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Leyland: “Cano is one of the best players I’ve ever seen”

Oct 2, 2011, 3:35 PM EST

cano square reuters Reuters

Tigers manager Jim Leyland offered high praise for Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano before Game 2 of the ALDS Sunday in New York:

“My staff think he’s one of the top five players in all of baseball without question,” Leyland said. “He’s a great player. He’s one of the best players I’ve ever seen. He came up on the big stage last night. We have the utmost respect for him obviously, as we do the Yankee team.”

(Quote comes via ESPN’s Andrew Marchand)

Cano hit a grand slam and tallied six total RBI in Saturday’s 9-3 Game 1 defeat of Detroit. He also had a monstrous regular season, posting a .302/.349/.533 batting line with 28 home runs and 118 RBI in 681 plate appearances. But is he really one of the top five players in the league right now? To the numbers:

According to FanGraphs’ calculation of WAR (Wins Above Replacement), the top 10 players in baseball this season were (in order): Jacoby Ellsbury, Matt Kemp, Jose Bautista, Dustin Pedroia, Ryan Braun, Ian Kinsler, Miguel Cabrera, Curtis Granderson, Alex Gordon and Joey Votto. Cano ranked 22nd.

But, hey, maybe Leyland’s staff has better metrics. Or maybe October really is hyperbole’s favorite month.

  1. dan12 - Oct 2, 2011 at 3:45 PM

    It’s a little disingenuous to quote WAR like that, don’t you think? Especially when plenty of writers from here rail against MSM writers doing the same exact thing as a way of bashing WAR. Are you going to quote doubles in saying that Jeff Francoeur is the best gap hitter in the AL? Or did he just hit a lot of doubles THIS year.

    • Drew Silva - Oct 2, 2011 at 3:52 PM

      You’re right. It’s dangerous to pretend WAR is a be-all, end-all statistic. But I wasn’t really trying to make any grand point, just noting that Leyland was off in suggesting Cano is a Top 5 player. And WAR does a good job of rating value across different positions.

      • proudlycanadian - Oct 2, 2011 at 4:38 PM

        Edwin Star had the best description of War in his song.
        “War, huh, yeah
        What is it good for
        Absolutely nothing”

      • hittfamily - Oct 2, 2011 at 4:58 PM

        8 Cano’s on the diamond beats the snot out of 8 Bautista’s or 8 Votto’s. I think WAR undervalues middle infielders and catchers, and overvalues 1st baseman and corner outfielders. The SS/2b/C can replace the 1st baseman/LF/RF defensively, but not vise versa. The best first baseman in the league is only a little better than the 10th best. The best SS’s or 2b’s is WAAAYYYY better than the 6th best.

      • Francisco (FC) - Oct 2, 2011 at 5:24 PM

        Just an observation: Pujols is not in the top 10 in your List yet I doubt you would make the argument that someone claiming Pujols is a top 5 player is “off base” based on this “list”.

      • proudlycanadian - Oct 2, 2011 at 5:25 PM

        Stats such as War are only as good as the underlying assumptions and the weightings given to the factors being measured. Some key factors such as scoring errors and mistakes by umpires are left out. How do you quantify leadership? How do you quantify the fear factor which causes teams to pitch around a player? How do you measure a catcher’s ability to call a game? How to you weight the stats that you decide to use in creating War? If the assumptions, weightings and the factors being measured have holes in them, then the stats are inherently wrong.

      • hittfamily - Oct 2, 2011 at 6:08 PM

        Ben Zobrist gets robbed by WAR. He is highly ranked, but completely undervalued. He has started at 7 position the last 2 years. That makes him extraordinarily valuable to a team like the Rays, who have pitiful backups. Matt Joyce rips righties, but can’t hit lefties. Sean Rodriguez rips lefties, but can’t hit righties. On any other team, one of the 2 would not have been able to platoon, and would have been relegated to off the bench roles because they play different positions.

