Mets 2019 projections: Robinson Cano

Robinson Cano put up a 2.9 fWAR in 80 games last year, which is a terrific number. It’s almost as good as the 2.7 mark Jeff McNeil put up in 63 games. Of course unlike McNeil, Cano has a track record, three times turning in a season of at least 6.0 fWAR, the last one coming in 2016. In his career, Cano has a total of 56.3 fWAR, which is approaching the level at where we need to take his Hall of Fame chances seriously.

And that’s the rub. Cano has been a great player in the past. But we don’t really care about his past – we care about his present and his future. In the MLB universe, it’s getting harder and harder for free agents on the wrong side of 30 to get multi-year deals, as front offices have found out that as a rule, it’s a bad idea to commit years and money to that demographic. But Cano isn’t only on the wrong side of 30, he’s on the wrong side of 35. And he’s at that age while trying to play second base.

It’s not easy to be a productive middle infielder at age 36 and above. In the past 25 years, there have been a total of 46 seasons turned in by second basemen in which they accumulated at least 300 PA in that age range. Of those 46, there have been six seasons where the player amassed an fWAR total of 3.0 or more. So, essentially once every four years. And even that is a bit misleading. One of the six was Ben Zobrist last year, who had a 3.6 fWAR. But Zobrist, who played 139 games in 2018, made just 42 starts at second base. Furthermore, Jeff Kent turned in two of the six seasons.

Certainly, great players can age more gracefully than the average guy. Eddie Collins put up a 5.8 fWAR season at age 36. But for every great player like Collins or Joe Morgan (5.2 at age 38) you can find Hall of Famers like Frankie Frisch (1.8) or Nellie Fox (0.8) or Ryne Sandberg (0.7) or Charlie Gehringer (0.6). Maybe Cano adds some prime age 36 and up seasons like Collins or Kent or Morgan. Let’s see what the computer models forecast for him:

ATC —- 629 PA, .288/.351/.467, 22 HR, 87 RBIs
Marcel – 439 PA, .275/.334/.456, 16 HR, 60 RBIs
Steamer – 617 PA, .278/.339/.457, 22 HR, 80 RBIs
THE BAT – 625 PA, .278/.341/.466, 23 HR, 81 RBIs
ZiPS — 492 PA, .272/.329/.434, 16 HR, 66 RBIs

Two of these forecasts included an fWAR calculation, with Steamer’s line producing a 3.3 mark and ZiPS a 2.5 one. Obviously, Marcel and ZiPS are being heavily influenced by Cano’s 348 PA in 2018. They don’t make an adjustment that it was for a suspension, rather than an injury. The surprise isn’t that those two systems don’t but rather that the others seemingly do.

Also unsurprising is how the systems all have very similar productions lines for Cano. It’s what you would expect from a veteran player. ZiPS is a little more bearish than the others but Marcel and Steamer look like they could be copying from one another in the triple slash categories. This is actually good news. As fans, we now have a realistic baseline of what to expect. If you’re significantly above or below these marks, you need to bring something to the table besides “he’s always been good!” or “he’s just too old!”

We’ve seen Cano’s numbers in his home park take a hit when he went from the Yankees to the Mariners. In his last season in The Bronx, Cano had a .909 OPS at home. It was the third time in the last five years where his mark eclipsed the .900 mark and an .881 OPS was his lowest home rate in this span. But in his five years in Seattle, Cano ranged from a home OPS high of .847 to a low of .795 last year.

Now you may think this is because of Safeco Field. While the vast majority of parks would be less favorable than Yankee Stadium for a LHB, Safeco was not nearly as bad as you might think for a lefty. It’s righty hitters that Safeco is the most unfavorable towards. According to ESPN, in the five-year period from 2013-2017, Safeco had a HR factor for LHB of 1.031 while it was 0.962 for RHB. The park factor for HR for lefties in Safeco ranked 16th in the majors – or right in the middle of the pack.

Safeco was certainly a dropoff from Yankee Stadium. But it was essentially a neutral park for power and pretty similar to Citi Field in both HR for LHB and Runs overall.

