Smoke and mirrors: Robinson Cano

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Things didn’t really break the way Cano and his owners hoped in 2008. Will 2009 be better? (Icon/SMI)

At this time last year, Robinson Cano was being discussed as a top-five second baseman and was being selected in the fourth round of traditional mixed-league drafts, sometimes even earlier. After all, how can you go wrong with a .300+, 20 home run hitter batting in the most potent lineup in baseball, entering the prime of his career, at a scarce position? Well, here’s how:

+------+-----+---------+-----+-------+----+-----+----+----+
| YEAR | AGE | TEAM    | AB  | BA    | HR | RBI | R  | SB |
+------+-----+---------+-----+-------+----+-----+----+----+
| 2008 |  25 | Yankees | 597 | 0.271 | 14 |  72 | 70 |  2 |
+------+-----+---------+-----+-------+----+-----+----+----+

A very disappointing season, to say the least. So what happened? Were we overrating Cano to begin with? Is this a legitimate step back? Or was it bad luck? Let’s take a look.

Power

If you’re new to THT Fantasy Focus and are unfamiliar with True Home Runs (tHR) or any of the other stats I’m using, check out our quick reference guide. These stats provide a much clearer picture of a player’s talent, so it’s well worth taking a couple of minutes to learn them.

+------+-----+---------+-----+----+-----+-------+--------+--------+-----+--------+
| YEAR | AGE | TEAM    | AB  | HR | tHR | HR/FB | tHR/FB | nHR/FB | RAW | OF FB% |
+------+-----+---------+-----+----+-----+-------+--------+--------+-----+--------+
| 2006 |  23 | Yankees | 482 | 15 |  19 |    14 |     18 |     16 | 6.6 |     25 |
| 2007 |  24 | Yankees | 617 | 19 |  21 |    12 |     13 |     13 | 1.9 |     29 |
| 2008 |  25 | Yankees | 597 | 14 |  24 |     9 |     15 |     15 | 0.6 |     31 |
+------+-----+---------+-----+----+-----+-------+--------+--------+-----+--------+

While Cano’s HR/FB is on a three-year decline and fell into the single-digits in 2008, this decline looks mostly like bad luck. His tHR/FB was strong this year at 15 percent, right around his three-year average and above his 2007 level.

In addition, his outfield fly rate seems to have established a new level of about 30 percent or so, up from 26 and 25 percent in 2005 and 2006, respectively. Put this all together—and the fact that he’ll be a year closer to his prime at 26 years old—and Cano looks like a threat to hit 25 home runs in 2009.

We need to be aware that he won’t be playing in the same stadium in 2009, but as we’ve discussed before, the only real concern is the wind.

Contact

+------+-----+---------+-----+-------+-------+-----+-------+--------+-----+--------+---------+
| YEAR | AGE | TEAM    | AB  | BA    | tBA   | CT% | BABIP | mBABIP | LD% | BIP/HR | BIP/tHR |
+------+-----+---------+-----+-------+-------+-----+-------+--------+-----+--------+---------+
| 2006 |  23 | Yankees | 482 | 0.342 | 0.336 |  89 | 0.363 |  0.346 |  20 |     29 |      23 |
| 2007 |  24 | Yankees | 617 | 0.306 | 0.318 |  86 | 0.331 |  0.342 |  17 |     28 |      25 |
| 2008 |  25 | Yankees | 597 | 0.271 | 0.315 |  89 | 0.286 |  0.317 |  19 |     38 |      22 |
+------+-----+---------+-----+-------+-------+-----+-------+--------+-----+--------+---------+

While Cano hit .271 this year, his True Batting Average has been quite stable and was a very healthy .315. His low average this year was a combination of a lower-than-normal BABIP and the aformentioned decreased power.

We’ve already discussed the power, and Marcels projects his BABIP at .317 (0.031 above his 2008 BABIP). Bill James comes in at .313 and CHONE at .318. Peter Bendix and Chris Dutton’s system is slightly less optimistic at .301 but still well ahead of Cano’s 2008 figure. If he ends up that low again, I will be quite surprised.

It’s also worth noting that his contact rate fell three points in 2007 but bounced back in 2008. Let’s also take a quick look at his plate discipline numbers to see if we can find an explanation:

+------+-----+---------+-----+-----+------------+------+-------------+----------+
| YEAR | AGE | TEAM    | AB  | CT% | JUDGMENT X | A/P  | BAT CONTROL | BAD BALL |
+------+-----+---------+-----+-----+------------+------+-------------+----------+
| 2005 |  22 | Yankees | 522 |  87 |        103 | 0.32 |          95 |       61 |
| 2006 |  23 | Yankees | 482 |  89 |        103 | 0.47 |          95 |       63 |
| 2007 |  24 | Yankees | 617 |  86 |        101 | 0.44 |          95 |       69 |
| 2008 |  25 | Yankees | 597 |  89 |        116 | 0.31 |          94 |       75 |
+------+-----+---------+-----+-----+------------+------+-------------+----------+

From 2005 to 2008, Cano’s numbers look pretty stable, and he seemed to establish a contact rate of around 88 percent. 2007 looks like a bit of an outlier, and we actually see his numbers jump in 2008. His Judgment increased by 15 points and his Bad Ball Hitting increased by six points. I can’t say for certain that his contact rate should have been higher than 89 percent, but it certainly looks like there could be some upside in 2009.

