On-Base Perception

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Robinson Cano more productive batting second in lineup

Infielder Robinson Cano of the Yankees smiles as

Infielder Robinson Cano of the Yankees smiles as he plays catch just before the start of the game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. (May 25, 2013) (Credit: Getty Images)

If you look at the numbers, there are two Robinson Canos.
The one who has batted No. 2 this season is a superstar, with a .343 batting average and 1.052 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage). But when he has hit third in 2013, his numbers (.220, .683 OPS) have sunk to those of a replacement player.

Although hitting third certainly is the more historically prestigious spot in a batting order, the No. 2 hitter can be more important to a team’s success. And that's good news for the Yankees.

Entering Friday night's game, Cano had batted second 26 times and third 20 times.

Last year, the Yankees' No. 2 hitter came to the plate 746 times. The No. 3 hitter came to the plate 725 times, a difference of 21 plate appearances.

Each spot you drop down in the order, no matter how much of an honor the position may be, gives you about 20 fewer plate appearances in the course of a season. That may not seem like a big deal at first glance, but consider this:

Heading into Friday night, Cano hit a home run an average of once every 15.3 plate appearances, drove in a run once every 6.06 plate appearances and got a hit once every 3.7 plate appearances. Continuing that rate over the course of a season gives Cano another home run, three more RBIs and five more hits in 20 plate appearances. That could mean an extra win or two -- something especially important in a division as vicious as the AL East.

Of the 20 times Cano has batted third this season, 13 have come in games against lefthanded starting pitchers. He's generally been effective against lefties during his career (.787 OPS) but does show better production against righthanded pitchers (.889 OPS). This season, however, he hasn't done much damage off lefties, period, hitting .239 with a .280 OBP and .717 OPS. He has a .997 OPS against righties.

Cano's highest career OPS comes when he bats fourth: .980. His OPS is above .800 when he bats fifth, sixth, seventh and ninth.

Cano hasn't had too much protection when he’s been moved to third in the order this year. Joe Girardi has generally hit Cano third when Travis Hafner or Vernon Wells is out of the lineup, thereby weakening the batters around Cano. Instead of batting between speedy Brett Gardner and a slugger in Hafner or Wells, Cano is hitting after struggling Jayson Nix or Ichiro Suzuki.

With greater odds that there are two outs and no one on base when Cano takes at least his first at-bat, pitchers have more incentive to attack him instead of being defensive.

Lefty Jon Niese will start for the Mets Monday night in the Subway Series opener, which means Cano likely will bat third. But as the series progresses, Yankees fans should hope Cano continues riding the 2 train.

Tags: Yankees , Robinson Cano

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