Robinson Cano or Adrian Gonzalez? 5 Reasons Cano Will Be AL East's Best
With Spring Training around the corner, and several new faces in the Red Sox’ dugout, there is much buzz surrounding the Hub’s favorite sports team. Perhaps the most buzzworthy character of all is Adrian Gonzalez, the all star first baseman who the Sox acquired from San Diego in December, and who many expect to be an immediate force in the middle of Boston’s lineup.
Many analysts and fans alike are projecting that the Red Sox are the team to beat in the AL East, and Gonzo will be as feared a slugger as any in the division. But, the arch rival New York Yankees have their own superstar slugger in second baseman Robinson Cano, and while Gonzalez is likely to prove himself worthy of the attention he’s getting, it might very well be that Cano is going to have the most impressive individual season of anyone in the American League’s Eastern division.
Same Shirt, Different Day Vs. New Kid on the Block
Entering his seventh season in pinstripes, Robinson Cano is on familiar grounds at Yankee Stadium. He knows the sights, he knows the sounds. Knows the bumps in the infield. Knows the speed of the turf. Knows his way around the locker room, and the parking garage. There’s really nothing new this year to distract Cano from the task at hand; playing baseball to the best of his abilities.
Anything unique to Yankee Stadium and the organization in general, as well as anything unique to playing under the pressure of “The Evil Empire,” is already well absorbed by Cano. Look for his year to resemble the rest of his career, which has, for the most part, been a steady improvement year after year -- aside from a minor hiccup in 2008, where his .271 average, 14 homeruns and 72 RBIs where still respectable. This year looks to be his best yet, coming off of career highs in power numbers and batting .319 in 2010. Cano has introduced some significant pop to his bat, to compliment his solid eye at the plate.
Same Shirt, Different Day Vs. New Kid on the Block (cont.)
In contrast, Adrian Gonzalez will find himself in new surroundings in 2011. Arguably the most beautiful stadium in the country, acclimating to Boston’s Fenway Park may be a challenge for Gonzalez at first. The dimensions of the park lend well to powerful hitters, and this should prove to favor Gonzalez, who will likely be looking at 40 homeruns towards the seasons end.
That being said, the beauty of the park is in part due to the unique layout, with various corners and angles that are not typically seen in more modern parks. These features might take some getting used to for Gonzo, but more than likely he will be able to use them to his advantage quick enough. At first base, the pace of the infield and any uneven bumps will need some attention, and fortunately he’ll have Kevin Youkilis in the dugout to offer any pointers. A talented and natural fielder in his own right, Gonzalez should perform well in the field at Fenway.
Regardless of one’s talent in the field and at the plate, baseball favors familiarity. Cano will feel right at home in April, while Gonzalez might need a month to find his stride.
Purity Vs. Power
Robinson Cano has only recently introduced a reasonable amount of power into his swing. In 2009, his fifth season in the majors, Cano broke the 20 homerun plateau, sending 25 pitches over the fence. Last year, he followed up that performace with a career high 29 long balls, along with 109 RBIs and a .534 slugging percentage – also personal bests.
But, while this power at the plate is relatively new, his ability to put the bat on the ball consistently is not. With the exception of his off-year in 2008, as well a rookie year batting average of .297, Cano has been good for .300 or better. He’s a great hitter with natural ability and feel for the next pitch. Additionally, he’s regularly kept his season total for strikeouts to a respectable 80 or fewer.
Purity Vs. Power (cont.)
Inversely, Boston’s Adrian Gonzalez is a more natural power-hitter, while not as fine-tuned as Cano. As stated earlier, Gonzalez will likely get his share of homeruns and RBIs in his new home. He’s got the pop for it, and Boston’s lineup should offer him plenty of base runners to bring across the plate. However, Gonzalez will be facing pitchers that he has not seen much, and this lack of experience will likely prove to be a factor for a batter who isn’t as strong a contact hitter as he is a power guy.
Over the course of his career, he’s hit .300 for the season only once, with a career average of .284. He’ll likely see some assistance from the right field bullpen which is relatively short (302 ft) down the line, as well as the Green Monster in left field, which measures 310 ft (likely, an exaggeration). Known to have opposite field power, the left-handed Gonzalez might benefit from would-be outs clearing the Monster for homeruns, or scraping the scoreboard for doubles.
While Fenway’s dimensions should support Gonzalez’ power, it’s not likely they will make up completely for the difficulty of facing new pitchers in new surroundings. A more natural contact hitter (like Cano, for instance) would likely adjust quicker. But, Cano won’t be the one adjusting this year.
Demand Vs. Supply
Robinson Cano finds himself entering his prime at a time that the Yankees need him most, as some of New York’s most reliable contributors on the offensive side are aging. Face-of-the-franchise shortstop Derek Jeter enters his sixteenth season at age 36, coming off a down year in which he batted .270. Batting near the top of the order, the Yankees will hope for a return to form from Jeter, who has typically batted over .300 his entire career, and this is a much more likeable number from someone in the top-third of your lineup.
