What Went Right: Robinson Cano, #KabakHat

On a cold day in February, I made a bet that I thought would be a sure thing. In a fit of Twitter arrogance, I threatened to eat my hat if Robinson Cano reached 80 walks. His previous career high had been 61.

How could things go wrong, I thought. The Yanks didn’t have a great lineup entering the season, but they seemed to be able to offer up Cano enough protection that he wouldn’t blow past his 2012 walk total. And the things went south in a hurry. Derek Jeter wasn’t ready to return really at all this year while Curtis Granderson suffered two freak accidents. Kevin Youkilis and Travis Hafner were total busts, and Cano was left holding the Yanks’ offense on his shoulders.

For a few months, things looked dicey. As Robbie emerged as the only real slugger in the Yanks’ lineup, his walk totals rose precipitously. After walking only 18 times in April and May combined, Robbie drew 18 free passes in June, and this four-walk affair at the hands of Joe Maddon and the Rays seemed to represent my nadir. Would I be able to eat an inedible item made of sponge and wire?

From May 24 through July 28 — a span of 59 games — Cano drew 39 free passes, ten of which were intentional. That’s a pace of over 100 in a 162-game season, and the hat seemed doomed. Even accounting for his slow start, Cano was on pace to draw 81 walks, and I figured all was lost. But then Alfonso Soriano arrived and Alex Rodriguez returned. It was all wine and roses from there.

From July 29 through the end of the season, Cano returned to his free-swinging ways. He drew just 13 walks while still hitting a robust .346/.391/.528. The intentional walk well fell dry as well since he now had protection in the lineup. Opposing mangers IBB’d Robbie just twice over the final two months of the season.

And so the hat was saved. Despite sweating out a tough summer, despite a short-lived Tumblr with hat recipes and an RAB Countdown, the hat has survived the winter. Robbie ended the year with 65 walks — a new career high but a far cry from the 80 he needed to achieve for us to see what happens when man eats toxic sponge. I’d say that’s a season that went very, very right.

(REUTERS/Robert Galbraith)
(REUTERS/Robert Galbraith)

Outside of the walks, though, Cano’s season was a bright spot. He hit .314/.383/.516 with 27 home runs and 107 RBIs. He played a spectacular second base and seemed to be a leader in the clubhouse when the top veterans were injured. After hitting 21 dingers prior to the All Star Break, he launched only six more longballs all year but still hit .331/.379/.494. He appeared on his fifth All Star game and placed fifth in the AL MVP voting.

What comes next though is more important than what he did. We’ve followed the saga of Robbie very closely. He’s a premier offensive player who can man his position with the best of them. He’s Jay-Z’s first client and star in New York City. He’s also turned 31 a little over a month ago and wants a long-term commitment with lots of dollar signs attached. The Yanks can’t afford to let him go but may not want to pay. Yet for all the public posturing, they need Robinson Cano. I won’t say I’ll eat my hat if he doesn’t sign with the Yanks; I’ve learned my lesson there. But I’d be very, very surprised if the team’s best player in 2013 isn’t wearing his Yankee pinstripes come April.

Open Thread: The #KabakHat Watch

On Valentine’s Day, a bet was made:

That seemed like a safe bet considering Robinson Cano‘s career-high coming into the year was 61 walks, set last season. Eighty walks is a ton, especially for a free swinger like Cano. It was a safe bet … at the time.

Ten days later, Curtis Granderson had his forearm broken by an errant pitch. Nine days after that, Mark Teixeira felt something funny in his wrist while taking batting practice with Team USA. We already knew Derek Jeter was slowly working his way back from offseason ankle surgery and Alex Rodriguez was going to miss at least half the season following January hip surgery. Just like that, four of the team’s top five hitters were gone. Robbie had no protection.

Right now, at this very moment, Cano is on pace to draw 79 walks this season. As I mentioned the other day, he’s picked up the pace in recent weeks. Since May 20th, when Robbie apparently decided to stop swinging at pitches off the plate, he’s drawn 34 walks in 49 games. That’s a 112-walk pace (!!!) over a full season. Needless to say, Ben has gotten a little antsy. The best part of this whole thing is that he gets nothing in return if Cano does not walk 80 times. It’s a really terrible bet. For him, anyway.

Because everyone enjoys a good hat-eating, we’re going to keep track of Cano’s walks in the sidebar via the Kabak Hat Watch from now through the end of the season. As soon as he gets that 80th walk — he’s only 35 away with 70 games remaining — Ben will dine on what I assume is fine polyester and cotton. I suggest he deep fry it, but others think a saute is a way to go. Maybe he could turn it into a dessert dish. If you have a hat preparation suggestion, leave it in the comments. Until then, root for Cano walks as much as you root for Yankee wins.

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Here is your open thread for the evening. The Reds are playing the Braves on MLB Network (Latos vs. Hudson), and that’s pretty much it. Talk about whatever you like here. Enjoy.