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.
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.
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.
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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.