So, what’s going to happen to Cano’s home production now that he’ll be playing those games in Queens? If you remember last season, you know that as a team, the Mets really struggled to hit in home games. But it wasn’t just last year. The last five seasons, the Mets have hit better on the road than they have at home, by an average off 55 points of OPS.

Obviously, what’s true for the team as a whole does not forecast what will happen for the individual. McNeil put up a .959 OPS in Citi Field. But of the dozen batters who amassed at least 100 PA in Citi Field, only McNeil and Brandon Nimmo (.822) had an OPS above .766 last year. And while those guys are both LHB like Cano, they were also age 26 and 25, respectively. And LHB Michael Conforto (.682) and Jay Bruce (.547) showed that not every lefty enjoyed hitting in Citi Field last year.

Here’s my completely biased prediction for Cano:

523 PA, .283/.345/.445, 18 HR, 83 RBI

My triple slash forecast is not too far from what the computer models forecast and is more optimistic than ZiPS. The main difference is that my expectation is that he’ll get more time off. Also, my belief is that he’ll get more RBIs with Nimmo and his high OBP batting in front of him. Still, my forecast calls for a drop of 55 points of OPS from what Cano did last year.

To go a step further, my opinion is that Cano ends the year with an fWAR in the neighborhood of 2.5 – which is a good total. Is it worth $20 million? If you believe the FanGraphs Dollar Value calculation, it will be worth almost exactly that. Was it worth booting McNeil off the position? You can make a case for it but my opinion is that case is 50-50, rather than a slam dunk. Will that 2.5 fWAR in 2019 make up for what will come in 2020-2023? No, it won’t.

You’ll have more credibility in the future if you chime in now with what you think Cano will do this year. Next week, Jason Vargas goes under the forecast microscope.

16 comments for “Mets 2019 projections: Robinson Cano

  1. February 20, 2019 at 11:58 am

    Cano playing 145 – 150 games should keep him fresh in the latter part of the season. Just a thought before I give you my numbers. But I don’t see McNeil coming in to replace Cano late in the game to rest him.
    PA 590 Avg .295/350/470 HR’s 22, R.B.I.’s 93

  2. José
    February 20, 2019 at 12:15 pm

    In the few years reading this here blog, I don’t think I’ve ever offered an opinion beyond a very surface layer remark (“He’s not such a bad guy!”) One interesting “disclaimer” I’ll offer is that I actually possess a graduate degree in mathematics. And although I have 15 semester units of advanced graduate statistics, I don’t consider myself either an applied mathematician or statistician.

    For what it’s worth, what I’m offering is gut instinct, a method which I very rarely employ. Now it’s true that even among HOF level 2nd baseman, their year 36 seasons tend to be, shall we say, not really hopeful on average. But we certainly have to acknowledge the durability and consistency (“d&c”) that Cano has exhibited in his career.

    From 2007 to 2017, he appeared in no less than 150 G per season, and average of +158 G per season. A cursory examination of all the other 2nd baseman for which there is a link above, none exhibited the year-in year-out d&c for the majority of their careers, or at least from the time they became regulars in the MLs.

    Has Cano ever made even one visit to the DL? So an average season for Cano would be awesome, and according to Baseball Reference’s 162 G average, that projects to 24HR 96RBI and .304/.355/.493

    Other than that, I don’t have much to say. I mean, it’s true that the Metsies have a very bad track record when it comes to the importation of a hitter, so I guess the odds are against Cano in this regard.

    Anyway, I just want to say (if I haven’t done so in the past) what a pleasure it is to read what you Mets fans post here – the most knowledgeable and simply greatest fans in all of baseball! Because, as you may have surmised, the vast majority of humanity (including myself) consider me a really brainy dude, and you people regularly humble me. Keep up the great work!

    • Mike Walczak
      February 20, 2019 at 12:58 pm

      Cano also had the benefit of an 80 game rest last year.

    • February 20, 2019 at 1:00 pm

      Thanks for the kind words, Jose! We love your posts and want you to chime in more often.

