Regression In 2013: Robinson Cano

At the age of 29, Robinson Cano had the best season of his career. The left handed hitter batted .313/.379/.550 with 33 home runs and the league's second best defense at second base according to UZR. His 7.9 fWAR was the fourth highest mark in all of baseball for 2012, and he was second to only Mike Trout in the American League.

It's hard to consider Cano improving or even repeating 2012, simply because of how spectacular he played. When looking at Cano's batted ball rates, something interesting happened. His line drive rates increased from a career 20.5 to 25.6%, while his flyball rates dropped from 31.2 to 25.8%. When it comes to BABIP, his line drive batting average took a big dip from .698 to .618, while his flyball average rose from .280 to .348. Assuming these types of hits have been split correctly, the underperformance on line drives and overachievement on flyballs neutralized each other. The rest of his batted ball rates and his overall BABIP fall in line with his career numbers, and aside from age regression, it's hard to see how his 2012 could be a product of good luck.

The problem with 2013 is that age might be a bigger factor to acknowledge than we're accustomed to. 30 years old is a always a bitter sweet year for baseball players, an age where players are at the end of their peak years and quickly approaching what's considered old age. Cano will be 30 years old in 2013, and although he looks like he has plenty left to contribute on the field, history tells a different story. Second basemen and other middle infielders are notorious for breaking down at young ages. Even at the height of modern medicine, we still constantly see star middle infielders like Chase Utley breakdown in their early 30's.

In 2012, the average age of a second baseman was a little younger than 29 years old, the third youngest offensive position behind shortstops and center fielders. Cano is now a year behind the average second baseman's age, and although limbs and digits won't start falling, it does mean that fans should prepare for regression in his offense and defense. Most middle infielders and center fielders rely on their speed for much of their value, but Cano is obviously much more talented with his bat. So perhaps his hitting talent will make up for his age, but the decline in foot speed will affect his batting average on ground balls, and his decline in bat speed will eventually hurt his ability to hit line drives and big flyballs.

It's possible we start seeing this type of offensive decay in 2013, but it's much more likely that we'll see his defensive range impaired. Even at the end of the 2012 season,  Cano showed signs of range problems after he came up limping with a hip injury in early September. Although I don't have partial season range numbers, nor would they be big enough to analyze, Cano did look noticeably weaker on defense in September and October.

Cano has rarely been injured his entire career, and he's only missed 12 games since 2007. Even so, he plays a position that isn't kind to his body, and history says that he should begin to regress after 29 years old.

With all that negativity out of the way, Cano's offensive numbers are the real deal, and he isn't a player that was lucky last season. By the end of 2013, he could still be the best second baseman in baseball, and he might even put up numbers rivaling 2010 or 2011, but fans shouldn't expect him to repeat 2012.