The quietly surging Robinson Cano

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So sweet. (Photo Credit: Flickr user spablab via Creative Commons license)

Thirty days ago, Robinson Cano‘s triple slash line bottomed out at .273/.317/.488. He had just six unintentional walks to his credit in 186 plate appearances, and his 28 strikeouts put him on pace for 101 over a full season. It’s been four years since Cano last struck out more than 77 times in a season, and never once has he cracked the century mark. Hell, he’s never cracked the 90 strikeout mark. Although he was still performing at a rate better than the league average second baseman, it was still fair to consider Robbie’s season a disappointment given his lofty standards.

Thirty days ago coincides with the end of a stretch in which the Yankees won just eight of 19 games, including that ugly six game losing streak and seven games in which they scored three runs or fewer. The offense has a whole has ramped things up since then (.254/.335/.448 before, .274/.364/.458 since), and at the forefront of that turn around has been the resurgent Nick Swisher (.280/.430/.537 last thirty days), Jorge Posada (.310/.349/.397), and Brett Gardner (.338/.424/.500). All three got off to brutally slow starts, so their coming out parties were celebrated. No one paid much attention to Cano though, and his .330/.381/.573 performance over the last month seems to have gone completely under-the-radar.

The Robbie that has shown up over the last thirty days is the Robbie we watched last year, when he hit .319/.381/.534. His strikeout rate (13.6%) is right in line with where it was last season (12.3%), as is his unintentional walk rate (5.3% vs. 6.3%). Cano’s power numbers this year are actually better than they were last year (.214 ISO), both over the last thirty days (.243) and over the course of the entire 2011 season (.224). The weird part about that is that he’s actually hitting fewer balls in the air this season…

Hopefully I don’t have to tell you that fly balls tend to go for extra base hits a lot more often than ground balls, so maybe this means the power stroke is unsustainable. Cano’s BABIP (.302) is down compared to both last year (.326) and his career mark (.321), but it’s been on the way up during this recent hot streak. Unsurprisingly, so has his line drive rate. Overall, he’s raised his season batting line from .273/.317/.488 thirty days ago to .295/.341/.520 today.

Although Cano has picked up the pace over the last month, he still isn’t completely out of the woods. He’s still swinging at a career worst 40.1% of pitches out of the zone, though it’s worth noting that that’s down from 41.7% on May 19th, when I wrote this post. The 3.26 pitches he’s seen per plate appearance rank 160th out of 161 qualified batters (thanks, Yuni), but again that is up from 3.16 P/PA on May 19th and is at least approaching his career average (3.33). The strikeout rate has been slowly getting better, but he’s still on pace for a career high 96 whiffs. I don’t care too much about the strikeouts (plus 96 isn’t all that many anyway), I’m just concerned that he’s hacking at pitches he can’t do anything with. I know Robinson won’t ever be a 100 walk, .400 OBP+ guy, but some semblance of plate discipline would be nice.

It’s worth noting that throughout his career, Cano has typically been a slow starter, slow in that he has been less awesome in April and May and really awesome from June on. Here’s the splits if you don’t believe me. Last year was quite the opposite though, he started out on fire then cooled off. Perhaps that was just the outlier and he’s following his normal path this year, starting slowly before raising hell the rest of the way. I sure hope so, that would be sweet. Anyway, Robinson’s rebound from a start that can be described as slow only by his standards has gone almost completely unnoticed, but it’s a big part of the reason why the Yankees have gotten on a nice roll here and are willing games consistently. He’s not a kid anymore, Cano’s a veteran player and is being relied upon as a core member of the team, and right now he’s quietly producing like one.

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  • AndrewYF

    When Cano is 30 I will officially feel old.

    • Cris Pengiuci

      I refuse to ever feel old (regardless of how many times user posts remind me that I am)

  • first time lawng time

    Cano has been hitting better lateley. I hope he hits .300 for the end of the season. Also, his power numbers seem a little low. He should fix that.

    • http://www.yankeeanalysts.com/ Matt Imbrogno

      He has a career high in IsoP.

      • first time lawng time

        By power I meant HR. My bad.

        • http://www.yankeeanalysts.com/ Matt Imbrogno

          If he has the same amount of PAs as last year and keeps up this home run pace, he would end with 33 homers, more than last year.

          • first time lawng time

            Oh. I didn’t know that. My bad.

            It might just be perception. To me it doesn’t seem like he’s hitting a lot of homeruns. That might just be from Teixeira and Grandy hitting the most.

            • Monteroisdinero

              It’s the big hands.

              • first time lawng time

                Lol Maybe.

            • Guns of the Navarone

              He hit a lot of home runs early (as did all the Yankees) but he’s back to his normal home run pace, and if he keeps that up, he should top last year’s total.

            • Kevin G.

              Or maybe it’s because chicks dig the long ball.

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

      Also, his power numbers seem a little low. He should fix that.

      Burns: You there, Strawberry! Go hit a home run.
      Strawberry: Sure thing, skip!
      [Strawberry crushes a mammoth homer, jogs around the bases]
      Burns [to Smithers]: See there, Smithers? I told him to do that.

  • YankeesJunkie

    Another big factor in Cano’s resurgence has been the steady good regression of BABIP. A career .321 BABIP and Cano was as low .260 this year which is very un Cano like. While Cano may never be a annual superstar having a 5 WAR 2B through 2013 on a team friendly deal is never a bad thing.

  • http://johnsterling.blogspot.com/ Xstar7

    Needless to say, Robinson Cano is good at this baseball thing. I think he’ll heat up even more as the season goes along.

