1: BUT I WAS HIGH ON JOHN-FORD GRIFFIN…
"he’s not a top offensive performer and almost certainly isn’t going to be one."
This is your most typical description of almost all young Yankee players, irrespective of position. Cano's OBP and his penchant for not coming up clutch have been widely discussed and over-analyzed. However, to come out and say that a player will never attain what is within his potential is crazy. Cano might never have a .400 OBP and a RISP Avg. that matches his career Avg., but to write him off at 27 when he is entering his prime is foolish. The Yankees want to give Cano the chance to succeed in the 5 spot because he is a huge part of their future. The Yankees can't rely on the potential of Montero, Posada's age-defying consistency and Swisher's career-ambiguity. Trying Cano out in the 5 hole will be crucial to see if the Yankees have a long term solution to protecting A-Rod and Teixeira in the lineup. —Ben
Thanks for writing, Ben. You’ve misinterpreted my positions on Cano and on Yankees prospects. First, if I’ve said of various young Yankees hitters that they aren’t going to be top offensive performers, it is because in the ten-plus years I’ve been doing this feature they have had precious few position players who have projected as coming stars. I hyped the heck out of Nick Johnson when he was on the way up, but who else would you have had me get crazy over? Bronson Sardinha? Eric Duncan? Erick Almonte? Kevin Thompson? For more than half my run here, the Yankees were one of the worst drafting teams in baseball, and when they turned that around they concentrated mostly on pitching. Jesus Montero is the team’s first hitter in a long, long time to attain the level of elite prospect.
Second, I did not say I’m writing off Cano. What I said was that he is not the ideal No. 5 hitter on this team because his game is not focused on reaching base, and other hitters on the team are better all-around producers. As for the rest, Montero’s time will come, Posada’s time may not yet be over (it’s worth finding testing that statement), and while "ambiguity" is probably the prefect word with which to describe Swish Nicker, it’s worth finding out whether he could be ambiguously productive instead of disappointing. We haven’t even mentioned Granderson and his home runs. The worst thing that could happen with him in that spot is that Cano bats with 100 walks in front of him.
Cano is just reaching his prime and should continue to be a valuable property for years, assuming no more strange bad luck/bad concentration seasons such as the one he had in 2008. However, there are only a few consistent .320 hitters—by my count there have been 41 of them in modern baseball history. That’s a very small number compared to all of the players that have sat in a Major League dugout. My main point now and in the previous entry is that (1) if Cano is not consistent at the .320 level or higher he is actually less of a producer than he might at first appear, and (2) because of his impatience, even when he hits .320 he doesn’t get on base very often—again, his 2009 batting average ranked sixth in the American League, but his on-base percentage ranked 41st. He could surprise us, but it’s going to take a huge alteration in his basic approach to make him into the kind of hitter who can still produce in the years when he’s not vying for a batting title.
2: YOU GOTTA ADJUST THE SET SOMETIMES
Steve, I think bbyankees got it exactly right. Cano will be very good in the 5th spot. The history of lineups always had a high batting average hitter as opposed to a good on base average. Hits are more important at that spot then a guy that just walks a lot. I see Cano driving in a lot of runs. Oh and Steve please note it took Hornsby till his 6th year to really find it. And then school was out.—yankee7777
You’re wrong about Hornsby. The Rajah was a monster from his rookie year on, positing a 150 OPS+ at age 20 and a 169 at age 21. The reason it doesn’t look like Hornsby was a force at that time was that we’re talking about 1916 and 1917, years in which the game was played with a dead octopus instead of a ball. The lively ball was introduced in 1920, Hornsby’s fifth year—he was 24, not 27 like Cano—and he picked up his first batting title, hitting .370. At 25, he hit .397, and at 26, he hit .401. His development curve is in no way comparable to Cano’s.
Regarding "hits are more important at that spot than a guy that just walks a lot," you’d be right if there was no tradeoff for those hits. Robinson Cano made the 13th-most outs in the AL. He created 106 runs, but ate up all the outs of 17.3 games doing it. Nick Swisher created 97 runs, but made only 396 outs, or all the outs for 14.7 games. The most important thing in any lineup spot is to not make outs. It doesn’t matter if you do it by a hit or walk in the end as long as you keep the game going. Cano is a selfish hitter. When he swings early in the count and fails to reach base, he brings the Yankees closer to the end of the game. He spends a precious commodity, outs, like they were AIG bonuses, and that’s why giving him a prime spot in the lineup is foolish. Cano batting more often means Cano makes more outs means the Yankees lose faster. If he hits .350, great, I’ll eat my words. Otherwise, it’s just not a smart thing to do.
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