Robinson Cano for American League MVP? Cano’s grand-slammer against the Seattle Mariners on August 22, a game in which he drove in 6 runs, awakened quite a few to the possibility. His performance last night against the Oakland A’s — three for four with three RBIs, including his 26th home run — put more wood on the fire.
Back on August 20, Christina Kahrl of Baseball Prospectus wrote, “Robinson Cano deserves more consideration than he ever seems to get, and his dominance as the top hitter at his position seems secure. The problem is that there’s always going to be that question over whether or not he’s a second banana shining in the shadow of the bigger stars populating the Yankees lineup. Add in that, like many Yankees, he’s gotten the benefit of facing pitchers allowing among the highest slugging rates in the league, plus the disdain with which his defense seems to be regarded, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he has to settle somewhere in the middle of the pack [of MVP candidates].”
Kahrl may be right, but Cano’s credentials are picking up steam as the season hits its stretch run. For one thing, people are noticing that he’s worked his way into being a much better fielder than he is usually given credit for (particularly, over the last couple of seasons, by people like me) — Cano currently has the highest fielding percentage of any second baseman in the AL. A good hitter at a key defensive position is more valuable than a hitter with similar or even slightly better numbers who plays the outfield.
And about that hitting — Cano isn’t merely one in a shower of stars, he’s the biggest star right now in the Yankees lineup. In the 20 games Alex Rodriguez has missed, Cano has replaced him in the cleanup spot and hit .370 with 8 home runs and 25 RBIs. And all of this during a death race with the Tampa Bay Rays.
Last week in the Daily News, Bill Madden wrote that we can add Seattle’s interim manager Darren Brown “to the growing list of managers who have come to find Cano just as lethal in the cleanup spot — maybe even more so — than A-Rod these days.” Especially with A-Rod still on the DL with a hamstring pull. In the August 22 game, Brown made the decision to walk Mark Teixeira and have his left-handed starter, Luke French, pitch to Cano with bases loaded.
It’s precisely Cano’s improved ability to hit lefthanders, and in big situations, that’s the difference in his performance in 2009 and 2010.
Right now we’d rank Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera and Texas’s Josh Hamilton as the leading MVP candidates, but we like Robbie Cano’s over the last month. Right now, as Cano goes, so goes the Yankees.