Projecting Robinson Cano

Heading into the season, most of us didn’t know what to expect from Robinson Cano. We’ve seen him go from promising star in 2006 and 2007 to horrible disappointment in 2008. Was his lack of plate discipline catching up to him? Or did he just need to refocus his efforts and regain the stroke he had in earlier years? To this point, Cano has alleviated most of our fears, putting up a line of .313/.345/.507. Now that’s more like the Cano we saw in 2006-07. Yet we still must wonder: can he keep it up?

It’s easy to say yes and let that be that. But what we do here is talk baseball, so we might as well approach the question as completely as possible. Can Robinson Cano maintain the production level we’ve seen to this point? Clearly, he wasn’t going to keep up the .370 batting average he took into the early days of May — or, at least, we couldn’t expect him to do so, just as we can’t really expect that of any hitter. As we could have expected, Cano experienced a correction once the calendar flipped, going 1 for 21 with a walk from May 2 through May 7. That’s a stretch of six days, but it was enough to drop his BA from .378 to .319.

After going 4 for his last 15, Cano has shaved a few additional points off his BA, but it’s nothing to be concerned about. As we’ve seen over the past few years, he’s a hot and cold guy. He’ll hit rough patches, but he redeems himself with torrential production. For instance, over a different six-game stretch Cano went 12 for 31 (.387). An even more impressive stretch was from the start of the season through April 17, wherein he hit .405/.468/.667. Yes, he had a bad stretch last week, and even over his last five games he’s been just 4 for 15, but his hot streaks will make up for these slight drops in production.

What got me thinking about Cano was an Eric Seidman article on FanGraphs. He looks at Cano through the lens of updated ZiPS, Dan Szymborski’s projection system. These are updated now daily to reflect how the system projects a player will hit for the rest of the season. Right now it has Cano at .299/.335/.479 for the rest of the season. It seems a bit low, but it’s one possibility for how things play out.

Cano’s streaks mean that he’s subject to a great deal of randomness as concerns his final season numbers. As Cano streaks and slumps, his projections will fluctuate. If he hits his streaks at the right times, he could outperform that projection by a mile. If his slumps last a bit longer than we’ve seen so far, he could hit that .299 projection. It’s all timing with Cano. Given what we’ve seen so far it’s easy to predict that his hot streaks will outweigh his cold ones. Yet that wouldn’t be exactly accurate either, since we have no way of knowing how his streaks will time out.

What’s clear so far is that the Yankees were right to exercise patience with Cano. Not only has his offense been back to normal levels, but his defense, as Seidman points out, has been much, much better as compared to last year. Not only does UZR bear that out, but you can see the difference this year. It’s added up to a highly valuable player taking the field every day at second base. Here’s to hoping he keeps it up through his current contract and beyond.

Sucka got no juice*: Yanks pass on McPherson

In his latest column, our favorite Yankee-mocking columnist mentions that some Yankees scouts pondered the idea of signing Dallas McPherson. Yet they never brought the idea to Brian Cashman, so it’s not going to happen. Mike and I discussed this on the RAB Radio Show, and came to the same conclusion as Sucka: The Giants might be a good fit.

Sucka also mentions Melky Cabrera, “with rival clubs viewing him as a more inexpensive option than Xavier Nady or Nick Swisher.” I’m assuming the sentence read like this before editing: “with rival clubs viewing him as a more inexpensive and less productive option than Xavier Nady or Nick Swisher.” He goes onto say that the Yanks will only move him for the right price, which is what they should be thinking. Brett Gardner hasn’t proven much yet, and having Melky on the bench, especially when he is “playing as well as he ever has” (marketing speak if I’ve ever heard it), provides the Yanks with at least some insurance.

So it looks like the roster is set for now. We’ll see how things change over the course of April.

* Think this nickname for Rosenthal has staying power?

Scouting the Yankees

Part of our jobs as fans is to develop opinions about everyone on the team, for better or worse. Everyone once in a while it’s nice to get an outside opinion on our boys, and thankfully Mark Feinsand spoke to a Major League scout recently about the team. I’m not going to repost the entire article obviously, but here’s some of my favorites. Make sure you check it out, it’s a great read.

“Jeter is the No.1 guy on the club no matter how you look at it. He makes that team go. He can play for my team any day. He has the damndest inside-out swing I’ve seen in my life. He’s a smooth player. He doesn’t have a lot of time left at shortstop, but he’s what he should be – a captain. He’s the leader of this team and has the greatest makeup of any player ever. He’s the consummate professional. His defense is solid. He can make all the plays, can turn the double play and still has good feet. Is he the best? No. But he’s still good enough. I like everything about Jeter.”

