Now that the calendar is threatening us with mid-September, the football men are back at it again, and the mornings have me looking around for my where I left my slippers back in May, we can begin to form some pretty solid opinions on the 2016 baseball season. Hot and cold streaks have been allowed to play out, sample sizes have grown, and we can make a few statements. Please note that "statements" are different than "conclusions". Conclusions are very scary things to attempt to arrive at, and I am not comfortable drawing them. That caveat aside, I can comfortably say that Robinson Cano has been every bit the elite second baseman the Mariners are paying through the nose for.
I don’t want to throw out the first three months of 2015. Those happened. Worse yet, they will happen again, and when they do it’s possible they will stick around for years and years. However, for the purposes of this post, I’m going to go ahead and throw them out. Why, you ask? Because this is my post, and I can cherry pick if I want to cherrrrrrry pick if I want to. Also because the further away from that horrid, Andy Van Slyke-infuriating stretch, the more it looks as though it was a true outlier.
Here are Robinson Cano’s monthly wRC+ splits as a Seattle Mariner, minus the first half of 2015:
That is, um, quite good. Looking at the splits monthly, 83% of his time in Seattle Robinson Cano has been precisely the elite level offensive producer he was brought here to be.
Beyond his time in Seattle, 2016 stands out as, at minimum, one of Cano’s three best offensive seasons in baseball. With two more home runs this month he will set a career high in home runs, which includes many years with the favorable porch of old and new Yankee Stadium at his behest.
Cano has done it this year largely by reversing a concerning two year rise in ground ball percentage in Seattle. Whereas 2014 and 2015 were at 52.6% and 50.5%, respectively, this year Cano has cut his groundballs down to 45.9%. The loss in groundballs has shown up almost exclusively in fly balls, which are up more than 10% from 2015. Hence, the dingers.
At first glance, it looks like a classic, "aging player selling out for power" kind of approach and, as you can see below, most of 2016’s dingers have indeed been yanked to right field:
(Thanks to Baseball Savant)
More interestingly perhaps, and as a credit to Cano's still elite bat control, is that the majority of his home runs were hit on pitches below 85 MPH. Again, to the chart!
Cano's ability to stay back long enough to serve fastballs up the middle or the other way, while maintaining the strength and bat speed to turn on a mistake pitch, is a huge component in what makes him one of his generation's best hitters. Through the uptick in power, and the drop in walks, and the extremely noticeable lack of footspeed, Cano is still batting .305.
I mentioned earlier in this post the terrifying first half of 2015, in which Cano ran an 83 wRC+, and looked to be dooming us to nine seasons of expensive misery. As this post has moved on I've grown more and more comfortable with that inevitably bad version of Robinson Cano being further away than we may realize. Yes, baseball players can decline, and quickly in their mid 30's. Yes, Cano's legs appear to getting closer and closer to necessitating the 1B/DH conversion we all knew was coming anyway. But the bat? The bat has been everything the Mariners could have wanted.
Robinson Cano is a truly elite hitter, one of the very best in baseball. He's not young, he's not Jose Altuve, and he's not going to get better. But he's ours, and most likely for quite some time yet. There's a very good chance we've got a few years still where that is a very, very good thing.