With the Yankees’ victory last night over Tampa (and losses by the Dodgers and the Red Sox), the Yankees are now tied for the best record in baseball (with LA), and sit 3.5 games ahead of Boston in the AL East. While the additions of CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, and AJ Burnett have made a tremendous difference to the Yankees this season (Moshe already discussed the impact of Derek Jeter), another important reason for the Yankees possessing the best record in baseball is the resurgence of Robinson Canó.
At age 23 in 2006, Canó just missed out on winning the batting title, hitting .342/.365/.525 with 15 homers and 62 RBI’s in an injury-shortened 122-game season. He looked like he could be a perennial all-star and regular contender for the batting title, and he was compared to a young Rod Carew. In a full, healthy 2007, Canó was not quite as impressive, but still had a great season, going .306/.353/.488 with 19 homers and 97 RBI. He made great strides in plate discipline, increasing his walk rate by more than 50%. Canó’s defense, slightly below average in 2006, made great strides in ’07, posting a UZR/150 of 11.3, compared with -3.1 in 2006.
In 2008, Canó took a big step back in all facets of his game. With a horrific beginning to the season (hitting around .200 in April and May), Canó ended up with a .271/.305/.410 line with 14 homers. His plate discipline suffered, as his walk rate dropped from 5.9% to 4.2%, and his defense was also atrocious. His UZR/150 was -7 in 2008, and his struggles in the field were attributed to his frustration at the plate.
In 2009, Canó has so far looked more like the player he was in 2007 rather than the frustrating, undisciplined hacker we saw in 2008. In 100 games, Canó has a .306/.343/.498 line, and has 16 homers so far. His walk rate is up to 5%, which is not quite at the 2007 level, but is a significant improvement over last season. He is also showing more power than he has at any time in his career, with an isolated power of .194 thus far, and is on pace to hit surpass 20 home runs for the first time in his career. Canó’s defense has also improved this season, as his UZR is 1.6.
For the season, Canó has been a 2.8 WAR (Wins above replacement) player. Let’s see how that stacks up against the top 2nd basemen in the league:
Ian Kinsler: 2.8
Dustin Pedroia: 3.2
Aaron Hill: 2.9
Chase Utley: 5.3
Brian Roberts: 2.1
Brandon Phillips: 2.0
Ben Zobrist: 5.1
While Utley is on another planet and Zobrist is having a ridiculous season, Canó’s season stacks up nicely against the other top 2nd basemen in the league. At 26, Canó is at the beginning of what is likely his offensive peak, and we could see more impressive seasons from him. It seems that as long as he is hitting well, he is capable of playing good defense. With a lineup filled with expensive, over-30 stars, a young, relatively affordable Canó playing at the level he has been is a significant reason for the Yankees’ success.
All stats from Fangraphs.