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Are you comfortable with Cano protecting A-Rod?

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One of the big questions for our New York Yankees coming into Spring Training was who would hit fifth, the key spot in the lineup as protection for Alex Rodriguez.

Well, Manager Joe Girardi answered it yesterday. In what will likely be the Yankees' regular lineup Cano will hit fifth, with Nick Johnson in the two-hole and Curtis Granderson seventh.

Are you comfortable with Cano in this slot? It's a gamble by Girardi. Cano has all the tools, but despite driving in 85 runs last season and 97 in 2007 clutch situations have never been his thing.

Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News summarized Cano's challenge this way:

If he is to be successful, he’ll have to do better than .207 with runners in scoring position, which was 111th out of 118 players in the AL last year with at least 100 at-bats with RISP.

That's ugly. Cano batted fifth 50 times last season, and if you remember that did not work out too well. A quick check of BaseballReference.com provides even more ugly Cano numbers in 2009.

  • He hit .204 with two outs and runners in scoring position. 
  • He hit .224 in 'high leverage' situations vs. .366 in 'low leverage' ones.
  • He went 2-for-17 (.118) with runners at second and third, 4-for-18 (.222) with runners at first and third, and just 11-for-61 (.180) with runners at first and second.

Robbie's career numbers in the clutch aren't really any better.

  • A .253 batting average in 'high leverage' situations vs. .323 in 'low leverage' spots.
  • A .250 career average with the bases loaded, and .262 with runners at second and third.
  • With two outs and runners in scoring position, his career average is .243.
  • One final number: When the Yankees when Cano hits .347 for his career. When they lose he hits .246.

So, what is the difference in Cano when the pressure is on? He is a terrific, free-swinging contact hitter. And I think that is both a blessing and a curse.

He can get his bat on just about everything, and when a pitcher puts the ball in the strike zone Cano can hit just about anything hard, no matter where it is thrown or what pitch it is. When the situations are 'low leverage' pitchers are not as likely to nibble or try and get him to chase. Better pitches to hit, more success.

In those clutch situations pitchers are going to nibble more, throw more breaking balls, off-speed stuff and try to pinpoint specific spots. Cano tends to maintain that aggressive approach, swinging away at the first thing he can reach. Thus, he ends up swinging at more 'pitcher's pitches' and not hitting the ball with as much authority.

To me, Cano is not afraid of these situations. He just needs a better plan. He needs to have a better idea of what he is likely to see, and try to get the pitch HE wants to hit. Too often, he seems to swing at what the pitcher wants him to hit.

As Girardi said Sunday in discussing this move "Robbie's not a young player any more."

It is time for Cano, entering his sixth season, to step up and become a key middle-of-the-order hitter for the Yankees. Girardi is banking on it.

All Yankee fans can do is hope that when Cano takes the fifth this April he certainly isn't silent about it.