Next stop on the “WAR Tour:” Cano

The next stop on the “WAR Tour” involves second basemen, specifically Robinson Cano. If you hadn’t had an opportunity to read our Mark Teixeira WAR analysis, click here. Similar to the prior WAR post, I included several of the most productive second basemen in the game. Despite injury-plagued seasons, I also included Chase Utley* and Dustin Pedroia* as a point of reference. Just as before, I also chose my list of candidates based on the 2010 positional league leaders.

When taking a look at the pool of second basemen, the results are certainly favorable for the Yankees (surprise, surprise!). Given the fact that Cano is producing MVP-caliber stats this season, his overall value won’t surprise anyone. Cano’s 2009 numbers, however, present a more interesting case. Compared with this year’s talent, 2009 Cano still stacks up quite favorably against the competition. This speaks volumes to his overall potential. No wonder the Yankees display such confidence in him.

When considering overall WAR, 2010 Cano simply dwarfs his competition. His overall value (5.9) is nearly double that of Kelly Johnson who has the second-highest (3.7). Pedroia and Utley both have solid numbers but their injuries inevitably preclude them from the discussion. Technically speaking, 2009 Cano would still overshadow all the competition this year with a 5.1 WAR. For a guy who was benched, considered “unclutch,” and deemed streaky for much of his career, that’s a fairly impressive accomplishment.

Of course, there is a clear correlation with his WAR, oWAR, and oRAR. He also leads the latter categories thus far through the 2010 campaign. Aside from the past several weeks, by and large, Cano’s been a beast offensively all year long. Interestingly enough, his 2009 offensive contributions still would be considered excellent when compared with this year’s more productive second basemen (such as Rickie Weeks and Dan Uggla). The first thought that popped to mind when looking at Cano’s oWAR is disbelief. The disbelief doesn’t even stem from Cano per se, but rather from the Yankees’ ability to secure plus-offense from a traditionally barren position.

One point that did surprise me a bit was Cano’s dWAR. Of the candidates listed, he’s tied for third with Kelly Johnson with a 0.1 dWAR. If one includes Pedroia and Utley in the discussion, his ranking drops to fifth. After a few seasons of Kay, Waldman, and Sterling (not to mention the honorable Joe Morgan) incessantly praising Cano’s laurels (mostly in the form of complimenting his arm strength and to a lesser degree range to the left side), I anecdotally assumed he was an excellent fielder. I had remembered some sloppy performances early on his career but he seemed deliberate in efforts to improve. More importantly, it appeared that he had improved. Yet, Fangraphs places Cano’s UZR at 1.5 — good for ninth-best in the league (the leaders among second basemen include Brandon Phillips, Orlando Hudson, Chase Utley*, Mark Ellis, and Kelly Johnson, respectively). Perhaps Cano isn’t quite as dynamic defensively as we’re led to believe. C’est la vie.

In terms of dollar value (as to be expected), the Yankees are getting tremendous value for their investment. Cano currently earns $9M per year and is under contract for another few seasons. According to Fangraphs, Cano’s actual value this season (as opposed to what he’s being paid) is an astounding $26.3M. To quote the great Roger Daltrey, “I call that a bargain…the best I ever had.” Of course, this sure makes the Red Sox appear especially clever with their $3.7M owed to Dustin Pedroia (also an MVP winner).

As another discussion point, the difference between what Cano and his peers are making isn’t nearly as monstrous as Teixeira was relative to other elite first basemen. Dan Uggla is making $7.8M, Philips $6.9M, and even Hudson is earning $5M. This of course doesn’t even include former MVP winner Chase Utley, who is making serious bank at $15.2M.

In essence, Cano might be the closest thing to a quality wine — he’s getting better with age. Let’s just hope his offense kicks in for the playoffs.

8 thoughts on “Next stop on the “WAR Tour:” Cano

  1. And once again you have proven why WAR is a ridiculous stat. I watch the games and Cano is a great defensive player and as any baseball person will tell you he turns the double play better than anyone in the game. One doesn't need an equation to tell the story. He only has 3 errors all year and 2 of them are throwing errors so his range really can't be questioned either. WAR is a stat that is as subjective as all stats pertaining to defense. Simply put it can't be trusted to tell the whole truth and nothing but.

  2. No baseball statistician would ever tell you to evaluate a player solely using WAR. Given the discrepancies between the various fielding systems and the fact that no one seems to have created one unified defensive system that everyone feels comfortable getting behind, one does need to take WAR with a grain of salt. It's a great statistic as far as giving you an idea of how valuable a given player has been compared to others, but it's nowhere even close to a be-all end-all statistic. or this particular exercise Matt was simply looking at Cano through the lens of WAR, which helps determine what kind of value the Yankees have gotten out of Cano. As you can see, it's quite high.

