Thursday, November 12, 2009

Robinson Cano versus good pitching...who wins?

After a postseason that saw him hit below .200 with no home runs, I have heard Yankee fans question whether Robinson Cano can hit good pitching. I figured it was high time to crunch some numbers:

Against teams under .500 in 2009, Cano produced the following line:

.339 batting average (101-298), 53 runs, 16 home runs, 50 RBI

Against teams over .500:

.304 batting average (103-339), 50 runs, 9 home runs, 35 RBI

Against playoff teams:

Regular Season: .306 batting average (48-157), 23 runs, 4 home runs, 18 RBI
Playoffs: .193 batting average (11-57), 5 runs, 0 home runs, 6 RBI
Combined: .276 batting average (59-214), 28 runs, 4 home runs, 24 RBI

What do I take from these numbers? Cano hit a home run every 18.6 at-bats against under-.500 clubs, compared to one every 37.7 at-bats against teams over .500. And that ratio dropped to one homer every 53.5 at-bats against playoff teams.

And it isn't just his power and run production that dropped, as Cano saw his average fall closer to .300 against teams above .500 and well below it against playoff teams. His on-base percentage against playoff-caliber pitching staffs? A measly .308.

Now it would be ridiculous to expect a player to hit good pitching equally as well as he hits bad pitching. Isn't that what defines a pitcher as good or bad: the ability to consistently get hitters out?

But if you extrapolate Cano's numbers against playoff teams to a full season's worth of at-bats, and you get a .276 average(.308 OBP), 84 runs, 12 home runs and 72 RBI. Those are okay numbers for a second baseman, but not what you would expect from a hitter of Cano's ability. That on-base percentage is particular ugly and would rank 12th among American League second basemen with over 400 at-bats (14 players), ahead of just Mark Ellis and Jose Lopez.

In comparison, his season numbers were a .325 average(.352 OBP), 103 runs, 25 home runs and 85 RBI. His on-base percentage of .352 was sixth on that same qualifying list of AL second baseman, still just average but more than made up for by his power numbers that were padded against the league's worst.

The one interesting thing about these stats is Cano's regular-season production against playoff teams. His power and run production were still down, but he still hit .306. If he needs to sacrifice the minimal power he does have just to hit .300 against better pitching, then it's hard for me to believe he will improve his power numbers much if at all in the next few years.

Because of those regular-season numbers, I am slightly inclined to give Cano's awful postseason a pass, like I had done since 2005 with Alex Rodriguez. But Cano was just 12-49 with two home runs in three previous playoff appearances, which makes that a more difficult task. At least A-Rod had been productive in the playoffs with Seattle and in his first season with the Yankees.

Cano needs to hit well over .300 year in and year out to be a consistent producer. When he hit .271 last season, he scored just 70 runs and drove in just 72, pedestrian numbers made even worse by the potency of the lineup around him.

Without a batting-title caliber average, Cano is nothing more than an average offensive second baseman. And he hasn't proven he can produce batting-title worthy numbers against good pitching, which will continue to make him a liability in the playoffs.

I wouldn't package him with Phil Hughes and Austin Jackson for Roy Halladay, since Cano will be just 27 at the start of next season and still has room to grow. His potential as a hitter seems to have no limits, but he has to do it against good pitching too. You can't feast on the Orioles (.478 average) and Mariners (.472) come playoff time. And when you get to the playoffs as often as the Yankees do, regular-season numbers don't mean a thing.


  1. Reminds me of Alphonso Soriano, both can't hit good there anyway to look at his numbers against 4th and 5th starters as opposed to 1 and 2 starters?...I would deal Cano, Joba etc. for an ace in a heartbeat, Cano coming off a career year and Joba will never be a dominant starter....sign Orlando Hudson as a short-term replacement at 2b, got Reese coming up from the minors soon enough

  2. Soriano hit a home run in the 9th off Schilling in 2001 to put them ahead in game 7 of the World Series. In 2005 Cano got some big hits against the Angels when everyone with the exception of Jeter was brutal.

  3. Soriano's postseason numbers with the Yanks

    2001 .276 BA .333 OBP .379 SLG
    2002 .118 BA .211 OBP .353 SLG
    2003 .225 BA .267 OBP .296 SLG

    Overall (including two shitty series with the Cubs)

    37 hits, 9 walks in 174 at bats... .213 AVG, .263 OBP
    4 HR, 18 RBI, .299 SLG

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  5. most guys don't put up good playoff numbers its about when they get their hits by the way chris you
    are the man at writing you know your stuff brother

  6. all you guys are really good at covering the sports are the Yankees really talking about trading Phil Hughes?