On-Base Perception

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What is Robinson Cano worth?

Robinson Cano blows a bubble after taking a

Robinson Cano blows a bubble after taking a strike in the first inning of a game against the Tampa Bay Rays. (Aug. 25, 2013) (Credit: Getty)

It was reported Thursday that soon-to-be free agent Robinson Cano asked the Yankees for a 10-year, $310 million contract, a request the Yankees denied. That Cano is looking to become the highest paid player in baseball history suggests he and his representatives view the slugging second baseman as one of the top players in baseball.

How accurate of a vision is that?

On the surface it may appear he’s very good, but not great.

In nine seasons, Cano is a five-time All-Star, four-time Silver Slugger winner and two-time Gold Glove winner. He’s finished in the top six of American League MVP voting each season since 2010, but has never placed higher than third.

Cano has 204 home runs since his debut in May 2005. There are 25 players with more than him in that span, including Nick Swisher (228) who had to settle for a four-year, $56 million contract with the Indians last offseason.

His .860 career on-base plus slugging percentage is impressive, but consider that fellow second baseman Chase Utley has an .882 OPS during that nine-year period (admittedly in 500 less plate appearances).

And yet, there’s plenty to suggest that Cano is indeed one of the best players in the game. Indeed, he might be underrated:

Consistently productive

Cano has been reliably prolific since his debut. He’s hit .270 or better in 45 of the 52 months he’s played, exhibiting no real streakiness. And he’s productive when the season is on the line. Of the seven months during his career when he’s posted worse than a .270 average six were an April or May. Only once has he hit worse than .270 after May, and that was in August 2005.

Going to WAR

Since 2005, Cano has the ninth-highest Wins Above Replacement among MLB position players at 37.2. The players ahead of him: Albert Pujols, Utley, Miguel Cabrera, David Wright, Matt Holliday, Joe Mauer, Alex Rodriguez and Adrian Beltre. Since 2010, Cano’s 25.5 WAR is second only to Cabrera’s 27.4.

Durable

Since 2007, Cano has played in at least 158 games every season. His 1,118 games during that span trails only Prince Fielder’s 1,123.

Playing the field

Gold Gloves aside, Cano rates as a generally above-average defender with occasional seasons of excellence. Cano has 23 career Defensive Runs Saved, the primary defensive evaluator used for WAR. But his overall number takes a hit due to some sloppy fielding during his first two seasons, when he posted -26 DRS. Since 2007, he’s posted a negative number just once (in 2008) and has a cumulative 49 DRS.

Walking the walk

Cano sometimes is still saddled with a reputation as a free swinger. During his first five seasons in the majors he never posted a walk rate over 5.8 percent, and his OBP was highly dependent on his batting average. For instance: Cano had a .365 OBP in 2006, but much of that was based on his .342 average. But Cano has shown signs of progress, posting walk rates of 8.2 percent or greater during three of the last four seasons. This year, he has a career-high rate of 9.7 percent.

In the zone

Cano’s OBP is also aided by his improving plate discipline. This season he’s posted a career-low swing rate of 49.9 percent. And when he is swinging, he’s making it count. He still swings at 34.7 percent of pitches outside the strike zone (right in line with his 34.2 percent career rate), but he’s making contact with those pitches 77.3 percent of the time this season – up from a career rate of 73.4 percent. Cano never posted a contact rate above 69.2 percent on pitches outside the strike zone during his first three seasons. But that number hasn’t fallen below 75.4 percent in five of the last six seasons.

Split decision

Cano has been most productive when facing righthanders during his career, posting an .894 OPS. But he’s no slouch against lefties. Cano has a .290 average, .340 OBP and .790 OPS against southpaws. He’s also not a product of Yankee Stadium. Cano has an .858 OPS and .507 slugging percentage at home and an .862 OPS and .503 slugging percentage on the road. His stats don’t change based on the importance of the situation, either. In low leverage spots he has an .864 OPS, in medium leverage situations he has an .852 OPS and on high leverage occasions he has an .866 OPS. He hits .300 with an .830 OPS with men on base and .281 with an .802 OPS with men in scoring position.

Dollar WAR

Fangraphs helpfully converts a player’s WAR to a dollar amount based on what they’d be worth in free agency. Cano and his representatives are reportedly trying to make him a $30 million per year player. The Fangraphs figures suggest he’s already worth that, giving him $34.9 million for his 2012 seasons and $30.3 million so far this season. Of course, he’s actually earned a combined $29 million during the last two seasons.

So how much is Robinson Cano worth? And for how long is he worth it?

The numbers to answer those questions will be revealed soon enough.

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