Defense is solid? Well, Cap’n Jetes can make the play on any ball he gets too, but the problem is that doesn’t happen often enough.

“Ransom has been released twice – and there’s a reason for that. He did a good job last year when he came up, and in the utility role, he’s fine. As a starter, he won’t see a fastball. Changeups and sliders get him out, and when the season starts, that’s all he’s going to see. Players can live on the first-pitch fastball in March, but in April that doesn’t happen. He’s been a subpar hitter at the major league level, so there’s no reason to think that will change if he plays regularly. If they’re lucky, he’ll get hot for the first month. Pitchers are going to slider him to death.”

This is something worth watching. Ransom saw just 46.5% fastballs last year, and 34% breaking balls according to Fangraphs. It’s too bad he doesn’t have much big league experience before that to compare it too.

“Wang’s sinker ball is terrific, but he needs his stuff to be working and his command to be right. He drives scouts crazy with his windup, but he puts hitters to sleep. If you don’t get to him early, he’s got you beat.”

That last little line is so true. You can usually tell what kind of game it’ll be for the Wangster based on how the first inning goes. If he mows through the top three hitters on like, nine pitches, then you know you’re golden. If not, then more often than not you’re looking at one of those 3 IP, 10 ER games he’s capable of putting together.

Here’s the scout’s take on Joba:

“The first two outings this spring, he looked terrible, but after he got it back together, he’s had great movement in the strike zone and knee-buckling breaking balls. I think he’s better off as a setup man for Rivera, because it fits him best to come in and blow it out for an inning or two. Can he be effective as a starter? Of course. They just have to build his innings up and hope he doesn’t break down. I understand why they’re doing what they’re doing.”

So this guy’s a B-Jobber, but that’s okay because at least he acknowledges that it’s smart of the Yanks to give him a shot at starting first. No one is guaranteeing that Joba can hold up as a starter, but isn’t worth trying at least?

“Rivera is absolutely remarkable. The first couple outings in the spring, he looked as good as ever. You know what’s coming, and whether you’re lefty or righty, you just can’t hit it. He’s just fabulous. I hope he goes on forever, even though we know he can’t. Teams know it’s over when he comes in. As long as they keep feeling that way, he’s got the upper hand. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.”

Amen, brother.

Two ex-Yankees on their times in the Bronx

If the Yankees manage to snap out of their World Series-less funk and return to their smart team-building ways of the late 1990s, Jason Giambi and Randy Johnson will forever live as the two biggest symbols of Aught-Aught decadence. The Yankees spent a whopping amount of dollars on both of those players and additional prospects on Randy Johnson. When Johnson left after 2006 and Giambi left this winter, their departures were quick and rather forgettable.

Over the weekend, the San Francisco Chronicle’s John Shea checked in with the Big Unit and the Giambino as they settle in to their new digs and their new old digs, respectively. The two former Yankees had widely divergent views on playing in the Bronx.

Neither Randy Johnson nor Jason Giambi won a World Series with the Yankees, which is why neither is viewed in that Paul O’Neill-Scott Brosius “True Yankee” sort of way, whatever the heck that is. Johnson’s and Giambi’s sin was playing on teams that fell short of winning it all, the Yankees’ only goal.

“If you don’t win the World Series, it’s considered a failing year,” said Johnson, who’s working near his Livermore roots after signing a one-year, $8 million contract with the Giants. “Those are extremely high expectations. It’s not that easy, though. I don’t think you should be measured on whether you won a World Series or not because the best team doesn’t always win the World Series.”

[snip]

“I loved having that pressure on you,” said Giambi, who returned to the A’s for a $5.25 million guarantee. “If you’re an athlete and really love the game, it’s pretty incredible. The expectation level from the media to the fans, it’s awesome, an incredible environment to play in. I know some people don’t thrive in it, but I enjoyed it.”

For some reason, Shea’s main goal seems to be taking jabs at the Yankees. He openly mocks the “True Yankee” moniker that some players have earned, and he notes in the omitted section the Yanks’ winter spending spree. In a way, though, he misses the point.

For Giambi, his time in New York was about excelling on the big stage, and he seemed to do that just fine. While his contract and tenure here will be forever marked by steroids, the Yanks got their money’s worth out of Jason, and it wasn’t his fault the Yanks’ pitching fell apart.

Between Randy Johnson and the Yanks, though, there is no love lost. Even in Johnson’s words — “I don’t think you should be measured on whether you won a World Series or not because the best team doesn’t always win the World Series” — are hints of excuses. He’s still trying to defend himself as the man who couldn’t put away the Angels in 2005 and couldn’t deal with the Tigers in 2006. He is every bit the insecure pitcher Joe Torre describes him to be in his book and nothing like the bulldog the Yankees thought he was.