Overall, a batting average over .310 should be expected, with plenty of room for growth.

RBI and runs

Cano has batted mostly 6th, 7th, and 8th over the past few years, but he still managed 97 RBIs and 93 runs in 2007. In 2008, those numbers dropped because of his decreased power output and his 0.048 point OBP drop (most of which can be attributed to his batting average drop, though he did walk a little less). When those bounce back in 2009, I’d expect Cano to go maybe 85/85. If he’s really lucky, he’ll move into the second spot in the order at some point in the year and go 100/100, though I’m not sure how likely that is.

Market value

We’re starting to get a little more to look at, and for Cano, they all seem to be saying the same thing, so I’m just about ready to stop including the usual disclaimer about small-ish sample sizes and year-end data. That being said, here’s what Cano’s market value is shaping up as:

CBS Sportsline Expert Draft No. 1: 8th 2B (76th Overall/R7)
CBS Sportsline Mock Draft No. 1: 8th 2B (83rd Overall/R7)
Mock Draft No. 1: 8th 2B (93rd Overall/R8)
CBS Sportsline Expert Draft No. 2: 8th 2B (96th Overall/R8)
CBS Sportsline: 8th 2B (97th Overall)
FOX Sports: 8th 2B
Rotoworld Expert Mock Draft: 9th 2B (87th Overall/R8 — I selected him)
ProTrade Value: 14th 2B

The consensus seems to be that Cano is the eighth second baseman that should be taken in 2009, and he might have fallen even farther in the Rotoworld draft had I not selected him. I completely disagree with this assessment and think Cano makes for a great value in the eighth round. If you agree with my evaluation of him, I’d wait until the beginning of round seven and then pull the trigger.

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Concluding thoughts

All-in-all, I think Cano should be good for a line of .310/20/80/80/5 at the very least. A line like that would make Cano worthy of a fifth round pick, and he could be worthy of a third or fourth rounder if he puts up a line closer to .320/25/85/85/5. Either way, Cano is a guy I figure I’ll own in a lot of leagues this year, selecting him in the seventh round (or the sixth if my seventh-round pick doesn’t come until the end of the round).

Smoke and mirrors? Absolutely.


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Brad
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Brad

Great Stuff as usual Derek,
I have been looking for a database of some of these stats (True Homeruns), but have not been able to find them. Where do you get these stats from?

alskor
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alskor
“We’ve already discussed the power, and Marcels projects his BABIP at .317” Marcel projects that because its a simple mathematical projection based on previous years – in this case, Cano’s crazy lucky BABIPs. “While Cano’s HR/FB is on a three-year decline and fell into the single-digits in 2008, this decline looks mostly like bad luck. His tHR/FB was strong this year at 15 percent, right around his three-year average and above his 2007 level. In addition, his outfield fly rate seems to have established a new level of about 30 percent or so, up from 26 and 25 percent in… Read more »
Russell
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Russell

Interesting.  Good to see Cano will be picking it up above .300.

