Friday, February 23, 2007

Not Gone Yet! How Good is Cano?

It'll be a few more days before I transfer over to Pending Pinstripes at MVN, at which time I will no longer be able to write about the MLB Yankees to any great length, so I'd like to take a look at Robinson Cano. Depending on how much time I spend, I am considering keeping a second blog going for my Major League opinions (or I'll just stick to the message boards).

I was complaining about Cano's plate discipline at the begining of last season. He just wasn't selecting pitches to drive. He would hit a lot of singles off balls way outside, and a few nasty breaking pitches, but he didn't really generate any power. Something changed early-June, and I think Don Mattingly deserves a lot of credit. Cano began laying off those first pitch balls in the dirt, and stopped getting himself in to bad counts. He hit .398 that month, but still wasn't driving the ball for lots and lots of extra base hits. I went away to the woods (I ain't around during the summer) expecting it to be an abberation.

Then Cano gets injured. He must have spent some time working with Mattingly on something, because all of the sudden he started to rip the ball. He hit 11 home runs and 24 doubles over his final 54 games following his injury. That's equal to a 30+ HR and 70+ doubles over a full season! Cano raked. He slugged .615 after the all star break. There is a strong argument to be made that he was the best player in baseball after he returned.

Do I think that Cano is that good? Hell no. But I do think that, if properly coached, Cano has the potential to become an absolute monster at the plate. I was very skeptical last season, but after watching those final two months, holy crap I was impressed. Kevin Long is a very good hitting coach who probably deserves credit for Cano's success in the minor leagues. Between him and Mattingly, I want to see if they can keep Cano selective at the plate. I don't expect him to start taking walks or anything - it's against his natural style - but I do want to see him take pitches in the dirt.

I think that we need to remember a few very positive things about Cano. First off, he is incredibly young. He turned 24 at the end of last season, and could have 2-3 years of improvement ahead of him. Second, he's done things that precious few young hitters have done. SG at RLYW did an excellent analysis of this, putting Cano on a list with guys like Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Don Mattingly, Vlad Guerrero, Al Kaline, Joe Mauer, Gary Sheffield, George Brett, and Miguel Cabrera. Bad hitters don't hit .340 at age 23.

I would not be at all shocked to see Cano dominate the AL next year. I could see a .330/.360/.550 line out of him without exceeding my reasonable expectations. I could also see 30 home runs out of him without shocking me. At the same time, Cano's "swing away Merril" approach could lead to massive regression and variance in his performance. Some years he may dominate, while some he may bat .290/.320/.430 (which is still better than an average 2b). We'll have to see what Cano does with his bad habits.

What do the projection systems say?

CHONE: .312/.349/.488, 17 HR in 522 AB
Marcel: .321/.364 /.497, 15 HR in 509 AB
PECOTA: Averaged In (using the RLYW technique, thanks SG!)
ZiPs: .315/.343/.493, 18 HR in 568 AB
Average: .313/.350/.485

I am going to deviate from the projection systems here. They all seem to believe that Cano's ability to hit for high average is going to stay, but the power won't be anything too special. Maybe it's my Yankee-blinders, but I think that Mattingly and Long will find a way to keep most of Cano's late-season power surge in 2007. I think that Cano will suffer from an inevitable drop in batting average, but will hit for more extra bases. All of those projection systems assume Cano missing 10-20 games, mostly because he landed on the DL in 2006 and spent April in the minors in 2005. Projected over 155 or so games, those systems almost all predict 20 home runs on the nose. I'm not projecting a huge increase in Cano's power over them.

My prediction? .320/.350/.530, 25 home runs. In the Boston vs Yankee showdown, Cano may provide us with the best competitive edge over our rival.

We might just get one more "How Good is This guy?" post in this weekend. For once, I'm not doing anything important. How does Bobby Abreu sound?