On Friday I wrote a post asking if we actually over rate Robinson Cano. The premise of the post is that while Cano is a great baseball player, he is not a top five or top ten baseball player. He’s actually a top twenty baseball player, so when we describe him as a top ten guy we’re actually over rating him a bit. Unsurprisingly, the post turned out to be one of my most heavily commented since I started blogging about the Yankees.
Larry Koestler said something interesting in the comments section. He compared Robbie to Miguel Cabrera. He used Cabrera as an example to counter the logic that it is ok for Robbie to swing as much as he does because he’s such a dangerous hitter. Cabrera is also a dangerous hitter, Larry explained, but he walks a lot. He had a 15.7% walk rate in 2011, and has a career walk rate of 11.1%. Taking his walks hasn’t prevented Cabrera from wreaking havoc on AL pitchers, as every Yankee fans knows. Larry went on to point out that Cabrera and Cano are not that far off as hitters. They have comparably high averages, but Cabrera walks more, has a higher OBP, and a higher SLG.
Larry’s comment got me thinking. What if Robbie walked more? We all know that he distributes pain with his bat, but he also gets himself out a fair share. If he had more patience at the plate, how much better would he become? Given that the fewer outs he would make would drive up his OBP and his SLG, would Larry be correct? If Robinson Cano had more patience at the plate would he be as good a hitter as Miguel Cabrera?
To answer this question, I applied Miguel Cabrera’s career walk rate of 11.1% to Cano’s past three seasons (his best stretch of baseball). Unsurprisingly, this increased Robbie’s walk totals each season because Robbie has never had an 11.1% walk rate. Once I had the adjusted walk numbers, I used them to adjust Cano’s plate appearances and his at-bats. Armed with those numbers, it was easy to adjust Robbie’s AVG/OBP/SLG upwards to reflect the increased walk rate.
I made one assumption, which was big. I assumed that if Robbie walked more his extra walks would replace only outs and not hits. This thought experiment isn’t possible without this assumption, but doing this makes any player into a much better hitter. Intuitively it is highly unlikely for a player to increase his walk rate without taking a way a few hits as well.
Here’s what Cano actually did over the past three seasons:
And that’s just one super human season after another. The impact of this is greater than what I had anticipated prior to running the numbers. This experiment is a bit of a straw man because I’m sort of asking the question, “How good would Robbie be if he were even better than he is currently.” It shouldn’t be a surprise if the effect of this is then to make Robbie better than he currently is. However, I didn’t expect fake-Robbie to be that good. He would just narrowly miss the batting title in 2011, but he runs away with it in 2010 and 2009. He also turns into a perennial 1.000+ OPS player.
While I have cautiously pointed out that this experiment is flawed, it isn’t without merit either. One thing is crystal clear: Robbie’s lack of plate discipline is what prevents him from being a top five baseball player. While Robbie wouldn’t be as good as the player above if he walked as often as Miguel Cabrera because he would inevitably walk sometimes instead of hitting the cover off the ball, the opposite is true as well. Walking more would reduce the number of outs Robbie makes, which would beef up the rest of his rate stats. Robbie’s true potential if he walked more is somewhere in between his actual numbers and the second table above, but that player is a top five player. For example, if Robbie got just half the improvement from walking more his 2011 line would be .323/.377/.570, which is remarkably close to the .317/.395/.555 line that Miguel Cabrera has put up for his entire career.