The 2010 season may have been the year that the Yankees became Robinson Cano's team. Every one of the higher-paid veteran infielders in the Yankees' collection of All-Stars struggled significantly at some point during the season. That left Robinson Cano as the steady foundation in the heart of the Yankees' order.
Derek Jeter suffered through his worst season as a big-leaguer. A-Rod saw a drop-off in his overall numbers, partially due to health issues. And Mark Texeira was awful for large segments of the year, even if his statistical totals tell a slightly different story. The one constant performer through it all was Robinson Cano.
Long considered a massively talented hitter with a penchant for losing focus at times, Robinson Cano appears to have harnessed his immense potential and finally become the star that many in the Bronx had envisioned.
Cano, though a talented player, had yet to be counted on as one of the Yankees' premier contributors, thanks to the presence of so many other high-profile stars. The 2010 season was different however, as Joe Girardi showed increased confidence in Cano by placing him in the fifth spot in the order following the departure of Hideki Matsui. The move was risky, as Cano hit only .207 with runners in scoring position in 2009. No one knew how he would respond to the pressure of hitting in a prime run-producing spot.
Respond he did, and in grand fashion no less. Cano took a liking to the fifth spot, shrugging off the additional responsibility to post career highs in home runs, RBI, walks, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+ and WAR. He had long been a standout second baseman, but he really seems to have stepped up his overall game considerably. As far as the concerns over Cano stepping into a more significant run-producing role, he hit .322 with runners in scoring position, as well as .611 with a 1.635 OPS with the bases loaded. In late and close situations, Cano hit .347 with a .950 OPS. Apparently the added responsibility suited him.
Perhaps most impressive was his newly discovered patience at the plate. Previously, Cano had a few holes in his approach, places where you were likely able to pitch him in order to make him chase pitches to get himself out. Cano corrected that flaw in 2010, working hard to lay off specific pitches, only swinging at pitches he could hit hard. His previous career high in walks was only 39, but in 2010 he increased that significantly, to 59. Pitchers found out they now had to pitch differently to Robinson Cano, and they would have to do so at their own peril.
Defensively, he made great strides as well. A talented defender with smooth glove-work and possibly the strongest second-base arm in baseball, Cano was often guilty of playing in a lackadaisical manner, making simple mistakes that led to errors. Though his UZR places him behind several other AL second basemen, the improvements in his defensive game were readily apparent to those who watch him regularly. Totaling at least 12 errors for the last three seasons, he reduced that number to a career-low three errors in 2010. His range towards first base is still limited to some degree, but his ability to make plays up the middle is astounding, He regularly gets to balls behind second, and uses his strong arm to casually make throws that he appears to have no chance of completing. For his defensive efforts, Cano was recently awarded his first Gold Glove of his career.
One of the ways in which Cano demonstrated his immense value to the Yankees was by covering the cleanup duties in Alex Rodriguez's absence. A-Rod missed a healthy chunk of games due to various injuries over the year, prompting Joe Girardi to fill his lineup spot with Cano's bat. In 26 games as a cleanup hitter for the Bronx Bombers, Cano stepped up his game even further, hitting .324 with seven home runs and 28 RBI, along with a .969 OPS, helping to mitigate the impact of A-Rod's absence. In games that A-Rod didn't start, the Yankees went 21-7, much of that due to Cano's production.
Cano's success wasn't a Yankee Stadium creation either, as many might suspect. He did hit well at home, hitting .298 with 16 home runs and an .881 OPS. However, on the road, he actually hit better in 2010. Batting .341 with 13 home runs and a .947 OPS, Cano proved that he is capable of hitting anywhere. He also led all American League hitters in home runs versus southpaws, with 13 for the year.
Since the Yankees only finished six games ahead of the Red Sox for second in the AL East, without Cano's contributions and 6.4 WAR, the Yankees very well could have seen themselves fall into third, missing the playoffs altogether. For his significant increase in productivity and all-around improved game that figured massively into his team's success, Robinson Cano should surely find himself in the final three in 2010 MVP voting, if he does not win the honor.
2010 Regular Season - (Relevant AL Ranks)
|OPS ||OPS+ ||
||142 ||3 ||6.4(4)
* WAR and UZR courtesy of Fangraphs
** UZR Rank according to position and limited to players with at least 700 innings played at the position