Robbie Cano, Don’t Ya Know.
Damn, I miss hearing that.
Earlier this week, Robinson Cano was named All Star Game MVP after crushing a homer to left off of a curveball from Chicago Cubs Closer Wade Davis, putting the American League ahead 2-1 in the top of the 10th inning, ultimately sealing the victory.
This got me thinking about Cano today for the first time in a while, and I realized how fucking good of a career he’s had. I mean this guy has been really, really good for a long time now. And I really don’t think people appreciate his play enough.
When I first started watching baseball, which was right before Cano got called up, it seemed that there was this unwritten rule about second basemen that went something like this; “good glove, make contact, run fast”. They were hitting either 1 (maybe 2) in the lineup, or at the bottom of the order, known for their gloves, not their bats.
Prior to Robinson Cano, the Yankees 2nd baseman was Tony Womack. Most people have never heard of Tony Womack, and he was solid, maybe even above average…for the time.
In his 1st full season in the MLB, with the Pirates in ’97, he made the All Star team. He stole 60 bases, hit .278, but only had 6 homers, which led to his measly .700 OPS. He would not be an All Star in today’s game.
Now, Womack my be an extreme example of the old, prototypical 2nd baseman, but you get my point. Look at every single primary 2nd baseman who’s career was before Cano. Very few of them hit for power for the majority of their careers. Some had a few years where they did, but it was extremely rare.
Cano is already 3rd all time in home runs by a second baseman, trailing Jeff Kent and Rogers Hornsby (tangent: he might be the best 2nd baseman of all time. His statistics are unbelievable. Granted, he played from 1915-1937, but still, his WAR is 127, has over 1,000 career walks [compared to under 700 strikeouts], his career average is .358 (!), and his OPS is 1.010 [!!!]. He might not only be one of the best 2nd basemen ever, but players ever.). And some of the guy’s a few spots behind him are Hall of Famers like Ryne Sandberg, Craig Biggio, and Joe Morgan, but others are guys who would be impossible to hit a home run with in a video game, like Ray Durham and Damion Easley.
Look at slugging percentage and you get most of the same thing. Cano is a nearly .500 slugger, and no one else (besides Hornsby and Jeff Kent) is. His OPS is not that high, compared to others, because he does not walk a lot, which has always been one of the few flaws in his game, as his his base stealing, with only 51 in his career.
But that’s my point. Cano has not only been the best 2nd baseman since he became a regular, he has changed the nature and outlook of the position.
Take a look at the position since he broke into the league.
2nd baseman have consistently been hitting for power. 20 home runs for a 2nd baseman is not that rare anymore.
Last year, 13 2nd basemen hit 20 home runs, almost 1/2 of the league’s starters. 5 2nd basemen had over .500 slugging percentages. All the while, only 4 stole more than 20 bases.
The 13 2nd basemen with more than 20 home runs is more than Catchers and Center Fielders, and the same as Right Fielders and Shortstops. And even positions like Left Field and 3rd base don’t have too many more.
And as the saying goes, “chicks dig the long ball”, setting up these 2nd basemen to be their team’s leader, and even the face, or one of the faces of the franchise.
Jose Altuve is the 1B to Carlos Correa’s 1A. Daniel Murphy will go down as a Mets legend for what he did in the 2015 Playoffs, and he’s very popular amongst his Nationals teammates. Brian Dozier is probably the most popular Minnesota Twin other than Joe Mauer, and Jason Kipnis is combining with Francisco Lindor to form one of the most dynamic double play duos in the MLB.
These players are all part of the current crop of MLB’s power hitting 2nd basemen, and they’re only trending up. Their home run power is translating into star power, which is exactly what happened with Cano.
Cano was the best player on the Yankees his last few seasons. He finished with MVP votes in 2006, and then his last 5 seasons with the team from 2009-2013. He may not have ever been the team’s biggest star, thanks to some guy named Derek, but he became a household name, not only in New York, but across the country.
In those seasons, he hit at least 25 home runs, and slugged at least .515. He was as feared a power hitter as the next guy, all while still hitting for a high average and playing solid defense.
Aside from the juiced up numbers of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, 2nd baseman have never hit for as much power as they did last year, and seem poised to continue in the future. And these players seem as legit as ever, a far cry from the steroid-taking guys like Brett Boone and Miguel Tejada (who were very talented,but tainted legacies only go so far and probably had something to do with their sharp declines). These players can be the face of their teams for years to come, and maybe one day they’ll be the power hitting 2nd basemen that the next generation of players look up to, just like Robinson Cano.