When all is said and done, neither Randy nor Jason will go down in the annals of Yankee history as representative of a good time. This decade has seen the team try to find a way to return to World Series glory with no luck. For one of them, it certainly wasn’t from a lack of trying, and from the other, it will always just be sour grapes.

Yanks content with Alex being Alex

It’s been said before, and it will be said many times in the future: Alex Rodriguez is a polarizing figure. Some look at his production and let the conversation end there. Others look to his numerous (to be generous) quirks and his recent history of poor Octobers, and decide they don’t like him. Whether the fans like him or not, he’s under contract with the team for the next nine seasons, so it’s advisable to get used to his antics. The Yanks already have.

That’s the subject of Buster Olney’s column for today, and it’s quite amusing:

The rest of the world might ask: Why has A-Rod befriended Madonna? Inside the Yankees’ family, the response is That’s Alex.

The rest of the world might ask: Why would A-Rod host a press conference about his past steroid use and create more questions than he answers? Inside the Yankees’ family, the response is That’s Alex.

And today, the rest of the world might ask: Why would A-Rod pose for a picture in which he appears to be kissing himself in a mirror? Inside the Yankees’ family, the response is That’s Alex.

“Don’t worry, we’ll be sure to make fun of him for it,” one teammate told Kat O’Brien.

Fans, of course, will do what they please. Many feel a sense of entitlement, in that they spend so much time and money on the team that they have the right to boo whomever they please. I won’t argue with that, though I don’t agree with it. I root for the laundry, and even though I’ve disliked Yankee players in the past I’ve refrained from booing. Why would I boo someone I want to succeed?

Still, this seems like the best mindset at this point. Let Alex be Alex. As long as he produces on the field, nothing else matters in my mind.

Swisher put in tough position with ChiSox, Yanks

On January 3, 2008, the White Sox acquired Nick Swisher from the Oakland A’s for Ryan Sweeney, Gio Gonzalez, and Fautino De Los Santos. This seemed like a pretty good trade for the Sox. They had seen Swisher play center field more than any other position with Oakland in 2007, and thought adding his bat to their lineup would make the team better. As we know, things didn’t work out all too well there. Says his former manager Ozzie Guillen:

“When you have a bad season like that, a lot of people can be blamed if you want to be negative,” White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen recalled on Sunday. “(Swisher) did do some good things for us, playing out of position all season long. But when he started having trouble and was struggling, he couldn’t get control of that.

Part of the problem, I think, is that not only was Swisher playing a relatively new position for him — he hadn’t really played any center except for in 2007 — but also that he hit atop the batting order. Before 2008 he had hit leadoff a total of zero times in his major league career.

Ozzie is right in saying that “a lot of people can be blamed,” but it’s not only if you want to be negative. Swish definitely hit better when placed lower in the lineup, though “better” is a relative term here. In his 215 plate appearances from the seventh spot, Swish OPS’d a decent .779. That was a better OPS than what Ken Griffey Jr. mustered from center field in the second half.

Established players and rising stars stood in Swisher’s way. If the White Sox weren’t happy with Swish as a center fielder, they were stuck. Carlos Quentin, acquired exactly one month before Swisher, was in the midst of a breakout year, and established right fielder Jermaine Dye was having a good season. At first base, where Swisher did get reps, Paul Konerko was going to get every chance to prove that he could still hit. He did in the second half, posting a line of .270/.374/.535. In other words, there was no place to play Swish regularly if he wasn’t going to play center.

When the Sox traded him to the Yanks in November, it seemed like he’d finally have a starter’s role at one position: first base. Then, of course, the Yanks went out and got Mark Teixeira, complicating matters further. Where would Swisher play? That seemed to be a big question following the Teixeira acquisition.

Despite being displaced at one position, Swisher has a real chance for playing time with the Yanks, a chance he couldn’t get in Chicago unless he flourished in center field. All three outfield positions are open in one way or another. Swish could win the starting right fielder job over Xavier Nady, which is probably his best bet for playing time. He could take a good number of reps in center field if the Yanks so chose to do that, since there’s no budding superstar or established vet in that spot. Even at DH and left field, Swish could see some reps. Matsui and Damon are both 35 years old this year and could use days off here and there to stay fresh.

Had the White Sox hung onto him, Ozzie believes that Swish “would be in the same position he was last year — a fourth outfielder.” That’s the situation he could face on the Yankees too, but given the construction of each team, it looks like he’ll get a far better shot at significant playing time in New York. Which, I believe, will be Chicago’s loss and New York’s gain.