Cano-dling

Robinson Cano is now hitting .407/.444/.790 with eight home runs. It’s as if he has been possessed by the ghost of Rogers Hornsby, albeit a smiling, likeable Rogers Hornsby whose time in the afterworld has taught him that should he receive a second chance it would probably be more fun if he just got on with the hitting and stopped being so mean to everyone. As we discussed in a previous entry, Cano has had hot openings before—last year in fact—before losing the thread. That said this is a whole other flavor of hot. Cano has been more disciplined, and the results have been unworldly, or afterworldly, or any other –ly you’d like to use, and if he maintains his disdain for first pitches and pitcher’s pitches and trans-fat pitches and all the other bad-for-you things that used to cause so many easy pop-ups, his ability to make solid contact could result in some truly amazing batting averages. His current .407 seems unlikely, but an improvement on last season’s .320 seems in reach.

What would Cano have to do to post the best offensive season by a second baseman in Yankees history? Just keep doing what he’s doing is the simple answer—the Rajah never did wear pinstripes. Assuming that Hornsby’s shade will indeed desert him at some point, Cano would have to hit his way past a half-dozen seasons by these pre-integration stars—

YEAR AVG OBP SLG HR R RBI SB TAv WARP
Snuffy Stirnweiss 1944 .319 .389 .460 8 125 43 55 .306 10.3
Snuffy Stirnweiss 1945 .309 .385 .476 10 107 64 33 .296 8.9
Joe Gordon 1939 .284 .370 .506 28 92 111 11 .286 8.1
Joe Gordon 1940 .281 .340 .511 30 112 103 18 .291 7.7
Joe Gordon 1942 .322 .409 .491 18 88 103 12 .323 7.6
Tony Lazzeri 1929 .354 .429 .561 18 101 106 9 .320 7.3

—and these modern second basemen:

YEAR AVG OBP SLG HR R RBI SB TAv WARP
Snuffy Stirnweiss 1944 .319 .389 .460 8 125 43 55 .306 10.3
Snuffy Stirnweiss 1945 .309 .385 .476 10 107 64 33 .296 8.9
Joe Gordon 1939 .284 .370 .506 28 92 111 11 .286 8.1
Joe Gordon 1940 .281 .340 .511 30 112 103 18 .291 7.7
Joe Gordon 1942 .322 .409 .491 18 88 103 12 .323 7.6
Tony Lazzeri 1929 .354 .429 .561 18 101 106 9 .320 7.3

As much as I maintain a sentimental fondness for the old-time Yankees, particularly Flash Gordon, whose place in Cooperstown I lobbied for in these pages many times before he was finally inducted last year, I tend to apply a pretty big discount to stats compiled by players in the all-white, pre-night-ball, pre-relief pitching, pre-slider, pre-conditioning era. They were great players in their time, but the level of competition just can’t match up with today’s. Therefore, Cano is competing with Randolph and Soriano as well as the 2009 version of himself. It’s all going to be in the on-base percentage, something that’s not his forte. If he keeps hitting the way he has, he’s not going to have much choice in the matter.

Let me clarify that: Cano is going to get pitched around, even with Jorge Posada, Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson coming up behind him. If he’s willing to take the walks that come with getting nothing to hit, he will only increase his value. If he starts fishing again, the average will plummet and the fact that we even had this conversation will seem very silly a month from now.

TWO FOR COFFEE JOE
"After all, managing is not so difficult. You just figure out the things of which your players are capable and then try to get them to do those things."— Miller Huggins

Oscar Madison: Listen buddy, if you're going to argue with me, put down that spoon.

Felix Ungar: Spoon? Haha, you dumb ignoramus, that is a ladle! You did not know that's a ladle!

Oscar Madison: Get a hold of yourself, will ya?
—"The Odd Couple," by Neil Simon

The Yankees’ bullpen ranks about midway in the Majors in terms of performance, and as usual, much of that is due to Mariano Rivera’s fine work. The rest is still a work in progress as Girardi tries to figure out which of his pitchers are spoons and which are ladles. It’s easy when CC Sabathia or A.J. Burnett gives you eight innings and the offense puts you up by six or seven, but the rest of the time, things have been complicated.

No doubt the Yankees would claim that losing Chan Ho Park blew a hole in their late-inning plans, but that would be, at best, an act of denial—Park is 37 and his bullpen track record covers just 139 games, the bulk of them compiled over the last two years in which he has a career 3.97 ERA and for most of which he was kept far away from the spotlight. Park might have been a decent bit of depth and might yet prove to be that, but he was unlikely to be the kind of Horatio-at-the-bridge-to-Mariano that, say, Tom Gordon was in the 2004 regular season.

The best choice for the high-leverage jobs right now is probably Joba Chamberlain, and that only because he’s the only reliever who has been, if not good, decent. Him aside, the Yankees are pretty much ladle-free right now, with a mis-configured bullpen that has two mediocre lefties, a pitcher with no role (Sergio Mitre), an established pitcher who only works in losses and blowouts (Alfredo Aceves), and another who boasts a career strikeout rate of about 12 batters per nine innings but can’t get the manager to use him often enough to stay sharp (Dave Robertson, who recently got a seven-day blow between jobs, then worked two-thirds of an inning).

Meanwhile, back at the Scranton ranch, Mark Melancon has a 1.76 ERA in 15.1 innings. Someone in the Yankees system apparently thinks Melancon is Mike Marshall; Scranton has played all of 20 games and the reliever has appeared in 10 of them, while his 15.1 innings puts him on a pace for about 120 innings. At this rate, Melancon will be burned out before the Yankees ever call on him.

Get a ladle, Joe… And if you can’t get one of those, how about a spatula?

CAN WE PLATOON CURTIS YET?
Brett Gardner has sat for most left-handers, yet he’s 4-for-12 against them. That’s no sample at all, but it’s more promising than Granderson’s lifelong struggles against southpaws, which have continued with a 5-for-28 against them this season, including an 0-for-4 last night. The simplest solution would be to push Gardner to center against left-handers, with Marcus Thames continuing in left against them, until such time as Gardner proves he too needs to be platooned… and/or it’s determined that Nick Johnson is just never going to start hitting (he will).

DESPERATION DODGERS
Ned Colletti’s tantrum regarding his team’s play, in which he singled out his best player, Matt Kemp, reminds you of some of the Yankees owner emeritus’s most impetuous moments, like calling Dave Winfield "Mr. May." That said, at the moment that the Boss erupted, Winfield was having a Dave Kingman finish to the season (.247/.307/.470 August through September) when the Yankees were in a tight divisional race that they would ultimately lose by just two games. Kemp is hitting .292/.350/.584 and the Dodgers have bigger problems, mainly a pitching staff that has zero depth and some underperforming vets.

I was going to write more, but the wise Rob Neyer beat me to it.

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