        Solution: Ben Zobrist

        Matt Joyce plays right when righties pitch.
        Sean Rodriguez plays second when lefites pitch.

        Ben Zobrist single handedly gave the Rays a solution to having zero production out of a position to getting over a 4 WAR out of that position. Should that 4 be added to Zobrist’s WAR? Because he plays 7 positions, and never has to be pinch hit for, pinch run for, replaced for defensive purposes, it enabled the Rays to carry and extra pitcher on the roster. Earlier this year, the Rays sent a SS to the minors and called up an outfielder, because they replaced their weekest player with their best. This isn’t possible without Zobrist.

        Take Zobrist’s WAR and add at minimum 3 to it because all the options he gives his management team.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Oct 2, 2011 at 7:22 PM

        Ben Zobrist gets robbed by WAR.

        No, it’s the complete opposite. Zobrist has three seasons where’s he’s played 150+ games, in those he’s put up 8.7, 3.9 and 6.6 fWAR. There’s no way he’s underrated via WAR.

      • hittfamily - Oct 2, 2011 at 7:42 PM

        That was my first sentence. My second was “He is highly ranked, but completely undervalued”. Then I explained why he is undervalued.

        This year he had as many extra base hits as Adrain Gonzalez. He also stole 20 bases. As a second baseman, with no protection behind him, that is why his WAR is so high. My point was it should be higher, and if you disagree, use examples. Showing his WAR as a basis for why his WAR is undervalued is a terrible argument.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Oct 2, 2011 at 7:50 PM

        Do you not get what a 6.6 fWAR value means? It’s the same as Dustin Pedroia’s MVP year. It’s the same as Adrian Gonzalez’s this year, when people were touting him as an MVP candidate. What more do you want from the metric than to say in two of the three years he’s played a full season he’s been one of the best players in the AL (first year best in MLB)?

      • hittfamily - Oct 2, 2011 at 8:02 PM

        I am saying that his WAR is based on his measurables, but it is his immeasurables that make him even better than his WAR indicates. I am pointing out the flaws in WAR, by using it as a be all, end all, in evaluating who is better than who. WAR ignores what makes Zobrist possibly the most valuable player in the game. I don’t know if Zobrist is the most irreplaceable player, but it ignores the reasons that he may be.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Oct 2, 2011 at 8:07 PM

        Except you are most likely talking about his defensive value across multiple positions, so now you are getting into the most controversial part of WAR which isn’t necessarily a boost to your argument. If you need 3+ years of defense at once position before you can state, with confidence, what a person’s defensive ability is, Zobrist is significantly behind.

        Zobrist has a career 2185 innings at 2b and 1375 at RF. Ryan Braun this year had 1250 innings in one year and that’s about 100 lower than normal. Zobrist barely has 1.5 years at 2b and that’s his highest position played by far.

      • hittfamily - Oct 2, 2011 at 8:47 PM

        You lost me there.

        Here is my point boiled down with examples. Evan Longoria is injured the first month, so Zobrist is a full time infielder. Longoria comes back, so Zobrist platoons between right and second. When a lefty is replaced by a righty, or vise versa, Sean Rodriguez pinch hits for Joyce or the other way around, and mid game Zobrist swaps positions with the one replaced. In August, when Reid Brignac continued to struggle, the Rays needed to send him to the minors. However, there were no infielders ready to come up. So they brought Desmond Jennings up and played Zobrist in the infield full time.

        When outfielder Justin Ruggiano went on the DL, the Rays brough up a 6th starting pitcher in Alex Cobb, without having to send down a bullpen guy. They had 2 extra infielders, and Sam Fuld for the outfield, and could always move Zobrist to the OF if needed. Zobrist made that move doable.

        No other player in baseball enables their team to swap a shortstop for a left fielder. I get there are utility players all over the league, but not ones that are both as versatile and productive as Zobrist.

