Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Robinson Cano: Concerns Surround Mariners New 2B

According to FantasyPros, Robinson Cano had an average draft position of 5.4 in 2013.  And really why not, he was coming off a 30 HR season at the most scarce position in fantasy baseball. Fellow Crackerjack Michael Dixon talked about Cano and his fantasy value right after he signed with the Seattle Mariners.  While I share his concerns, I believe this is even more to be concerned about Cano in 2014.

First off, let’s explore the statistics before we jump into my theories in sports psychology.  Cano will be making the jump to the AL West and the monstrosities of ballparks that division is known for.  Big hitters like the Dalai Lama himself would have a hard time going yard on a regular basis in these yards. ESPN ball park factors “compares the rate of stats at home vs. the rate of stats on the road. A rate higher than 1.000 favors the hitter. Below 1.000 favors the pitcher”.

For starters, Yankee Stadium and Safeco used to be polar opposites, but because the Mariners moved the fences in at Safeco prior to the 2013 season the discrepancy between the two is not as dramatic. Here is the plot for Yankee Stadium where there were 167 HRs in 2013. While viewing the Yankee Stadium graphic, choose a Safeco Field overlay to see that some of the homers to right in New York would stay in play in Seattle. Here is a graphic of Cano’s “True Landing Spots” for his HRs in 2013. While on that link you can choose a Safeco Field over lay and see that a couple of Cano’s HRs are right on the fence at Safeco.

If you want to dive into the statistics further, AL West Stadiums have an average HR Park Factor of .962 over the past five years.  During that same span, AL East parks have an average HR Park Factor of 1.097. Sure there are some errors to the methodology such as Safeco’s fences being moved.  I think you would want to look at lefty – righty splits for a more absolute comparison. But for the purpose of this article, I think we can agree that AL East Parks are more hitter friendly, where as the parks in the AL West are more pitcher friendly.

Those of you that have Cano’s HR Derby victory in 2011 still fresh on your mind are probably thinking to yourself, “So what?  Those are averages, and Cano is not your average hitter.” You are right, but if you look into Cano’s numbers at the AL West parks over the past five years, even Cano is not immune to the depths of the ball parks along the West Coast.

In a summary of number crunching Cano, over the past five years, has averaged a home run for every 26.77 at-bats in AL West ballparks including Minute Maid Park. In the AL East ballparks over the same period of time, he averaged a home run every 20.36 at bats. Go back to the link for Cano’s HRs last season and do overlays for each ballpark in the west. The overlays support that Cano will most likely lose a few HRs this year in his new home and division.

Other factors that you need to consider is that Cano had a nice dip in HR production in 2013 where he hit 27 HRs compared to 33 HRs in 2012.  Not a huge dip but it was his lowest HR production since 2009. Cano turned 31 last year and his age might have had something to do with his decrease in homers. Maybe Cano was worried about a watchful eye of MLB after a rumored connection to the Biogenesis Clinic. Personally I think it may have had something to do with his protection in an overwhelmingly injured Yankee lineup.

Which brings me to my next point, who is going to protect him in Seattle?  Who is going to be that guy that will make pitchers hesitate to pitch around him? Corey Hart? Logan Morrison? Justin Smoak? No offense to those three guys that I just mentioned as they are 100 times the athlete I am, but if I am an opposing manager I’m walking the Ferrari and pitching to the Ford Focus. Cano’s OBP might not see a drop with his share of free passes, but his HRs, Runs, and RBIs can all take a hit based on the lineup he is surrounded with in Seattle.

Speaking of lineups, the Yankees lineup has a tradition of winning, while Mariners have not had a winning record since 2009.  You need to go back to 1992 before you find the Yankees last season where the team finished below .500. This is where I start playing the role of sports psychologist. Is Cano the type of player that can walk into the clubhouse and change the mentality of his teammates to think that they can win and overtake the Los Angeles Angels, Texas Rangers, and Oakland Athletics?

Turning a losing tradition into a winning tradition is no easy task and one he never had to do it in New York. I just do not know if Cano has that in him. If he does not, then I think losing could have a negative effect on his stat line as well. I am firm believer that even professional athletes can be frustrated with a losing environment. That frustration can lead to anger, and anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering statistics.

Another factor that could make it harder for Cano to be that catalyst for change in the great northwest is his recent contract. Some fantasy owners swear on searching out those players heading into contract years for that extra bump in statistics, while others avoid those coming off of mega deals. Cano’s contract is tied for the third largest in MLB history, behind two Alex Rodriguez contracts and matching that of Albert Pujols in Anaheim.

There is no hard science here, and I did not want to put the time into crunching numbers of a significant sample size to prove a theory.  However I do think that a lack of motivation, an overriding feeling of complacency, or folding to the increase in pressure to live up to a mega deal could set in on even some of the most competitive athletes.

Finally, my last argument against Cano’s first round value in 2014 is the emergence of other worthy second basemen in the fantasy landscape. Jason Kipnis and Dustin Pedroia both had great bounce back years. Newcomers such as Jedd Gyorko and Matt Carpenter showed a lot of promise and are worth of your consideration. Next year, we might have to include Anthony Rendon and Jurickson Profar in our conversation as well.

No matter how you tier your 2B this year, this is a deeper class of 2B than we have seen in years. I think one of the largest appeals of drafting Cano is that pick would automatically make your team better than any team you would face in fantasy that year based on position scarcity alone. Well that gap closed quite a bit last year and only looks to continue to close even more in 2014, so the rush to grab Cano looks to be not as rewarding as in recent years.

My first bold prediction this season is that Robinson Cano will hit less than 25 HR’s this year, and will not finish as the top 2B for the first time in a long time. A 2B that hits 20-25 HRs, no doubt that dog will hunt, but at best I think he is a borderline first round pick in a 12-team league for above mentioned reasons. I think you will have comparable players to choose from that are in more stable environments and are not dealing with as much change as Cano is dealing with in 2014.

Tags: Robinson Cano Seattle Mariners

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