  • Ross

    Is it possible that his homeruns arent registering as fly balls or do line drives count as fly balls too? He hits laser shots to right and I can think of at least 2 that I wouldn’t call fly balls.

  • Kevin D.

    I have a feeling he will rake in the second half this year like he usually does. The .338 he hit in 09 sounds about right.

    • Guns of the Navarone

      A lot of games coming up at Fenway the 2nd half of the season. A lot of opportunities to do damage there.

      .366/.393/.608 CAREER at Fenway.

      • first time lawng time

        Same with Camden Yards. He hits well there, too. Or maybe it’s just Orioles pitching.

        Either way, the second half of the year seems to favor him.

      • CMP

        I liked your name better before you shortened it.

        • boogie down

          It should be changed to “Guns of the Toblerone”

  • CMP

    Now that he’s hitting, he njust needs to pull his head out of his ass and start playing defense to his level of last season.

    • Sayid J

      Yea. He still makes the spectacular plays, but every so often (like on steals) he just seems to not be 100% with it.

  • Hester Prynne

    Caller on the radio just said Robbie needs to pick it up. I guess he hasn’t been watching the past few weeks. He also said Jacoby Ellsbury is the player Brett Gardner should be. With Swisher and Posada hitting again that makes Cano even better because now he has people behind him.

    • http://www.youcantpredictbaseball.com bexarama

      He also said Jacoby Ellsbury is the player Brett Gardner should be.

      I almost get this sentiment, because while Ellsbury is not quite as insanely fast as Gardner, I think he’s better on the bases. Ellsbury probably also has a little more pop. On the other hand, let’s not pretend Gardner is crap – and while Ellsbury is good to meh defensively, Gardner is elite-elite.

      • YankeesJunkie

        Fun Fact: Even with Gardner’s multiple running errors

        BSR according to fangraphs.

        Gardner: 1.7
        Ellsbury: 1.2

        • http://www.youcantpredictbaseball.com bexarama

          Heh. Yay, eye test. x___x

          (On the other hand, Gardner seems pretty good at taking the extra base and not turning himself into a TOOTBLAN.)

        • CP

          Gardner: 14 SB, 10 CS
          Ellsbury: 24 SB, 9 CS

          It’s interesting that they’re both quite a bit worse than their career numbers.

          My guess is that Ellsbury’s 73% success rate is not high enough to help him. If you’re stealing at the break even rate, then you’ll be at 0 base running runs whether you have 100 SB or 5.

      • JobaWockeeZ

        It’s pretty much a fact that Ellsbury kills Gardner on the basepaths. Gardner’s instincts are nearly nonexistent.

        • CMP

          Right now Gardner has 2.9 WAR despite his horrific start and Ellsbury, who is having a career year, has 3.1 WAR so the difference between the two is negligible.

          • CP

            And, that difference is almost entirely due to Ellsbury having more PA than Gardner (321 vs 237).

          • Anchen

            Is most of Gardner vs Ellsbury’s WAR difference due to park factors and defense? It looks offensively on both rate stats (higher slugging, better steal numbers) and collection amounts to be ahead so I can only guess that Gardner is making up value in the somewhat harder to discern ways?

          • The Big 3

            I don’t like this argument at all. Not only is FG negatively effecting its WAR by including a scant 1/2 season’s worth of defensive value, which is too small a sample, but Gardner is being docked positional value by playing in LF, while Ellsbury has earned the same playing CF, and Gardner has shown he’s more valuable in CF, while Ellsbury has shown he’s more valuable in LF.

            Put them both in their more valuable OF positions, and Gardner has the greater WAR, ie, is more valuable today. Except that he’s not because Ellsbury is a better offensive player.

            They’re both real good players. How’s that?

        • MikeD

          His SB% this year is down, that’s a fact. Yet his SB% all through the minors and the majors up until 2011 have him stealing well over 80% I’m not quite so sure we should be writing off all his instincts based on the past few months.

          Second, and more importantly, baserunning skills go way beyond stealing bases. People make grand statements about Gardner’s baserunning abilities based on his SB% this year. Gardner is a good baserunner, and indeed advanced metrics have him rating higher in baserunning than Ellsbury.

          I wouldn’t trade Gardner for Ellsbury.

    • first time lawng time

      The funny thing is thy there are Yankee fans who want Gardner to be more like Ellsbury while there are Red Sox fans who hate Ellsbury and would rather have Gardner.

      • YankeesJunkie

        Gardner needs to work on not being a terrible base steal other than that he is pretty fun to watch.

      • http://twitter.com/Bismarck1872 Jerome S.

        The grass always seems greener, doesn’t it? I bet they’d rather have Jeter, too. Ha.

        • jsbrendog

          a red sox fan the other day was harrassing me about “hows that jeter contract working out?”

          i wanted to be like, seriously? you’re still probably paying orlando cabrera and alex gonzalez to play for someone else. and how about that marco scutaro contract? go team.

          • S

            you forget the john lackey and dice k contracts…oh and bobby jenks as well,

            • MikeD

              Ha. His response should be two words: Carl.Crawford.

  • Spaniard

    You forgot rentaria

  • MikeD

    Another oddity in Cano’s career (and it’s a good one for the Yankees) is he has a tendency to punish most the teams in the AL East, even if they are a tougher lot. He numbers against the Red Sox, Orioles and Rays are all better than his career rate stats. The Blue Jays are the only one that seem to cause him issues.