When the Seattle Mariners broke the bank to sign Robinson Cano to a 10 year, $240 million dollar deal, they were hoping for MVP-level production. Over the last four seasons, Cano has amassed 25.4 fWAR, which ranks second in the major leagues to Miguel Cabrera, the man who has taken home the last two MVP awards. By the way, Mike Trout ranks 9th on that list despite only having played the equivalent of two full seasons.
Cano has finished between third and sixth in the MVP voting over the last four years, but has never received a first place vote.
What are the star second baseman’s chances of capturing the MVP award this season?
In its current form, the MVP is something of a team award. In order for Cano to have a chance at winning, the Mariners would need to have a strong season, most likely one that resulted in a playoff berth. Trout’s historically good 2012 and 2013 seasons are very close to the pinnacle of individual performance, and because the Los Angeles Angels have been golfing in October, Cabrera has collected the hardware.
Currently, Fangraphs’ Playoff Odds, which are based on the Steamer Depth Charts, are projecting 84 wins for the Mariners, and giving them a 35 percent chance of making the playoffs. You can take that for what it’s worth. Two teams ahead of them, the Texas Rangers and the Oakland Athletics, have suffered a bevy of injuries this spring. Of course, the Mariners haven’t been too healthy either, and their Opening Day rotation looks to feature stalwarts such as Erasmo Ramirez, Chris Young, and Roenis Elias along with James Paxton. Blake Beavan might factor in as well.
As far as the offense goes, let’s put it this way: there will be plenty of opportunities for Cano to stand out. Kyle Seager is coming off two solid seasons, and Brad Miller and Mike Zunino are promising young players. Other than that, there isn’t a whole lot of upside unless Corey Hart regains his pre-injury form.
In short, the projections might be overrating the Mariners, what with their weakened pitching staff. Still, far crazier things have happened. The Cleveland Indians came out of nowhere to make the playoffs last year. With regards to Cano’s MVP chances, a monster year combined with an underdog playoff appearance would make him an attractive candidate in the eyes of many voters.
And that’s just it. Cano would need to have a monster year. ZiPS, Steamer, and Pecota all have fairly similar projections for Cano, something in the neighborhood of .290/.350/.475, which along with his solid second base defense, would put him in the top 10-12 players in baseball. Of course, those are 50th percentile projections, and unless we’re talking about Trout, players have to outperform their projections to have an MVP-type season. Cano would likely need a slash line that resembles .320/.380/.550, which he did as recently as 2012, albeit in a much more hitter-friendly park.
A lefty swinger, Cano has averaged 28 home runs per season since the Yankees moved into their new stadium in 2009. According to Fangraphs’ Park Factors, Yankee Stadium is the second best park for left-handed home run power, just a shade behind Coors Field. Meanwhile, Safeco lies in the bottom 10. However, Cano isn’t just a product of Yankee Stadium’s short porch. Here’s a comparison of his home and road numbers over the last five years.
While he doesn’t hit as many home runs on the road, Cano mostly makes up for that with doubles, as he has 125 road doubles compared to 99 home doubles. There just isn’t a whole lot of space for left-handed hitters to hit doubles at Yankee Stadium. Overall, his slash line is very similar. Leaving the comforting closeness of Yankee Stadium’s short porch won’t affect Cano nearly as much as it would other hitters.
While MVP voting frequently fails to award the best player, it appears that the BBWAA is past the debacle in 2006 where Justin Morneau and Ryan Howard took home the trophies. Based on the last seven years, it’s a reasonable assumption that the MVP winner will accumulate at least +7 WAR. Here’s a list of second basemen in the expansion era who have produced at least 6.5 bWAR in their age-31 season or later.
That’s high society right there, but with the exception of Morgan, Cano wouldn’t be out of place. Again, not all of these guys were MVP winners, and in fact only Morgan and Kent were. An MVP season from Cano isn’t out of the question, but it would take a strong performance from the Mariners, and a great year from Cano. Let’s say it’s a 95th percentile projection for Cano, and a 75th percentile projection from the M’s.