What Went As Expected: Robinson Cano

Fan Confidence Poll: October 17th, 2011
Crazy Trade Idea: Swisher for Marcum

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to look back at what went right, what went wrong, and what went as expected during the 2011 campaign.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

After spending the first four-plus years of his career as a strong complementary player, Robinson Cano turned into a legitimate star in 2010. The Yankees installed him as their fifth place hitter and watched him respond with an MVP-caliber campaign. At 27 years old, Cano was just entering his prime and figured to be a mainstay in the heart of the order for years to come. He did nothing to change that outlook in 2011. Let’s review his season by dividing it into three unequal parts.

The Hot Start

Much like last season, Robinson came out of the gate like a madman, hitting four doubles and two homers in the first nine games of the new year. More doubles and homers followed over the next few weeks, and Cano ended the month of April with eight homers and a .320/.340/.639 batting line. His plate discipline had taken a step back, but it was still early in the season and there wasn’t enough of a sample to worry just yet.

The Slump

After hitting two homers against the Blue Jays on April 29th, Cano fell into a deep and somewhat prolonged slump. He had just two singles in his next four games, and just seven hits (one triple, one homer) in the nine games that followed that. His strikeout rate started the climb a bit, but the most noticeable difference between the slumping Cano and the hitter we saw in 2010 was the utter lack of discipline. Robbie was chasing pitches in the dirt, pitches over his head, and generally just swinging at everything. There were times he would just give away at-bats by chasing pitcher’s pitches early in the count.

Following that two homer game against the Jays, Robbie hit just .241/.301/.398 in his next 146 plate appearances, dragging his season line down to a still solid but very un-Cano-like .273/.314/.502. He drew just seven unintentional walks in his first 249 plate appearances of the season, a ghastly 2.8% walk rate. If it wasn’t for six hit-by-pitches, Robbie’s OBP would have been a much more unsightly .289. Thankfully, the slump came to an end in early-June.

The Crazy Finish

Cano woke up with a three-hit game against the Indians on June 10th. They were three singles, but it was just his second three-hit game and eighth multi-hit game since mid-April. Robinson had multiple hits in seven of his next eleven games, including three doubles and two homers. He just didn’t stop hitting after that; putting up a .319/.370/.551 batting line in his final 432 plate appearances of the season, a performance that looks a whole lot like the .319/.381/.534 he hit during his breakout 2010. With 20 unintentional walks, Cano beefed up his walk rate to 4.7% down the stretch. Still subpar, but at least it was in line with his career average (4.6%).

One year after being installed as the five-hole hitter, Joe Girardi moved Robinson up to the third spot in the order just before the season ended. Cano carried that stellar finish into the postseason, whacking two homers (including a grand slam) and two doubles in the five games against the Tigers. He reached base a total of nine times in the series (once on an intentional walk), and drove in nine of the team’s 28 runs.

* * *

For the second straight year, Cano was the Yankees’ best middle of the lineup force. His 81 extra-base hits (46 doubles, seven triples, 28 homers) where the second most in the game (two behind Jacoby Ellsbury) and the second most by a middle infielder in franchise history (Alfonso Soriano had 92 in 2002). Although his .375 wOBA was down a bit from last year (.389), it was still the second best among second baseman (Dustin Pedroia was just ahead of him at .377) and his third straight year over .370.

At 4.6 bWAR and 5.6 fWAR, it was the third straight year and fourth time in five years that Cano ranked among the league’s elite at his position. Unlike 2010 though, Robinson’s 2011 production was no surprise. We expected him to be this great.

Fan Confidence Poll: October 17th, 2011
Crazy Trade Idea: Swisher for Marcum
  • Monteroisdinero

    So teams are gonna walk Robbie to pitch to Alex? That will change in a few years (should be sooner but I am a realist).

    You know who I’m talking about.

    • Rich in NJ

      Yeah, it’s a no brainer and it’s why he should be an untouchable.

  • Jose M. Vazquez..

    To achieve the batting championship that has been predicted for him by many, he still has to be more selective at the plate and get more walks. Although, I’ll take him as he is now. Just saying there is always room for improvement.

    • the Other Steve S.

      If he had Swisher’s eye, he would be Albert.

    • gc

      “He doesn’t need to take more walks to win a batting title,” says Ichiro.

      • Jose M. Vazquez..

        OK. What I meant to say is that he still swings at too many balls out of the strike zone. I do love him as he is.

  • Doc Holliday

    If the Yanks wanted to make a big splash they could trade away Teix and go after Fielder or Pujols. We need someone to protect Robbie Cano. And Cano needs to be hitting in that 3 spot for the whole year. Teixera doesn’t protect anything with his all or nothing swing.

    • Rich in NJ

      Tex has a no-trade and has said he won’t waive it. They’d really have to play hardball (if not beanball) to get him to change his mind and they almost certainly won’t do do that.

    • http://bleedingyankeeblue.com Jesse

      If I hear another “Trade Tex or A-Rod and sign Pujols or Fielder I’ll scream”…

      • Sarah

        Plus one. This is getting ridiculous.

        Also, Fielder hasn’t been exactly on fire this post-season.

        • Jose M. Vazquez..

          Right on. We are talking another 10 yr. 300million for any of those guys. Do we want to go through this again?

          • Sarah

            What this team definitely needs is a 30 year old signed to a 10 year deal. DEFINITELY. Maybe 2 or 3 more of them.

    • Monteroisdinero

      Didn’t you see above who will soon be protecting Robbie? The only issue we have is that darn binder in the dugout.

      • Jose M. Vazquez..

        Agree my friend.

      • David, Jr.

        Agree completely. They have developed the player, and it is now time for 550 at bats. What we don’t need is a platoon with a Jason Kubel or somebody like that.

  • nedro

    Oh, yeah, and he won the HR Derby, too!