Robbie Cano knows BOOM!

After a stellar MVP-esque season from the New York Yankees star second baseman, Robinson Cano, I am obligated to reflect upon his monster season and look ahead to what we can expect from him in 2011, being that he’s my boy and all.

To many, 2010 was a coming out party for Robbie Cano. While Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, and Derek Jeter slumped for much of the season, Robbie put the team on his back- especially in the first half- posting a line of .319/.381/.534/.389/145 with a 6.4 fWAR over the span of 160 games and 696 PA. His bWAR was 6.1, giving him an aWAR (average WAR) of 6.3 (after you round up). He set career bests in OBP, SLG, wOBA, wRC+, HR, BB%, and WAR. When award season rolled around, Robbie swept the Gold Glove/Silver Slugger awards, implying he was the best second baseman in baseball this season, and finished third in AL MVP voting. It was quite the season for a kid who not too long ago had a pathetic 0.2 fWAR during a season in which he was benched for a lack of effort.

But was 2010 really a coming out party for Cano? In 2006, his second season in the majors, he posted a 2.9 fWAR in a shortened season, but his WAR/700 was 4.0 on the nose. In 2007 he posted a 4.7 fWAR and in 2009 he had a 4.4 fWAR. So before 2010, he already had great seasons before his 27th birthday. Thus, his 2010 really shouldn’t come as a surprise. He was simply developing. Granted, there was some luck involved, as is always the case when someone has a really good or really bad season. But as he is approaching his theoretical peak years, his true talent level is rising. Which is why with a little fortune on his side, he should have been expected to improve upon his 4-5 WAR seasons.

Moreover, the UZR scale that fangraphs uses hurts him. If one were to look at his bWAR, his career WAR total would jump from 18.7 to 23.9. His WAR totals from 2005-2009 would all increase. In fact, in the three seasons I highlighted in the previous paragraphs, his WAR, in order, would jump to 4.1, 5.6, and 5.1. That’s two near MVP level seasons instead of “simply” great seasons. The reason being defense.

UZR has Cano has a -36.8 fielder over the life of his career. Rally has him as a +31 fielder. I prefer UZR so I put more stock in those numbers, but DSR has him at -3 for his career. They say UZR needs to be paired with your eyes and the last two years, according to the FSR, he has been +13. UZR has him at -3.4 over the past two years and DSR has him at +14. I think it’s safe to say that Robbie has been and is an average-above average fielder, NOT the terrible fielder that UZR thinks he is. So his fWAR actually undermines Robbie’s defensive value, and thus, his overall value. If you to replace UZR with DSR, Robbie’s career WAR would climb from 18.7 to around 22.0. So yeah, Cano is probably even a little better than you would think by looking at his fWAR alone and not analyzing what comprises it. I mean, he has a career 18.7 fWAR which says his defensive value has been -36.8 runs. BUT, 21.5 of those runs are from his rookie season alone, when he was a terrible defender. I’m not saying those defensive runs allowed shouldn’t count, but they greatly skew his current totals, which conceals the fact that Robbie is actually decent fielder now.

That’s enough of a rant for now though. Let’s take a look at how Robbie put together his amazing season. The first thing I want to mention is PLATE DISCIPLINE. While it’s not a high mark, Robbie had a BB% of 8.2%, which was above his career 4.2% BB% entering the season. In fact, of his 186 career BB, 31% are from his 2010 season alone. What’s interesting though is that he didn’t actually seem to improve upon his plate discipline peripherals. His O-Swing% was a career high 36.5% while the rest of his peripherals are in line with his career averages. So this begs the question- what can we expect from Robbie in 2011?

Well, prior to the 2010 season, Robbie mentioned that A-Rod told him to take more “A-swings” in order to really drive the ball. Kevin Long also worked a ton with Robbie doing the “home-run drill” to help him pull the ball and develop, well, home-run power. The result was a career high ISO and SLG. In previous seasons, Robbie would show glimpses of greatness, but was often inconsistent because he would lose focus- whether it be defensively or offensively. That is not to be confused with work ethic. Whenever he slumped, the MSM would claim he was being lazy because of his laid back on-field demeanor. To me though, that’s lazy journalism. Anyone who follows the Yankees knows that, in large part due to Alex Rodriguez and Larry Bowa, Robbie is arguably the hardest working Yankee. He ALWAYS shows up for the optional BP. He gets to the park early, works his butt off in the off-season, and worked on his fielding so much that he went from TERRIBLE to above average with the glove in just a couple seasons.

2010 was the culmination of all his hard work. He finally had a consistent season where he suffered few lapses- defensively and offensively. In past years with the glove, he would go four months without an error and then commit three in a week. That cold stretch never happened this past season. His future success will depend on consistency. Can he keep the focus for another 162 straight games? If so, then we’re looking at an annual MVP candidate who will provide reliable defense and maintain an average BB rate. If not, then we’re looking at a guy who is unpredictable- great defense and hot hitting for weeks or months at a time, but also long stretches of some terrible performance.

Cano’s salary will be $10mil in 2011 and then climb to $14mil in 2012 and $15mil in 2013 if his options are picked up. So he will no longer be a “cheap” player for the Yankees. Considering the rising average age of the team and what that average age will be in 2012-2013, the Yankees need Robinson Cano to maintain his focus and continue to get better. If so, he could emerge as the best player on baseball’s most recognizable team. Hell, he could supplant Chase Utley as the premiere second baseman of baseball. On the other hand, he could become another overpriced good-but-not-great Bronx Bomber.

2011 will be a pivotal year for Robinson Cano if he wants to truly prove his worth. Here’s hoping he goes BOOM.

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