  3. Lol Anon- You crack me up! Thanks for the illuminating feedback. You're correct to an extent, though. WAR does have its limitations like any defensive metric, and it would be foolish to acquire a player solely based off it. However, it is a relatively reliable stat in terms of understanding the general value of a player in relation to other fellow ball players (which was the entire point of the article). Sure, Cano is very good defensively but he may not be the best defensive player as you’re led to believe. I think there is legitimacy to that statement. Anecdotally speaking, how many other second basemen have you watched? Also, are you really putting stock into errors as your basis of determining quality? I hate to say it but Jeter also has very few errors. Are you about to tell me he’s a superior defensive SS? Oh wait, I forget. He does that spin-jump-throw move because it looks “like totally awesome” – not because he has too.Again, WAR is not perfect, but then again nothing is including those same "baseball people" who provide unsubstantiated opinions (I'm looking at you Sterling / Morgan / random Anon poster). Simply put, you can’t trust any source for the truth and nothing but. At least were heading in the right direction though in seeking objectivity in numbers.

  4. Also, one other point I forgot to mention… WAR Defensive metric.WAR = General metric relaying player valueMy prior post should have read "dWAR does have it's limitations…" The rest works.

  5. I recognize the separation in WAR defensive metric and WAR overall, I was speaking directly to the defensive metric and not overall WAR which I didn't clarify. When the defensive metrics are used to judge a players defensive ability that is where I lose my patience for saber metrics. Defense is something you can see, a player either gets to the ball or he doesn't. Hitting is a bit more subjective because clutch situations, walks, K rate are things that don't jump out at you right away. A player hitting .240 brings some level of value when they get on base .380 of the time and can score 100 runs. That is something that needs to be drawn out. Defense though is seen and the eye test has yet to be proven wrong against all defensive metrics. Robinson Cano gets to a lot of balls especially to his right and turns a ton of double plays which are all pretty important when your a 2b. To highlight a stat or speak of a players ability specifically through that stat is a disservice to the stat. It would make more sense to focus specifically on the equations that prove a specific point as opposed to reaching with stats that leave too many open ended questions.

  6. I also never stated Robinson Cano was the best defensive 2b in baseball I simply stated he is a great defensive player, from that statement you can conclude that there are many other great defensive players as well. His dWAR stat doesn't accurately reflect that as the piece illustrated that "this doesn't appear to be true" and then he listed the reasons based solely on dWar. My point is why even look at that stat or any other defensive stat when discussing the top defensive players in baseball when defensive metrics are just as subjective as mine or any one else's opinion? I have no issues at all with generating stats to try to explain an opinion but on the defensive side of the ball no stat accurately explains a position that the eye test wouldn't agree with 90% of the time.

  7. Well, there are a couple things worth noting here. First, dWAR is not a defensive metric and to treat it as such is misleading. WAR is designed to express how many wins above a replacement level player a professional big leaguer provides. So the first thing I would suggest when applying dWAR to Robinson Cano is to consider it relative to everything else. More simply put, his overall value (in terms of wins over replacement level) primarily stems from his bat (oWAR). That's not to say he is a bad defensive player by any means, just that he is especially potent with the bat. The point I was making above was that he might not be the as good of a defender as we are led to believe. Perhaps this is just purely speculative conjecture though.Secondly, I have to respectfully disagree with the statement, "Defense is something you can see." I would modify that statement to "the results of defense are something that you can see." For example, we can see Derek Jeter range to ball, jump in a 180 degree motion, and throw a laser to first base to get the out. The point of defensive stats is to analyze his true ability though. Yes, he did get the out, but it might not have been as efficient in doing so as somebody else.Similarly, guys like Jason Bay have extremely low error percentages. If you watched him with the Mets or Sox with any regularity, you'd almost always "see" him successfully make the catch on a pop fly or get to the ball without bobbling it around. However, it is generally accepted that he takes terrible routes which is why he is routinely considered an awful outfielder. It’s great that he doesn’t screw up a lot. It’s not so great he can’t get to hits that many other outfielder are able to get too.In contrast, someone like Brandon Inge used to be criticized the press because he doesn't always catch everything hit towards third. That's really misleading though. Very few third basemen would be able to get to some of the hits Inge (when healthy) is able to range too, much less catch them. People see him almost* make the catch. They don't see him getting to a ball most others wouldn't have a chance at. You see where I'm going with this?You're absolutely correct in your assertion that defensive metrics are flawed. However, I'm much more hesitant to completely dismiss defensive stats altogether and trust the "eye test." The "eye test" is fundamentally skewed because it can't provide a conclusion on anything but opinion. If anything, it only heightens my desire to see a more consistently recognized/utilized defensive stat. On a bitter side note, it was probably the "eye test" that got a guy like Cervelli his job and we've all seen how well that's played out.

  8. Matt, I agree with everything you said, I just want to bolster your argument with one of my own. Reinforcing what you said about dWAR's comparative nature, a 0.0 dWAR means that a player is very good defensively. This is because most replacement players are great in the field, like Ramiro Pena or Greg Golson, but can't hit. It is expected that most everyday big leaguers will have negative dWARs and very positive oWARs. That Cano has only a slightly negative dWAR rating reflects how good he is with the glove. He's just not as good as, say, Ramiro Pena or Eduardo Nunez.