A long, long time ago, when the Seattle Mariner's playoff odds were a lowly 37%, I wrote a piece about Robinson Cano being an MVP candidate in 2016. The season hadn't even started yet. We all know what has happened since. So let's start with a line you maybe haven't seen yet.
That's, uhh, a pretty solid line, shall we say? That's Robinson Cano since July 1st of last season. It's about 170ish PA's short of a full season from him and there's some interesting stuff to think about. Obviously, the 29 bombs in 500 PA's sticks out. That's a full season pace that would, assuming he throws up around 670 PA's in a given year, see him hitting about 39 bombs. That's well above his career high of 33 in 2012. It's a decent means of checking his temperature of late, maybe even of forecasting just exactly how this year may play out for him. Those are lofty numbers, to be sure.
However, Cano won't win an MVP based on his efforts since July 1st of last season. No, he'll win one based on the merits of his 2016 season, and somehow, that makes him even more qualified than the line above. You've seen it, just like I have, but Robbie has absolutely torn the cover off the ball since April 4th.
It's an outrageous start to the year, and a season that is barely 20% old. Twelve home runs puts Robbie atop the AL in dingers, only second to Nolan Arenando's thirteen in all of Baseball. The home run pace is incredible, played out over an entire season, assuming he somehow kept this pace, Robbie would have over fifty blasts. It's unlikely, given his track record, but it also isn't an unheard of feat. Since 2000, the AL leader in home runs to end the year has had over fifty home runs six times. Three of those six were actually by former Mariner and former teammate of Robbie, Alex Rodriguez.
In my previous post for Robbie to win the MVP, I said he'd need something like 32 dingers to get the attention of voters. He's well on pace for that, maybe even moreso, if he can keep up his current pace at a decent rate. Currently, Robbie would only need twenty homers over his final ~520 PA's to get there. I have no qualms thinking he may leave the yard closer to forty times. So how is Robbie leaving the yard so much more often than before? Well, he's actually dropped both his line drive and ground ball rates, while increasing his fly ball rate by 11%. Currently, 41% of Cano's contact is in the air, his average launch angle has, in turn, increased.
Sticking to the offensive side of the ball, there's considerable room for argument that Cano's offensive numbers may even improve over their current lofty heights. As we speak, he has a BABIP of .286. Sure, there is some suppression here due to the larger number of home runs, but Robbie's career BABIP mark is .322. What if the fly ball rate holds at the current mark, and the line drive rate rises to his career norm while the ground ball percentage stays low? It's not out of the question for Robbie to evolve, even past the age of 30. He's had no issue openly praising Edgar for working with him and opening the field for Robbie. The power isn't just pull-side, it's opposite power alley. You could count on one hand how many hitters are currently in the game that possess Cano's combination of hit tool and power, and the power is experiencing a renaissance pretty much unseen in his career. It isn't outrageous to believe this may be his next step.
I'll continue with this tidbit regarding Robbie's hit tool. This season, his contact on pitches outside the strike zone is actually down. What's more, he's swinging at balls outside the zone more often. Both margins are extremely slight, but there's reason to believe, with his contact down in equal measure (and we're talking percentage points here, folks) that with a return to his career norm in plate discipline, that Robbie could improve his batting line even still. To his credit, he's swinging less. We've all seen him fully rest his bat on his shoulder, watching a pitcher and not the pitch, familiarizing himself with a release point. Something very intentional is going on here.
On the other side of the ball, Cano is experiencing a bit of a rejuvenation flashing the leather. It's something that's been patently obvious from this year to last, but Robbie's range seems to have returned since coming back from hernia surgery. For what it's worth, UZR/150 agrees. According to the fielding metric, Robbie is having his best year in the field since 2013, I think we can all agree it shows. The insane level of defensive shifting that Scott Servais and Company have decided to employ is only helping Cano look better in the field, too. So far, his fielding percentage of .993 is above his career average of .987. It's not much a defensive metric, but MVP voters care about it, and we can't control that. What's certain is that Cano's making plays.
What's more, finishing up on his defense, is that Cano has effortless style. His fielding is made for Top 10 lists and highlight reels. Silky smooth with a cannon arm, plays like this one keep him in front of the national audience even on a night he somehow failed to hit a bomb.
However, Cano's season hasn't happened in a vacuum. As I wrote about in my first piece on Cano winning the MVP, he'll have to rely on the AL talent pool having something of an off year (I'm looking at you Mike Trout) in order to win the hardware. It won't hurt Robbie at all that he's currently out-bashing Trout and that the Angels are apparently not only a sinking ship but also that ship is on fire and the mast just got cut down by cannon-fire and holy shit there's a Kraken, too. The award likes contenders, which means you can throw Jose Altuve aside, too. Cano will have to survive the AL East barrage of Machado, Donaldson, and Bogaerts who currently outpace him by fWAR, but he's more than capable. Lucky enough for Robbie, he has the Yankee pedigree without the stench and the acid rain. National media loves the guy. This stuff matters.
As of this moment, 34 games into the 2016 season, Robinson Cano already has an estimated value of $14.2M. With the dingers, the slick defense, and arguably, more offense to come, he's in pole position to be at the top of the MVP ballot, but he has one more thing going in his favor. He, like Jimmy Rollins when he grabbed the MVP, is leading a resurgent playoff team searching for its first birth in over a decade. As of this morning, Baseball Prospectus gives the Mariners the highest odds of reaching the playoffs of any team in the AL. Don't lose sight of how important Robinson Cano being the face of the AL West Champion Seattle Mariners will be to voters. Also, don't lose sight of how important it will be to you. This is all about love and baseball. Robinson Cano is winning the AL MVP. Enjoy yourselves.