Yesterday Joe Girardi made a small lineup change that made many fans immensely happy. Robinson Cano, long thought of as an ideal No. 3 hitter, hit in that very spot, while Mark Teixeira, who has floundered at times this season, dropped back into Cano’s No. 5 spot. All parties seem to be on board with the switch. Teixeira himself even liked it, admitting that his left-handed swing needed work this off-season. The move certainly makes intuitive sense, but will that translate into tangible results?
One thing to keep in mind is that Cano, hitting mostly in the Nos. 4 and 5 spots this season, has hit with more runners on base than Teixeira, who has spent all but a few games at No. 3. Cano has also done a better job of driving in those runners, bringing home 21 percent of his 439 baserunners. Teixeira has driven in 17 percent of his 413 runners. So if Cano has seen more runners and has driven in more from his No. 5 spot, why move him?
Curtis Granderson helps put the issue in perspective. He has taken plenty of runners off base from the No. 2 hole, leaving fewer runners for Teixeira and Cano. Last year, batting mostly in the No. 5 spot, Cano came to bat with 470 runners on base, or 3.38 for every 5 PA. This year he’s down to 3.26 base runners per 5 PA. Teixeira is obviously more greatly affected, since he hits directly behind Granderson. In 2010 he saw 3.41 base runners per 5 PA, while this year he’s seen just 3.05 per 5 PA.
Of course, we can’t expect Granderson to continue his regular season home run pace in the postseason. That mitigates some of the baserunner issues, because Granderson won’t be taking them off base so frequently. In fact, as Granderson’s home run pace has somewhat slowed he’s taken more free passes. While his season walk rate is 12.4 percent, it has jumped to 14.3 percent in the last two months. That might give Cano a few additional opportunities with runners on base.
It does seem odd that the Yankees made this switch so late in the season. Cano has done fine work in the No. 5 hole. He has not only seen more runners on base than Teixeira in the No. 3 hole, but he has driven in a greater percentage of those runners. That would seem to be of importance come playoff time. But the Yankees can’t rely on Granderson’s homers as much, and that changes the equation slightly. It’s hard to predict where the runners will come from in the postseason, so it’s best for Girardi to set the order in the manner he sees as optimal.
As the numbers show, though, there’s not an enormous difference. Combine that with the unpredictable nature of the postseason (due to the small number of games), and it’s essentially a wash. Thankfully, all parties are on board with the move. That makes it a bit more palatable. We can only hope that it gives Cano just a few more opportunities to do what he’s done all season long.