      One thing that occurred to me while reading your post is that we were saying this time last year that one of the things that Todd Frazier had going for him was his durability. Woops.

      It’s like the airlines that don’t tout their safety record in their advertisements – too easy to come back and bite you.

    • MattyMets
      February 20, 2019 at 3:03 pm

      Awesome contribution, Jose. Keep ‘em comin. Cano’s durability is certainly an asset but I recall saying that about Jason Bay, Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier… something in the water in Flushing?

      Brian makes an interesting point about the home field factor. Time will tell how Cano and some of the other new faces will perform at Citi Field. Sure would be nice to bring in an outside bat that really gets acquainted with the Coca-Cola porch and Shea Bridge.

      • MattyMets
        February 20, 2019 at 3:08 pm

        Oh, as for forecasts, while I agree that the last few years of his contract may be a problem I think Cano is going to have a big year – coming off suspension he’ll want to prove himself and he’ll be happy to be back in NY. .294/.365/.500 25 HR, 102 RBI, 38 2b

      • MattyMets
        February 20, 2019 at 4:48 pm

        Speaking of durability, Lowrie has been shit down to have an MRI on his knee.

  3. Mike Walczak
    February 20, 2019 at 12:54 pm

    .257 23 HR 90 RBI

    I think his average drops, but he drives in runs.

    Cant wait for the Vargas estimates.

  4. John Fox
    February 20, 2019 at 1:46 pm

    I think his fielding at second base drops off even more than it did last year and that he ends up spending a lot of time platooning at 1b.

    • February 20, 2019 at 6:44 pm

      His defensive metrics were fine at second last year I think he’s a few years away from changing positions.

  5. Chris F
    February 20, 2019 at 2:04 pm

    Im not a big prognosticator, but one thing worth keeping in mind that changing teams is hard, but changing leagues is really hard. I think it is reasonable to expect Cano to need time to adjust to a whole new line of pitching that he has never seen.

  6. TexasGusCC
    February 20, 2019 at 8:15 pm

    24 HR, 102 RBI, 145 Games

  7. Chris B
    February 20, 2019 at 8:53 pm

    I think that a 2.5 fWar is an appropriate output for Cano at that # of PA. You have to expect a bit of regression from last season. If you look at his splits he’s mostly posted a better OPS in the first half of seasons compared to the second. The only recent outlier is in 2015 when he suffered an abdominal injury in July. By that logic I’m not reading too much into his 2018 production. It’s interesting to see that Cano has already developed a repoire with Rosario – at least he’s found a mentor who can hit.

    • Chris B
      February 20, 2019 at 9:12 pm

      16 HR, 80 RBI, 125 games

  8. February 21, 2019 at 1:12 am

    I’ll go 275/345/460 with 22 homers

  9. NYM6986
    February 21, 2019 at 7:28 am

    If the first 2 hitters have good seasons and get on base Cano, with an average hitting year, will drive in 90 plus runs. Think of Mattingly who had runners on all the time on his way to something like 125-135 RBI that one year. The average and HRs are his doing but any great RBI player needs people on base. Yes, he has gotten older but I too believe what he will produce in the next 2-3 will rationalize the end of contract years where he should be in more of a decline. That’s when he gets traded back to the AL to DH. BVW has tried to put us in a win now mode given that we won’t be able to pay all our pitchers after the next 2-3 years and we as fans simple can’t wait for a youth build up when we continue not to develop or draft hitters. We do have a core of good young players who hopefully will move forward this year – Conforto, Nimmo and Rosario – and if they do, the Mets will score a lot of runs and not be so desperate for a big RH bat that other teams fear pitching to. Then if/when Cespedes comes back and a pickup at the trade deadline and we are right in the thick of the post season race. I see some of the older players we picked up as placeholders daring the Mets to be ready in the next 2-3 years to replace with young and better developed talent than they have brought up in past years. It’s hard not to be optimistic about the upcoming season knowing that our pen will give us an edge once the starter is done and not be comprised of AAA or AA arms that are not ready for prime time.
    I too appreciate this blog as it brings knowledgeable Met fans together for some honest dialogue, wishes and dreams.

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