2010 Season Preview: Will the real Robinson Cano please stand up?

On a team full of superstars, it’s easy to overlook the production of Robinson Cano. The youngest full-time player in the lineup, the Yanks’ second baseman is coming off a bounceback 2009 season just as he enters the prime years of his career. Yet despite hitting at least .306 with at least a .182 IsoP in three of the last four years, not everyone is sure what to expect out of the enigmatic Cano next season.

When Cano first arrived in the big leagues, it was amidst a full blown crisis in May of 2005. His game was a breath of fresh air to a team desperately in need of one. He was young player on an old club, and he produced enough with the bat to finish second in the Rookie of the Year voting. After posting a pair of fine seasons in 2006 and 2007, Cano slumped to .271-.305-.410 with a .307 wOBA in 2008, career lows across the board. Thankfully the one year decline in production lasted just that long, one year. He rebounded to hit .320-.352-.520 with a .370 wOBA last season, and the great Chase Utley was the only full-time second baseman to provide more with the stick.

At 27-years-old, Cano is hitting what should be the best years of his career. To take that next step towards greatness, however, he’ll need to improve his performance with runners in scoring position. To date, Cano has been just a .256-.291-.398 (.290 wOBA) hitter with men on second and/or third, though last year he dropped all the way down to .207-.242-.332 (.251) in those spots. Luck (.267 BABIP with RISP career, .210 in 2009) only has so much to do with it, and it’s up to Cano to make the necessary adjustments to become more of a traditional run producing threat. As the offensive core of the team ages, the Yankees are going to need Cano to step into the middle of their order pretty soon.

In the field, we all know Robbie’s capable of making awe-inspiring plays, yet advanced metrics haven’t been too kind to him in recent years. His three year UZR is essentially league average at -0.6, dragged down by relatively high error totals. Jeff Zimmerman’s age-adjusted UZR projections peg Cano as a -2.0 run defender next season, though it’s easy to envision a scenario in which he wows with the leather and actually plays well-above average defense. I’ve already touched on his baserunning earlier in the winter, and the progress is encouraging. With some more experience and improvement in 2010, Cano should add a run or two to the Yanks’ ledger with his legs.

So what should we expect from Cano offensively next season? Let’s turn to some projections for an answer. Remember to click for a larger view.

As these things tend to do, the five freely available projection systems average out to something extremely close to Cano’s career output. The projected .358 wOBA is exactly what he posted in 2007, and a touch down from his 2009 output. Just two full-time second baseman besides Cano hit for a wOBA that high last season, so we’re still talking about top tier production from the premium position. Combine that with a -2.0 UZR and +1.0 baserunning runs, and we’re looking at 3.6 WAR player.

That projection is almost a full win off Cano’s 2009 pace, though he could easily outperform it as he enters his age-27 season. Slated to earn $9M in 2010, Cano is no longer cheap. In fact, he’ll be the third highest paid second baseman in the game this season, so the training wheels are off. It’s time to the Yanks’ second baseman to get over that hump and go from being a very good complementary player to a true centerpiece. Improving with runners in scoring position would go a really long way towards helping him do that.

Photo Credit: Charlie Neibergall, AP

2010 RAB Fantasy Baseball League (Part III)

There was such overwhelming interest in our fantasy baseball league when we posted it last week that we ended up creating a second league just to get everyone in. As it turns out, two leagues aren’t enough, so we went ahead and created a third. The setting are exactly the same as the original league (click here to see them), except that the maximum number of moves per week has been set at eight. If you want to join the third league, go to Yahoo! and sign up using this info:

League ID#: 396057
Password: MoRo

Remember, please join only if you’re serious. It’s a deep league (20 teams), so it’ll require more than a little effort if you want to contend.

