Where to hit Robinson Cano is a good problem for Mets

With baseball finally back in the form of exhibition games between the Mets and Yankees over the weekend, it is feels nice to get to nit-pick manager’s lineup decisions again. First year manager Luis Rojas has the luxury of a talented and deep set of hitters to draw from, but already he has raised some eyebrows.

Sunday, Brian Joura broke down Saturday’s box score and raised the same concerns that have come up on social media about Rojas’ lineups – Robinson Cano batting third. Brian mentioned a preference for batting Cano sixth or lower, which we’ll address later. However, assuming a lineup full of regulars for the Mets, Cano presents an interesting case to be the No. 3 hitter.

“Definitely features very well to hit third in the lineup,” Rojas said of Cano to the media on Saturday. “We don’t have the lineup set for Opening Day yet, but he’s a guy that features to be there in the middle of the lineup.

“There’s a lot of versatility in the lineup, guys that can hit in different positions,” Rojas continued. “We are getting a feel for each one, to hit in different spots. We’ve done it throughout camp and that’s what we’re doing today. He should be in the middle of the lineup. That’s what we foresee.”

It should be noted that while Rojas has coached and managed in the minor leagues since 2006, minor league managers typically don’t have the kind of freedom in making out their lineups that MLB managers do. Like all other MiLB managers, Rojas has been at the mercy of what the player development staff tells him to do. The input is assuredly still there in the majors, but he has more decision-making ability than before.

Much of the disagreement centers on lineup construction theory. Even today, the “best hitter bats third” camp clashes with the “best hitter bats second” camp which has gained more mainstream acceptance in MLB circles. The flip side of that theory is that your No. 3 hitter, traditionally the best overall hitter in the lineup should be the fifth-best hitter as outlined in The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball. For that camp, No. 3 makes the perfect spot in the lineup for Cano.

Cano is 37 and coming off of his worst season since 2008, but the glimmer of hope for him is in his strong finish from 2019. Last year was a story of two seasons for Cano: In the first half he hit just .240/.287/.360 and his wOBA was .276. After returning from injury in the second half of the season he hit .284/.339/.541 and his wOBA jumped to .358.

His second-half offensive numbers are superior to Amed Rosario, Wilson Ramos and even Alonso. It’s not smart to expect a repeat of that second half performance in 2020, but it’s not unfair to expect him to be closer to that than his dreadful first half.

The question becomes: “Is that player the fifth-best hitter in the lineup?” The best answer to that is maybe. Against a right-handed pitcher, Cano probably is. Against a lefty slotting J.D. Davis in that spot or benching Cano altogether probably makes more sense. This is one of the nice parts of Rojas’ problem – with Brandon Nimmo, Alonso, Michael Conforto and Jeff McNeil forming a stellar top four hitters, there are a few players who could fit the slot as that fifth guy. For example, a healthy Yoenis Cespedes could be that guy.

If Cespedes does prove to still have something in the tank after two years away from MLB, then Cano’s case to hit higher than seventh really dissipates. With the new three batter minimum rule for relievers in baseball this year, Rojas has shown a preference to flip-flop lefties and righties in the lineup. Both lineups against the Yankees flip flopped lefties and righties in the first six spots. Doing so all the way down the lineup will make it tougher on ex-LOOGYs now charged with getting through at least one right-handed bat.

A Cano that isn’t batting in the top five in the lineup is then looking at slotting seventh to keep that trend further down the order. No matter which school of lineup construction you subscribe to, that may very well be where he is best suited to bat in 2020. What you hope is that if that is the case, neither Rojas nor anyone in the organization above him doesn’t try to force Cano into the middle of the lineup. It could present a real test of the new skipper’s flexibility and willingness to change his mind when presented with information.

Either way, if where Cano is batting is the biggest problem for the Mets heading into the 60-game season, that’s a great problem to have. The strong, deep lineup should be a force to contend with in the playoffs.

7 comments for “Where to hit Robinson Cano is a good problem for Mets

  1. July 20, 2020 at 4:28 pm

    I was kind of hoping that he’d miss the first two weeks of the season but we’ll see how it goes. If he hits third no matter how he is performing, I’ll blow a gasket.

    He didn’t impress me defensively last night either.

    • Ike
      July 21, 2020 at 10:07 am

      You are right on with that assessment

  2. Metsense
    July 20, 2020 at 7:31 pm

    Against a RHP the 2019 splits and rotating left/right lineup per OPS
    Nimmo .680,Alonso .941, McNeil .950, Davis .886,Conforto .926, Cespedes .905*,Cano .799, Ramos .714, Rosario .713.
    Nimmo has a career OPS.841 and Cespedes at a .905 career OPS against RHP.
    Cano should bat 7th vs RHP and I endorse the author’s suggestion of benching Cano vs a LHP with his .569 OPS and his 37 year old body.

    • Joe Vasile
      July 21, 2020 at 8:21 am

      Yeah, on one hand it’s hard to imagine the Mets (or any team) actually turning Robinson Cano into a $25 million platoon player, but that may end up being the best thing for him at this stage in his career.

  3. TexasGusCC
    July 21, 2020 at 9:35 am

    Jerry DiPoto proves once again that no matter how dumb you may be, there’s always someone dumber. I hope at least Rojas isn’t getting pressured.

    • Ike
      July 21, 2020 at 10:17 am

      If Cano winds up hitting third on our team whoever makes that decision should be fired!!!

      Editor’s Note – Please do not capitalize words in your post, as that is a violation of our Comment Policy.

  4. Ike
    July 21, 2020 at 10:14 am

    Let’s face facts Brody got fleeced we gave up some of our top prospects to take on a broken down Cano who we now pay more than anybody and will be for the next for years just to get Diaz when he should’ve said will take your broken down Kano and Diaz just to get that contract off your books we never should’ve given up anybody and if we could afford to take that contract on we might as well just eat it and let McNeil play second put JD third and after watching Cespedes the other day I’m really worried about him and if he can’t play left I’d put Dom and left and just leave them there taking the two old guys out of the lineup and putting all the kids in will be the best thing we could do and I think JD and Dom would get better with time where is the other two guys are gonna break down even more and boy would I like to have Kelenick back

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