Slugger Alex Rodriguez, at age 35, is also coming off a year in which he batted .270. His power numbers were still strong, with 30 homers and 125 RBIs, but the Yankees will certainly be crossing their fingers for both of these guys, hoping that they will deliver more characteristic seasons in 2011 as they fight off age. If not, the load might be Cano’s to carry. Fortunately, he’s really been coming into his own the past couple of seasons, and at 28 years of age, he’s in position to meet that demand in New York’s lineup for several years to come.
Demand Vs. Supply (cont.)
For Adrian Gonzalez, his new territory offers support from his new teammates at the plate. Stars like Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia are both skilled contact hitters with some power in their swings, and the addition of Carl Crawford this offseason is likely to help ensure that Boston has runners on when Gonzalez takes his swings.
Also, Gonzo might find himself in a you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours relationship with designated hitter David Ortiz, similar to that which existed between Ortiz and Manny Ramirez during his time with the Red Sox. Opposing pitchers are forced to pitch differently to batters who are surrounded by protection, and depending on where all of these hitters fit into the Red Sox’ batting order, Ortiz may benefit more than anyone, from a statistical standpoint, by the arrival of Gonzalez.
In short, while New York’s lineup may ask Cano to put up big numbers for the Empire to contend, he’s likely to prove capable of meeting that demand. For Gonzalez, on the other hand, a stacked Red Sox offense shouldn’t rely so heavily on his performance, and he should simply supply his fair share of offense as another piece of the puzzle. Albeit, one of the more powerful and talented pieces.
Spotlight Favor Vs. Spotlight Fever
Already accustomed to playing in a high-pressure market, it will be business as usual for Cano. New York is one of the hardest places to play baseball, in that the media and the fans have high expectations. The reward for meeting them is great, with fifty-thousand fans cheering, clapping and stomping in praise.
But, falling short can turn into a nightmare, and nobody is safe from the jeers when they fail to perform. Even Alex Rodriguez has seen that side of the coin. In that regards, Cano is in the fortunate position of being aware and familiar with that scene. He has played several seasons in that pressure-cooker atmosphere and earned the repsect and support of the Yankee fanbase. 2011 will be no different, and that’s exactly what Cano will expect.
Spotlight Favor Vs. Spotlight Fever (cont.)
If there is any city that rivals New York’s intensity, it’s Boston. Thirty-seven thousand strong give every ounce of their support, and every ounce of their disappointment, depending on the player’s performance. Boston’s fans are probably slightly more forgiving than New York’s, but the media may be even more critical. It will be important for Adrian Gonzalez to perform well this year, to get on Boston’s good side. And this pressure is something that will be unlike what Gonzalez has experienced to this point in his career, playing in San Diego.
Not only is the general atmosphere pretty easy-come-easy-go in Southern California, but even the most intense San Diego sportsfan was likely to give Gonzalez a bit of a homegrown hero’s pass, any time he found himself slumping. Boston isn’t likely to be as compassionate until he’s proven himself first. Other players have been run out of town (see: Edgar Renteria) for not living up to their hype.
Most likely, Gonzalez will not have a problem fitting in, as he has the skills necessary to fair well at the plate and in the field. But, he’ll feel the heat if it takes too long for him to get acclimated. Cano, on the other hand, will more certainly thrive in the similar pressure of the Bronx, per usual. He’s felt how hot the kitchen can get, and knows that it’s a heat he can stand.
Rugged Robi Vs Gritty Gonzo
Robinson Cano heads into spring training without any signs for concern in regards to health. Since 2007, Cano has never played fewer than 159 games in baseball’s 162 game regular season. With all his talent and value day in and day out, his durability is very important and key to the Yankees.
Rugged Robi Vs Gritty Gonzo (cont.)
Similarly, Adrian Gonzalez brings a history of durability with him to Fenway, appearing in no less than 156 games since the 2006 season. However, during the offseason he has undergone surgery on his right shoulder and just this week was reported as testing the results with a game of catch.
It won’t be until mid-February that he’ll be swinging a bat, and while all signs indicate he’ll be recovered and ready for spring training and the start of the regular season, the surgery still gives reason to suspect that it may have some effect, however slight, on the slugger finding his stroke, his power and feeling completely confident in his body.
Cano Bests Gonzo, But Not Necessarily a
Robinson Cano and Adrian Gonzalez are both in position to have huge impacts on their teams’ success. Very likely, they will both meet the challenges that 2011 brings. Individually, though, look for Cano to put up numbers that are a little more impressive than Gonzalez’, when considered as a whole.
He’ll probably best Gonzo in average and hits, challenge him in the RBI department, and maybe even for homeruns as well if that power continues to grow as it has the past couple of seasons. At the plate, Cano has proven to be the more skilled all-around hitter, and his team will need him at his best, game after game. For Gonzalez, his unfamiliar surroundings, coupled with the buzz of Boston and how it contrasts with that of San Diego, will surely test him in his first season with the Sox.
Yet, even if these predictions hold true, and Cano does in fact have the better year on paper, it’s Gonzalez who is in better position to be looking back on 2011 with a smile on his face, and maybe a ring on his finger…