just more constant.

  10. larryf says:

    I was at a spring training workout in March and Cano was taking grounders with Jeter at short. The guy has a stronger arm than Jeter and could probably be an excellent shorstop too. I hope he bats in the first inning of every game next year.

    • Mike HC says:

      Yea. He needs to bat third next year. No question.

    • Clay Bellinger says:

      Not that Robbie doesn’t deserve it, but I doubt that Tex gets bumped from the 3 hole just yet…at least not at the start of the year.

      • larryf says:

        Ok. Bat Cano 2nd. Think outside the box Chalupa Joe!

      • larryf says:

        it’s funny but bumping Tex from the 3 hole UNTIL he gets hot would make more sense. The guy sucks until late May.

        • bexarama says:

          Tex, May 2009:
          .330/.391/.748 (!!!)/1.138. His second best month as a Yankee, second to July 2010. He had an .840 OPS this May, which isn’t Tex, but is still pretty darn good. Tex was a little off this year in general, I think we’d all agree, but this statement is just untrue.

    • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals says:

      The guy has a stronger arm than Jeter and could probably be an excellent shorstop too.

      OK. Done. Move him to short.

    • jim p says:

      Hmmm. If Cano can play short, then are there any primo 2nd basemen to get for 2012. If A-Rod goes FT DH, Jeter to 3rd, as one guy at the Daily News posited.

  11. Lou says:

    Is the wOBA in this statement correct:Forget about that. Robbie hit .322/.407/.515 (.352 wOBA) ?
    I do not know how to calcualte wOBA, but if 319/.381/.534 was a wOBA of (.389), I would have thought the above line would be higher. (.26 points more in OBP, just .19 less in sluggin)

  12. ZZ says:

    Cano has an incredible amount of talent and one of the best if not the best swings in baseball.

    This year was the first he really matured and came into his own and I think it is only going to be the tip of the iceberg for him.

    • Steve O. says:

      This year was the first he really matured and came into his own and I think it is only going to be the tip of the iceberg for him.

      I don’t think so. I mean, how much can he realistically improve on .319/.381/.534?

      • pat says:

        I don’t think .362/.609/.812 with 45 dingers is out of the question.

      • ZZ says:

        I think in the next few years as he is now entering his real prime and from what I saw from his this year, he will have a higher AVG, OBP, and SLG.

        I think the next big step is that he is going to be a 400+ on base guy. I think he can put up numbers like Miguel Cabrera did this year in the AVG and OBP department, but less power.

        Speaking of Cabrera in 2011 I see the numbers Miguel put up in 2009 for Cano.

        • This may sound backwards, but I don’t think we’ll see Cano be a high on base guy until his batting average starts to dip a bit. That sounds odd since his OBP has pretty much always been BA driven, but I have a feeling that once his BA starts to fall, he’ll turn into even more of a power hitter, which will cause pitchers to pitch around him a little more, increasing his walk totals.

          That didn’t make much sense. But I’m sticking to it.

        • Steve O. says:

          Well, .324/.396/.547 isn’t too far off from .319/.381/.534. That could be a few more intentional walks, and a few more HRs. Not out of the question at all. I thought you were expecting much more than that. Something along the lines of .335/.415/.600. Maybe not that extreme, but something like that.

          Carry on.

  13. If only he wasn’t so lazy.

  14. bexarama says:

    But Bret told me he couldn’t possibly OPS over .900.

    • Thomas says:

      You know who could possibly OPS over .900 . . . Hellickson.

    • bexarama says:

      also, I’ve posted this before, but it’s worth repeating:

      I guess I should have nominated Cano in the most overrated prospect thread the other day. That he still gets talked up as some kind of top prospect (not pointing at John here, by the way) amazes me.

      I’ve seen Cano play a lot, and I’m not even sure he’d be a productive Triple-A player. Let’s start with his defense; it’s brutal. He has terrible footwork and simply lacks any kind of instincts around the bag. There’s no way you want him playing up the middle. He might have the raw speed to not be awful in left field, but that’s about as kind as I can be regarding his glovework. Offensively, he’s a fastball hitter. He sits dead red on every pitch and waits for a mistake. Any good breaking ball or offspeed pitch will have him out in front. He’s mostly a gap hitter, lacking the power to drive the ball consistently over the wall. To add insult to injury, he’s also a terrible baserunner.

      In his prime, I think he could hit .280/.320/.400 while playing awful defense. Yipee.

      - Dave Cameron, early 2005

      • RL says:

        Shows there’s hope for defensive & offensive improvement among young players (Jesus!!)

      • UncleArgyle says:


      • Thomas says:

        To defend Cameron, his problem in this post was he didn’t really predict Cano improving. At the time, much of what he wrote is true. He was a poor fielder, baserunner, had poor patience, and mainly gap power. All of which have improved, some dramatically.

        He was wrong about his contact skill though. From the moment he played in MLB he always showed excellent ability to make contact and hit for average.

        • bexarama says:

          Oh I don’t think Cameron is an idiot, and I know parts of this is still partially true (he’s not a very good baserunner, and he wasn’t really patient at all until this year). I just think it’s funny how overly negative he was, that and the line about “in his prime…”

          • UncleArgyle says:

            I’m still chuckling over that scouting report. I know its another sport entirely, but stuff like this always reminds me of the great Curmudgeon Ron Borgas talking about the New England Patriots 2001 Draft:

            “On a day when they could have had impact players David Terrell or Koren Robinson..they took Georgia defensive tackle Richard Seymour, who had 1 sacks last season in the pass-happy SEC and is too tall to play tackle at 6-6 and too slow to play defensive end. This genius move was followed by trading out of a spot where they could have gotten the last decent receiver in Robert Ferguson and settled for tackle Matt Light, who will not help any time soon.”

          • Not Tank the Frank says:

            I agree. Much of that criticism wasn’t without merit but that review was overly negative and seemed condescending in nature. In my opinion, many of these baseball writers and scouts (Cameron included) fall a bit too in love with their own opinions and make broad, matter-of-fact proclamations without giving themselves any wiggle room. I’m not giving a pass to Cameron on this one. If the date is right, this couldn’t have been written long before Cano was called up in 2005, hit 14 home runs, and finished 2nd in the ROY vote.

      • B-Rando says:


        Thanks for sharing.

      • Jerome S says:

        Since when does the prime minister of Britain write about baseball?

  15. larryf says:

    Gee-does this mean Nunez could actually improve in the next few years?

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