Derek Carty
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Derek Carty
Thanks, Brad.  tHR is a stat I created myself, so that’s why you haven’t been able to find them anywhere.  Nowhere else uses them.  I may put out a database in the future. alksor, Let me see if I can explain my view a little further and address your points. In regard to this comment: “I dont see how that data led you to that conclusion.”  Why not?  Give Cano 600 at-bats, a 12% K%, 30% OF%, 15% HR/FB and you get 24 HRs.  What about the data suggests he can’t post any of those numbers? You’re absolutely right that… Read more »
alskor
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alskor
Thank you for your timely response. -W/regards to the fantasy team comment, that was just a joke. As I said, Im a regular reader who enjoys your columns. I meant no offense and was merely making an attempt at levity. ——————————————————————————————————— -“Why not?  Give Cano 600 at-bats, a 12% K%, 30% OF%, 15% HR/FB and you get 24 HRs.  What about the data suggests he can’t post any of those numbers?” Fangraphs has Cano’s career HR/FB% as 10.4%. It has his career high as 12.3%. They have him at 7.9% this year – and just looking at their numbers it… Read more »
Derek Carty
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Derek Carty
Alright, lots going on here, so I’ll address them by section: 1) FanGraphs uses HR/All FB.  I’m using HR/OF FB.  Since an IF FB has no chance of going for a homer and is more of a mistake, it seems counterintuitive to count it as a fly ball in either FB% or HR/FB. Regardless, I’m really not “bumping him up.”  His tHR/FB has been 18%, 13%, and 15% over the past three years.  15% in 2009 is really not a stretch, I don’t think. ————————————————————————————————————————————————— 2) As you said, a difference over the input.  Those include IF FB. ————————————————————————————————————————————————— 3)… Read more »
Beanster
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Beanster
Very interesting – thanks.  If you consider Cano’s miserable April last year (.446 OPS!) then Derek’s projections are not much of a stretch.  Cano made some technical adjustments at the break with help from his Dad and his post-ASB OPS was .815 compared to .643 before.  Keep in mind that Robbie starts out horrendously every year – career OPS of .612 in April and .699 in May – but here’s hoping playing in the WBC with his buddy Melky on the DR team will help! CBS Sports has him ranked 137th – I’ve picked him up dirt cheap in May… Read more »
Beanster
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Beanster
One more thought – so assuming the CBS ranking is reasonable and you can draft Cano at 137, even if you have a big dropoff from Pedroia and Kinsler particularly in steals, you get this potentially bigger benefit in return: instead of taking, say, Yovani Gallardo or Brett Myers in that spot (they’re ranked immediately ahead of Cano) you can instead use your newly available Top 30 pick on Brandon Webb, Roy Halladay, Jake Peavy or Cole Hamels who are all ranked lower than Pedroia or Kinsler. So I don’t need Cano to be that good – just better than… Read more »
Brad
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Brad

Good Lord, that is one thorough comment

Beanster
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Beanster
Cano was probably a 4th round pick last year and completely overrated in the draft, but he was not bad after April.  Here are post-ASB stats (BA/OPS/HR/SB) for 3 players: Player A: .307/.815/8/1 Player B: .292/.855/8/4 Player C: .258/.717/4/3 A was Cano.  He was very close to B, Chase Utley and way ahead of C, Ian Kinsler even before he went down for the season. I’ve won my league with Cano (for at least 2/3 of the season) 3 years running and would have no problem taking him this year after the 10th round.  Knowing he starts slow is actually… Read more »
Derek Carty
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Derek Carty
Seattle Zen, I’m not sure where such pessimism is coming from.  Sure “Bad attitude, poor work ethic, partying” is a concern, but that’s far… far… from a “sure certainty that he will stink up the joint.”  At most it means we decrease his expected output by maybe 10 or 15 percent, at most. I thought I addressed alksor’s points pretty thoroughly, but if your (or anyone else, really, for that matter) still disagrees, I’m more than willing to hear the other side of the argument. As to your point about putting up “such terrible stats for months at a time,”… Read more »
Adam
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Adam
The analysis is very interesting, and obviously with the low BABIP I think a bounceback of some sort can be expected for Cano.  And he may well be undervalued… though not being a roto guy I can’t comment on ADP etc. However, I do side with alskor that expectations may need to be tempered somewhat, particularly with respect to batting average.  With the exception of about three or four guys in baseball I’m very wary when I hear any projections like: “Overall, a batting average over .310 should be expected, with plenty of room for growth.” An “over .310” batting… Read more »
Seattle Zen
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Seattle Zen
Outstanding posts by alskor, I couldn’t agree with him more. Robinson Cano was the most overrated player last pre-season and it was easy to see his awful season coming. Whenever someone can put up such terrible stats for months at a time, they should be avoided completely. His career April stats scream “radioactive”, yet New York market fantasy writers ignore it, asking, “other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?” Bad attitude, poor work ethic, partying… the sure certainty that he will stink up the joint in the early months, what is there to like? I think the CBS… Read more »
Seattle Zen
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Seattle Zen
I admit that my post left out statistical analysis as I could not approach the quality of alskor’s post. Perhaps I should have said, “I’m with him”, I simply found his arguments more compelling and persuasive than yours. Here are the points I agree with him rather than you: Cano should not be considered one of the rare players who has a naturally high BABIP, last year’s numbers should be weighed properly, which you weren’t doing. Cano’s inability to be selective at the plate makes it difficult to maintain a high average. Cano can and has stunk for months at… Read more »
Derek Carty
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Derek Carty
Thanks, Seattle Zen. I still have to disagree with your main points, though.  “Cano should not be considered one of the rare players who has a naturally high BABIP, last year’s numbers should be weighed properly, which you weren’t doing.”  Well, he’s posted a naturally high BABIP 3 of 4 years in the majors.  Also, I was weighing them properly.  I let Marcels do it for me, and it says he’s a .317 BABIP hitter.  And as I noted, several other projections systems have almost identical figures as well. Also, even if Cano is a slow starter (which I don’t… Read more »
Seattle Zen
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Seattle Zen

I appreciate the polite response. Let’s see how he starts this year, perhaps you’ll agree with me come June.

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