Robinson Cano? Yankee Beat reporter Bryan Hoch answers Yankees fans’ questions in the latest edition of Yankees Inbox and kicks around a topic that deserves further examination. He writes:
I remember hearing two particular stats about Robinson Cano — he didn’t hit particularly well with runners in scoring position last season, but he also had a tremendously high average when he led off an inning. I know he’s not the swiftest baserunner around, but is there any chance of seeing him hit at the top of the lineup?
– Kevin D., Eldersburg, Md.
I can remember Joe Torre crossing his legs in the dugout at the old Stadium, sipping his green tea and remarking how Cano could one day be near the top of the Yankees lineup, likening him to a young Rod Carew. It seems like the Yankees have been projecting Cano in that mold for years, and their willingness to go ahead and buy early on his $30 million contract reflects that.
I don’t know if he’s an ideal fit as a leadoff hitter (though Torre actually did try him there twice in 2007), but it definitely makes sense to consider moving him up in the lineup. I would be curious to see how he would respond to hitting fifth this year.
Let’s dig into this a bit deeper, because on the surface it intrigues me. The fan who wrote the letter is obviously referring to the Steve Goldman post over at Pinstripe Bible that suggested Cano would be a good fit in the 2-hole. Mo has already done a fine job discussing the Goldman piece and examining his problems hitting in the clutch, so I won’t revisit that. But (unlike Mo) I’m still intrigued by Robbie hitting in the 2 spot, thinking it could help him with his approach, which I have long suspected is at the root of Robbie’s troubles with runners in scoring position.
|1st Batter G||2||2||2||1||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||.500||.500||.500||1.000||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||.500||152|
Robbie’s a free swinger, and those kinds of hitters generally don’t like to have their approach compromised in any way. See the ball, hit the ball. Therefore, it would stand to reason that Cano would enjoy success leading off an inning. Obviously, there are no runners on base to force him to alter his swing in any way and no situation to consider. As a free swinger, he can also benefit from a pitcher finding his rhythm and being a bit off early in an innings, whereas a more patient hitter would let a pitcher throw enough pitches to find his groove. Pitchers will tell you certain pitches will come and go over the course of a game, and sometimes it can take a batter or two to see what’s working. Robbie will jump all over any early mistake, to his benefit.
Another interesting set of numbers with Robbie is how many Outs there are. MLB hitters will often change their approach depending on how many outs there are in an inning. With no outs, you can be aggressive. With 2 outs, you cut down on your swing. Here’s how Robbie performs in those situations:
Robbie appears to performs best when his mind is clear. With nobody out, he can be relaxed and simply look to drive the ball somewhere, anywhere. But if he becomes at all defensive in his approach, his results begin to suffer. I’ve never thought Robbie’s clutch issues had anything to do with him ‘choking’ in any way, rather that he tries to hit situationally and swings less aggressively as a result. Robbies all about BABIP. His contact rates have always been excessively high, among the very best in Baseball, so it’s more about the quality of contact than the quantity, since he makes contact in droves. When he makes hard contact, he gets results. When he doesn’t, he makes more outs. Free swingers like Robbie are typically ideal 5-hole hitters, except Robbie’s problems in the clutch preclude him from that, at least until he proves otherwise. Don’t think that opposing pitchers aren’t aware of his troubles in clutch spots or the type of hitter he is. Pitchers aren’t stupid, they will throw him less strikes in those situations, knowing that he’s going to eventually swing. Pitches out of the zone are ones which he will make poor contact on, and poor results follow. Until he learns to turn what pitchers are doing to him to his advantage, or simply take his walks, they will continue to do so.
I wouldn’t supplant Nick Johnson as the #2 hitter in favor of Cano. 2-hole hitters are expected to swing the bat a bit more than leadoff hitters, but at the top of a lineup OBP is still king. Nick Johnson trumps Cano handily in that department. Neither Johnson or Cano has much in the speed department. But if Johnson was to get hurt, which as we all know will never ever happen, then Cano would be a candidate to replace Nick on a short term basis. But I suspect Girardi would prefer the speedy Curtis Granderson (.367 Career OBP vs Righties) if they’re facing a Righthander that day.
But I would like to get a look at Robbie in the 2-spot at some point and just see how he responds in that role. A 2-3 week experiment while someone else is on the DL. He may find it easier to draw more walks than it is perform situational hitting. If Robbie one day proves he can hit with men on base, he’ll eventually be our #5 hitter and that’s where everyone hopes he will land. But if he shows that he can draw more walks, then he’s a candidate for the 2-spot. Until he does one or the other, he’ll hit 6th or 7th and that’s where he belongs at this point of his career.
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