Cano’s Improvement

As of last night, we have officially had a changing of the guard. After setting up camp at the top of the WAR leaderboards for most of the season, Justin Morneau has finally been displaced. Now it’s Robinson Cano leading all of Major League Baseball with +4.0 wins of value added, as the Yankees second baseman is carrying his teammates.

Offensively, not much has changed with Cano, as the surge in his numbers is basically tied to a higher than usual BABIP (.382) and his extra base hits flying over the wall instead of bouncing off of it. Last year, 36.7 percent of his hits were of the extra base variety, and he’s at 36 percent this year – the distribution of those XBH, however, have tilted toward home runs. It’s hard to say that either of those spikes represent a significant improvement, and not surprisingly, the ZIPS rest-of-season projection suspects that Cano will hit at basically his 2009 level for the rest of the year.

There exist other numbers, however, that suggest Cano has indeed turned himself into a better over all player. The big strides he has made have not been at the plate, but rather in the field. I saw Cano play quite a bit in 2002 when he was assigned to low-A Greensboro, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that he was a defensive disaster. His footwork was laughably bad, and while he showed athleticism, there were just no fundamentals that suggested he was even on the path to becoming a big league middle infielder.

He wasn’t much better by the time he got to the majors, in 2005, as he posted a -21.2 UZR in his rookie year. Despite hitting well for a second baseman, he gave back nearly all of his value by failing to convert outs behind his pitchers. Again, I figured it was only a matter of time until Cano was shifted to the outfield, where his athleticism could play well and his inability to react quickly would be of less importance.

To his credit though, Cano has put in a tremendous amount of work, turning himself into a competent defender. No, he’ll never win a gold glove, but his +2.3 UZR to date this season is no longer the kind of shocking number that makes people question the system itself. While a couple of months of UZR data isn’t large enough to make any conclusions, his UZR since the 2006 season is just -12.4, or about -3 runs per year.

Cano probably won’t continue to have 40 percent of his extra base hits fly over the wall, nor will he be able to keep his BABIP at .382. He can, however, continue to play a decent enough second base, and he should take pride in that fact, because he got there through sheer hard work. Even when the offensive numbers inevitably regress a bit, Cano will still be one of the game’s best second baseman, and that’s a testament to just how far he’s come as a player.

We hoped you liked reading Cano’s Improvement by Dave Cameron!

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Disco
Guest

Hopefully he’s finally shaken off the lazy and carelessness stereotypes he was wrongfully given by many writers throughout his career.

JH
Guest
JH

You mean the one’s he was given – subconsciously – because of his skin color? I wouldn’t expect that to change anytime soon.

ILoveBaseball
Guest
ILoveBaseball

I think the “lazy stereotype” still applies here and that’s to some of his play and not his skin color.
I’m a Yankees season ticket holder and my observation is he never runs hard to first. Outside of this he appears to play without a sense of urgency which I believe to be a style characteristic and not a real absence of “busting it”. He also does not seem to hustle, ever. These are just anecdotal observations but are not related to his skin color. Agree?

Steve
Guest
Steve

Against the Astros, Teixeira hit a squirter that wound up staying fair. He didn’t run hard to 1st and was easily thrown out. Had he run, it may have been a close play. No one said anything.

When Paul O’Neill hit a popup that he was “angry” about, he’d toss his helmet and jog to first base.

Consiously or not, there are a ton of players that don’t always hustle, yet are never called on it.

ILoveBaseball
Guest
ILoveBaseball

The only Yankee I observe not running hard is Posada and with him it’s hard to know if he’s running hard or not. That being said it’s not impossible I have built-in prejudice but I don’t think that’s what’s going on here. Paul O’Neill not running hard because he’s “mad” is just as egregious as any other reason not injury related. There’s no way the Yankee announcers would have the guts to criticize Cano now. Just my observation.

waynetolleson
Guest
waynetolleson

Cano’s reputation as being a lazy player had nothing to do with the color of his skin, his nationality, ethnicity, or anything. Cano simply had some bad habits. He was lackadaisical in the field, and often didn’t run hard out of the box.

That’s just the fact of the matter. Now, I happen to think that Cano is one of those players who allows a batting slump to affect other areas of his game. He appeared to be at his laziest in 2008, when he had his worst season ever as a hitter, batting just .271 with a .715 OPS on the season.

2008 was also the first year since 1993 that the Yankees didn’t make the playoffs – there were no playoffs in ’94, and the Yanks probably would have made the playoffs that year. The team was struggling, and when a team struggles, you tend to notice every little ground ball that sneaks-through, every DP that isn’t turned, every instance where a hitter doesn’t bust it out of the batter’s box.

The fact remains, however, that Cano wasn’t always hustling, didn’t always appear to be giving 100%. To make this an issue about race is, frankly, quite annoying.

M.Keller
Guest
M.Keller

It’s not so much that he was ever lazy, or didn’t huste- that’s just the way he plays. He has such tremendous athletic ability that he makes everything look easy.

Also, why risk pulling a hammy running hard on a routine grounder? It’s fucking dumb.