Any self-respecting baseball blogger will tell you never to trust, or care much, about Spring Training statistics. So, when Robinson Cano hits four home runs in two Spring Training games, and has hit more home runs in two weeks than he did for the entire first half of 2015, there's not much to get excited about. Unless you're me.
Robinson Cano is going to win the 2016 AL MVP and this is how.
Let's start with the above line. With what we know. The above 360 PA's represent July 1st through October 4th of Robinson Cano's 2015. It took awhile to appreciate what was going on because the opening half was sort of bleak. However, what you see there is Robinson Cano just simply being Robinson Cano. He can catch fire for months at a time. He can ride waves of production that last an entire year. You don't become a 24 million dollar man for nothin'. Stares blankly at Albert Pujols' remaining contract. I laughed. Did you?
Anyway, Robbie's second-half of 2015 comes with a few caveats. Of course there is likely a chorus of people standing outside my office chanting "SMALL-SAMPLE-SIZE" in a way that poorly fits a beat but still hits home. I get it, 360 PA's is not an amount that allows us to simply say, "This is who Robinson Cano is now." Running a .350 BABIP for an entire year would be...wait. Seventeen players did it just last year, all with over 500 PA's. It isn't that crazy. Some of those players were named Nelson Cruz, Mike Trout, and Bryce Harper. Others were named Christian Yelich and DJ LeMahieu. Hell, Austin Jackson ran a .342 BABIP in 527 PA's last year. That guy used a noodle for a bat last year. It isn't impossible. Look, here's the full chart you scallywags. Robinson Cano's career BABIP? .323.
What's more is that his second half of last season isn't that far off his career norms. His walk rate is higher by 1% than his normal, the K rate was also higher by 2%. His career batting average of .307 was dragged down a bit by last years full-season .287, but we all know that bat plays in any park, at any time. What's more is that we now get data like this to play with:
2015 MLB hard-hit rate leaderboard ... plenty of surprises, check it out pic.twitter.com/7n0ZXEjJ9I— Mark Simon (@msimonespn) October 6, 2015
Hard hit ball data shows Robbie as one of the top hitters in generating hard contact in the entire league. While we're yet to fully digest this data, it follows that the harder the contact you are generating, the more likely you are to find some spare grass/dirt and get on base. With his combination of hard-hitting and contact generation, Robinson Cano is still one of the elite bats in baseball, just ask anyone who faced him last July-October.
Let's move on to what an MVP season would look like from Cano by showing you the following three seasons by two different players. One of these seasons won an MVP:
I'm giving you three more seconds to guess. You lose. As usual. It's the middle season, also known as Jimmy Rollins in 2007. The year he won an NL MVP at SS for the Phillies. Surrounding that MVP season is Robinson Cano's 2012 7.6WAR season and 2010's 6.3.
Rollins' 2007 is a good representation for the path Robbie would have to walk to win the AL MVP for a few reasons. The first is that Rollins is/was a middle infielder. Of course, he has the "advantage" of playing the premium position at short, but second is a premium position, too. As Dustin Pedroia proved in 2008, you can win an MVP there. Rollins was on a Phillies team that mashed its way to the playoffs for the first time in fourteen years (sound familiar) and Rollins rode that wave of good vibes and high fives at the forefront of the battery. Of course, Rollins' WAR total looks a little low for an MVP season, but there are always non-numerical considerations. The very best statistical year guarantees nothing when it comes to trophies.
Robinson Cano has a likely chance to find himself in the same shoes as Rollins did in 2007. He figures to have the best-hitting lineup around him since his move to Seattle with bats like Cruz, Seager, and Lind. Even Dae-Ho Lee will present a bat that needs attention. If the OBP guys can find a way on base when Robbie comes to bat, his game becomes even more simple. Imagine him riding a tide like his second half of 2015, but with the caveat that he is fully healthy, and his team is contending and making the playoffs. Bearing in mind that Robinson Cano also continues to wear the shine of a former Yankee, a marque name from the biggest market who left town to homestead in Seattle, the national attention is easy to foresee. Imagine the national storylines if a Robbie-lead squad bashed its way to the playoffs. The headlines would be toothsome and mouthwatering. Impossible to ignore. A season like that would easily put him towards the top of the ballot. It isn't outlandish, it isn't far-fetched, it's following the recent trend of his career.
Like Rollins in 2007, Cano will likely require a confluence of factors in order to find himself at the top, or in the top 3 of balloting when all is said and done. A first playoff appearance since 2001 for his franchise would help, if not be a must, for it to happen. It will also require the league to be void of someone posting a 1.55 ERA or Mike Trout going meteoric. Do I expect Robbie to hit .330 and rip 37 bombs for 2016? No, I don't. But if he could manage 90% of those 360 PA's to end 2015, he's mirroring, if not exceeding that output from Rollins in 2007. He's done it before. He can do it again.
The Seattle Mariners have not had a MVP since Ichiro in 2001. That is all about to change.
Robinson Cano for MVP.