This might be the easiest position to preview. Robinson Cano is the starting second baseman. There’s no backup pushing him for playing time. There are no doubts about whether he can produce or handle the responsibility. There is no wondering of how we will fit on a new team in a new city.
Look at some of the things he did in his first season in Seattle courtesy of the Mariners’ season review notes …
- Season Totals – Started 157 of 162 games in his first season with the Mariners…hit .314 (187×595) with 77 runs scored, 37 doubles, 2 triples, 14 home runs, 82 RBI and a career-high 10 stolen bases.
- .300 Again – Hit over .300 for the 6th consecutive season, tied for the longest active streak in the Majors with Victor Martinez: 2009 – .320, 2010 – .319, 2011 – .302, 2012 – .313, 2013 – .314, 2014 – .314.
- Awards – Mariners nominee for the Hank Aaron Award…also named Mariners BBWAA Most Valuable Player… finalist for Rawlings Gold Glove Award.
- Multi-Hit games – Ranked 4th in the AL (T5th in MLB) with 56 multi-hit games…346 multi-hit games since 2009 season are most in MLB (M. Cabrera – 340).
- Double Vision – Recorded 37 doubles (T7th in AL), his 10th consecutive season with 30 or more doubles…joins Albert Pujols as only players in MLB history to record at least 30 doubles in each of first 10 seasons.
- Mr. Consistent – Recorded at least one hit in 120 of 157 games (76.4%), 3rd-most games with a hit in MLB: J. Altuve (127 of 158) and Michael Brantley (123 of 156).
- AL Rankings – Ranked 6th in hits (187), on-base percentage (.382) and batting average (.314), 4th in multi-hit games (56), T7th in doubles (37).
- HR Data – Hit 14 home runs, with 9 coming with runners on base…hit 8 of 14 home runs over final 68 games (6 in first 89 games).
- GWRBI – Led the team and T11th in AL with 12 game-winning RBI.
- WAR – Listed 6th among American League position players with a 6.4 WAR – Baseball-Reference.com.
- RISP-Ranked 5th in the AL batting .339 (38×112) with runners in scoring position…hit.364 (16×44) withRISP/2 outs and .500 (4×8, 9 RBI) with bases loaded.
- On Base Streak – Reached base safely (via H or BB) in career-high 31 consecutive games (27 via hit), April 20-May 24, 3rd-longest by an AL player in 2014…batted .368 (45×121) with 18 R, 9 2B, HR, 20 RBI during streak.
- Hitting Streaks – Pair of 10-game hitting streaks: June 2-12 (.368/14×38, 6 R, 3 2B, HR, 4 RBI) and July 29-Aug. 8 (.412/14×34, 5 R, 3 2B, 2 HR, 6 RBI.
- Mariners Wins – Started 85 of 87 team wins, batting .344 (110×320) in those games…in losses hit .280 (77×275).
- Can’t Keep Him Down – Missed 4 games (May 29-June 1) with a left hand contusion…first time since 2006 to not start in four consecutive team games…T12th in AL appearing in 157 games…since 2007 appeared in 1,277 of 1,296 (98%) of team games (missed 19 games in last 8 seasons).
Sure, some people wished he would have hit a few more home runs. Cano wishes he would have hit more home runs as well. But he simply wasn’t going to try to force them. That’s not the hitter he is. He has never considered himself a home-run hitter, and he is smart enough to know it is counterproductive to try to become one.
From a personal standpoint, I knew Cano was good. I’d admired his talent and production each time the Mariners would travel to Yankee Stadium or when the Yankees would visit Safeco Field. But seeing him for six games a season doesn’t give you a true appreciation as to how great of a player he is and how much he contributes. But after covering him for an entire season, I now understand how great of a player he is and how much he does to help a team win. When you watch him on a daily basis, you see the little things he does that makes him one of the best. His discipline to his approach and day-to-day preparation were outstanding. Hitting is something that he studies and hones. From a defensive standpoint, he makes a ton of absurd plays that shouldn’t be made. He also makes even more plays look really simple, ones an average second baseman would struggle to make.
