Written by Tough Tony
“Once Robinson Cano fully develops he will hit over 30 home runs a year.” Said by Joe Bronx
You have heard your annoying Yankee friend say it. Probably multiple times. Maybe even non Yankees fans say it who are tying to fit in. The hype on Cano started when he got called up to replace Tony Womack early in the 2005 season. He got the promotion because the Yanks were sputtering and they needed to shake up and inject youth to the line up. It worked. Yankees fans started to like Cano’s solid hitting and the YESNETWORK started to plan an early Yankeeography for him but somewhere the hype went a tad too far.
And let me be perfectly clear: Cano is a very good player. Though he has the same stigma as Alfonso Soriano when it comes to lackadaisical defense he seems to care more. He turns the double play well, has descent range and is an excellent contact hitter. (He also seems to like getting a late start to hitting each year.) But if anything is going to improve and take him to the next level it is going to be his plate discipline not his home run power.
Now, I’m not a baseball nerd. I can’t break out stats that will dazzle your senses and wow your imagination. I can just tell you what I see from having watched almost every game of his carreer: Cano is a solid hitter who doesn’t have the swing or the power to mash 30 home runs a year. And even though he is young, let’s be honest: Young is a reletive term when it comes to baseball players south of the border (Just ask Miguel Tejada and ESPN) Cano looks pretty grown up and I don’t think he is going to get any bigger. I’m not saying he is a Dominican Gary Coleman, I’m just saying he seems fully developed. (It sounds weird to call a man fully developed but I just did)
His first season in 2005 Joe Torre casually mentioned to some reporters that Cano’s swing reminded him of Rod Carew’s and the Yankee PR machine took off and ran with it. Every game YES would show Rod Carew highlights when Cano was batting. If you were deaf and your closed captioning didn’t work you would think Robinson Cano was Rod Carew’s illegitimate son. And I’m not saying it’s a bad comparison but then people started going wild with Cano’s potential and everyone just started assuming he would double his early home run production and easily hit 30 home runs a year eventually.
But why was his home run potential so assumed?
Rod Carew never was a home run hitter. His career high for a single season is 14 home runs. He did it twice. Did the Yankee PR machine fail to mention that?
I love Robinson Cano. He was named after Jackie Robinson. He’s a free swinging line drive hitter who can spray the ball. From all accounts he seems like a good guy who enjoys the game. In 2006 he hit .342 without playing a full season, finishing third in the AL. There’s no reason not to think that one year he will hit well from April through September and win a batting title.
But where this forgone conclusion about home runs came from I’ll never know. Cano hit 14 his first year, 15 his second and his third year he hit 19. I reasonably expect him to top out at 27. Maybe one year he will hit 30 but to say he will be a perennial 30-40 home run hitter is absurd.
If you go to baseballreference.com and look up similar hitters by age you will see that Cano most favorably matches up with Tony Lazzeri, Jason Kendall and Joe Mauer. I know, I know, the 3 biggest home run hitters not in the 500 home run club. Oh, Cano is also compared to another guy by the name of Shanty Hogan. That’s actually not Hulk Hogan’s poor nephew but a catcher in the 1930’s who’s career high in home runs for a season was 13. None of these players ever have or ever will hit 30 home runs in a season. Of the top ten most comparable hitters by age only Nomar had a significantly higher slugging percentage and he actually did hit 30 home runs his first full year.
If you think of some of the other modern day 30 plus home run guys they all reached the 30 home run plateau within their second year in the majors. Gary Sheffield hit 33 his second full year. Troy Glaus hit 29 his second full year. Andruw Jones hit 31 his second full year. Vlad hit 38 his first full year. A-rod hit 36 his first full year. Soriano hit 39 his second full year. Manny Ramirez hit 31 his second year (after playing 91 games the year before.) The list goes on and on. It took Ken Griffey till his 5th year to hit over 30 but he hit over twenty his second through fourth year in the Majors.
There’s a vicious cycle when it comes to the Yankees and Red Sox young players in this day and age. Most of them are over hyped. (Think of the the Craig Hanson, Ian Kennedy, Jon Lester situation) Some of them are under hyped because we assume they are over hyped by each team’s propaganda machines. This usually makes people not want to admit what they are seeing to be true. We heard so much about Kevin Youkilis’ pate discipline before he came up to the majors that when we finally saw it for ourselves it became old news. The guy is the definition of OBP. I’m pretty sure Bill James has a poster of him in his bathroom.
And in Robinson Cano’s case I think he gets under valued because he is a Yankee. People assume his production is because of the line up or it’s just the Yankee hype machine. But Cano has a chance to be truly great. Probably a lifetime .310 hitter with solid but not spectacular defense who has the chance to threaten Tony Lazzeri, Joe Gordon and Willie Randolph as the best Yankee second basemen ever.
But what I just don’t see is the 30 home runs a year potential. And who says he needs to? Look at some of the legends Cano’s stats favorably compare to: Lazzeri, Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra. All are Yankees and all are in the Hall of Fame. No reason Cano can’t get to Cooperstown on 20 home runs a year. (Don’t repeat that to Steve Garvey though.)
The next time the annoying guy in the bar tries to propagate this myth that Robinson Cano’s home run potential is coming: call him on it. You’ll feel like Will Hunting when he puts a verbal beat down on the annoying Harvard guy in Good Will Hunting.
“Yea well Robinson Cano is gonna hit 30 home runs one year and you’ll still be serving my kids fries on our way home from a ski trip.”
“Yea? Maybe your right on the fries thing but who says Cano needs to add power to his game. No one said he needs to be Jeff Kent. At least Cano can say he’s original.”
Or something like that.