Fan Confidence Poll: March 8th, 2010

Record Last Week: 1-4 (16 RS, 38 RA)
Spring Training Record: 1-4 (16 RS, 38 RA)
Schedule This Week: vs. Phillies (Mon., split squad), @ Pirates (Mon., split squad), vs. Pirates (Tues.) @ Tigers (Weds.) vs. Braves (Thurs.), @ Nationals (Fri.), @ Tigers (Sat., split squad), vs. Orioles (Sat., split squad), @ Pirates (Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
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Tex’s early season woes not shared by other switch hitters

In his excellent first base preview, Mike wrote about Mark Teixeira‘s early season struggles. His April 2009 was particularly poor, perhaps due to the wrist injury that sidelined him for a few games early on. A recovery even to his career April line of .249/.349/.433 would be helpful in 2010. Yet, as is evident from the triple slash, Teixeira’s career numbers in April far fall below his overall performance. His explanation involves working on two swings, one from each side of the plate, during spring training, so it takes him a bit of the season to get into a groove. Makes sense, right?

Maybe it does make sense for Teixeira himself, but as Raphy at the B-R blog notes, his fellow switch hitters do not share this predicament. Raphy ran the numbers on every switch hitter from 2000 through 2009 and compared their April numbers to the rest of the season. The difference, it turns out, is negligible. Switch hitters hit for a .005 better batting average, a .001 worse OBP, and a .007 better SLG. Some or all of those differences can probably be attributed to generally better production in later months. In fact, in three of the last five years the league posted its worst slugging month in April.

This made me wonder how some of the other top switch hitters in the game fared. While as an aggregate switch hitters performed just as well in April as they did the rest of the season, this covers over 285,000 plate appearances. Clearly there will be some players in there who just weren’t as good, and were consistently not as good. Maybe there’s some kind of trend when we look at only the top switch hitters of the past decade.

No, that doesn’t change the story at all. In fact, a few of the players have hit better in their teams’ first 25 games than in the rest of the season. It appears, then, that these switch hitters don’t take an extra month to get into the groove. Maybe it’s something specific to Teixeira, or maybe it’s something else entirely that keeps down his season numbers.

If in April Tex had hit to the .310/.392/.596 rate he did for the rest of the season, might that have given him a better shot at the MVP? That would have given him 33 hits, 13 walks, 17 singles, 8 doubles, 1 triple, and 7 home runs, increasing his season totals by 14 hits, 7 singles, 4 doubles, 1 triple, and 2 home runs. While that’s probably not enough to win MVP in a league where Joe Mauer raked from the catcher position, it might have been enough to help the Yankees add a few more early wins. According to linear weights, Teixeira created 14 runs through May 7. Had he hit to his season totals, he would have created around 25 runs. That might have won them another game or two.

We take the trade-off, of course, in a heartbeat. Teixeira does struggle in April, and given his past there’s no reason to expect 2010 will be different. But the way he hits the rest of the season makes up for it. Perhaps the return of Alex Rodriguez, historically a strong April performer, will help offset Tex’s struggles. If he does buck the trend, even for one season, we could certainly see an MVP performance from Teixeira.

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

Open Thread: The Boss and Mr. October

There’s really no rhyme or reason to it, but I found that picture to be pretty cool. It was taken during yesterday’s game by RAB’s (un)official Spring Training photographer, Kathy Willens of the AP. It’s a shame George isn’t around as much as he used to be, but in the end I guess it’s good, because the team is run much more intelligently and efficiently than before.

Anyway, use this sucker as your open thread tonight. The Ranger and Devils are both in action tonight, but feel free to talk about whatever you want. Just don’t be a dick.

Pettitte throws his first game* of the spring

For the first time since Game Six of the World Series, Andy Pettitte took to the mound today against hitters trying to do some damage off him. He threw a two inning simulated game on a back field of the Tampa complex, throwing 36 pitches total to Colin Curtis (a lefty) and Randy Winn (a switch hitter). “Mentally, I feel like I’m seeing my pitches,” said Pettitte. “Especially, at my age, I’m happy at 9 o’clock in the morning to be able to get it going, I was up at 5:30 trying to get ready for this.”

Sometime in the next week, the bullpen trio of Mariano Rivera, Damaso Marte, and Chan Ho Park will get into an exhibition game. Pettitte and Javy Vazquez are the only remaining members of the projected starting rotation that have not yet gotten into a game against opposing players, but that should happen this week.

The Sunday Sports Section

Every Sunday it seems like there are tons of Yankees links in my reader. They’re all worth a read, or at least a glance, kind of like the Sunday sports section. I’ll try to make this a regular thing. This way, you’ll also know about what time I wake up on Sundays.