As for clubhouse leadership, he was fantastic. Some baseball analysts and media members wondered if he could handle that role after stepping out of Derek Jeter’s immense shadow. Cano put aside those doubters by stepping into a new clubhouse and taking charge of it. He held players accountable, understood when he needed to say something to teammates or the media, offered advice and pushed for preparation and did more things that we didn’t get to see.
When it comes to this much-debated concept of leadership, I don’t think it’s quite as critical to a team’s success as some people who like to romanticize its importance. But I also don’t agree with people who say it has no meaning to a team whatsoever. There is a need for some level of leadership, particularly on a team with young players.
Regardless of its overall effect, Cano provided it. He was total professional at all times. He also meshed well with the team’s other leader – Felix Hernandez. Those two provided a serious leadership presence in the clubhouse, particularly for some of the younger players such as Roenis Elias, Yoervis Medina, Chris Taylor and others. To be fair, this Mariners team is pretty manageable. It’s a good clubhouse. There wasn’t a dire need for someone to step and take control, but in the weird world of baseball politics, it’s a role Cano needed to fill as the team’s highest-paid player. And he did that.
I think his presence will be even larger in his second season as he takes more ownership over the team. And with the Mariners playing with lofty expectations from the first day of spring, having someone such as Cano, who has dealt with such pressures on a yearly basis, will be even more vital.
So what more can Cano do this season?
Well on the field, the cry for more power and extra-base hits won’t dissipate. They certainly don’t define him as a hitter, but the Mariners are a team that could use a little more pop from him.
The addition of Nelson Cruz to the lineup and his presence at the cleanup spot should be beneficial to Cano. I’ve never been a huge subscriber to the idea of hitter protection. There isn’t really any conclusive data that shows its merits. Cano still is the best hitter in the lineup regardless of who is hitting behind him, and pitchers know that. But it can’t hurt having Cruz and Seager at the Nos. 4 and 5 spots. Cano did finish with 20 intentional walks last season. Perhaps having Cruz and Seager behind him will lower that number.
But don’t expect Cano to become a pull-happy hitter aiming for the fences. He won’t do that. And he shouldn’t. He understands how pitchers try to pitch to him and tries to make that adjustment during each at-bat. It’s something that not many hitters can do with his level of success.
Here he sits on a change-up and yanks it to right …
Here he goes with a pitch away and drives it to left …
Safeco Field wasn’t quite the hindrance that some expected. Cano actually hit well in Safeco Field.
From Fangraphs …
Here’s his STEAMER projections for this season …
Here’s Cano’s ZIPS projections …
But these are just projections.
I do think Cano will be better in some ways than some of these numbers.
From a health standpoint, the Mariners asked Cano to trim about 10 pounds off his frame this offseason. The hope is that will help keep his legs healthier. Not sure if his broken toe, suffered in Japan, hindered that goal. But if he comes in a little lighter that should be a benefit him on the basepaths and in the field.
Cano was durable after a thumb issue kept him out for four games early in the season. Manager Lloyd McClendon will continue to use the DH spot to give Cano “off” days.
If he stays healthy, I think Cano has a slash line of around .304/.365/.499 and reaches that 20-homer plateau. That’s from the DIV projection system, which uses no statistical models or simulations.
Feel free to share your estimates.
Well, Cano is locked up for 10 years, so he is the future at second base. Eventually, he might become more of a DH type, but if he maintains his conditioning and commitment in the offseason, that won’t happen in the next four or five seasons.
If and when Cano does get a day off from the field this season, the Mariners will go to their utility player to handle the duties. Willie Bloomquist can handle second base, and Brad Miller and Chris Taylor can player there. Down the road, there are some scouts who have said shortstop Ketel Marte projects more as a second baseman. But that might not matter.