        How many WAR points did Zobrist earn because Desmond Jennings replaced Reid Brignac in the starting lineup. How many WAR points did Zobrist get because the Rays threw a 6 man rotation instead of a 5 man without impacting their bullpen? The Rays have the luxury of putting the best starting 7 on the field for a particular day, be it 5 infielders and 2 outfielders, or 4 outfielders and 3 infielders. That makes him more valuable than WAR can measure.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Oct 2, 2011 at 9:08 PM

        Ok, I get what you are saying but it doesn’t work. WAR calculates value based on what the player himself does compared to what a theoretical replacement level player would do.

        Let’s take an example where Zobrist is Player A. Then we have a 3WAR player B. And sub replacement player C. All three are there for 2 positions. B & C are playing, you are getting, at most, a 3WAR contribution from the two of them. However, if swap Zobrist in, push B to C’s position, and leave C off. You get what Zobrist contributes + what B contributes. You can’t assign additional value to A&B because not only are they better players, but they also removed a below replacement level player as well.

        It definitely makes the team better, but Zobrist only gets the contribution he makes over the position he’s replacing. He doesn’t get an additional benefit because as you move the players through the lineup they get collectively better by removing the deadweight.

      • hittfamily - Oct 2, 2011 at 11:41 PM

        OK I understand your position and I think you understand mine.

        Pitching WAR is an even more of an enigma to me. I understand how the numbers add up, but the formula seems flawed to me. Jeremy Hellickson has been great this year. He was a highly touted Rookie, so it isn’t like he got lucky. His ERA is under 3 and he threw 200 innings. Great year. I get that defense influences ERA, but not enough to discount his year, and just call him lucky. David Price did not have as good of a year as Hellickson, but his WAR is 2.5 times that of Hellickson. They have the same defense behind them, and play in the same stadiums, facing the same lineups.

        Even more of an enigma, is apparently Hellickson one of the worst pitchers in baseball, because he and AJ Burnett are equals. They both have a 1.5 WAR. It makes no sense, and I reading that, the WAR stat, refering to pitchers is absolutely worthless.

        Matt Garza is not better than James Shields and David Price.
        Jeremy Hellickson and AJ Burnett are not equals

      • bigleagues - Oct 3, 2011 at 10:01 AM

        Far be it from to argue semantics, but no way can Hellickson’s season be characterized as ‘great’. Price and even more definitely Shields had a better year than him.

        First of all, Hellickson pitched 189 Innings. Price: 224 1/3 IP. Shields: 249 1/3. Price averaged about 1 full IP more per Start than JH and DP who averaged about 6.5 IP per Start.

        Hellickson mostly faced the opponents 3rd, 4th & 5th Starters while Price & Shields were primarily facing opponents 1st & 2nd Starters.

        As always we can miss the big picture we simply look at his 2.95 ERA and 1.15 WHIP and assume that he had a very good season.

        He had a 4.72 xFIP, finished with just 5.57 K/9, 3.47 BB/9 and is an extreme flyball pitcher 0.78 GB/FB.

        David Price went 12-13, 3.49 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP.

        Price had a 3.32 xFIP, 8.73 K/9, 2.53 BB/9 and induces more groundballs than flyballs 1.20 GB/FB

        Shields went 16-12, 2.82 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP.

        Shields had a 3.25 xFIP, 8.12 K/9, 2.35 BB/9 and sported a 1.32 GB/FB ratio, the best of the three pitchers.

        In conclusion, Hellickson is the Rays 3rd Starter, one of the best young pitchers in the game, but has improvements to make before it can be claimed he as good as Price and Shields, let alone better.

      • bigleagues - Oct 3, 2011 at 10:16 AM

        I forgot to include Garza . . .

        He went 10-10 with a 3.38 ERA and 1.26 WHIP. He averaged about 6 1/3 IP per start.

        Garza had a 3.19 xFIP, 8.95 K/9, 2.86 BB/9 and was an extreme ground ball pitcher with 1.42 GB/FB.

        All in all, Shields is clearly the best Pitcher out of the five, Garza and Price had very similar seasons, and I’d rather have Hellickson than Burnett.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Oct 3, 2011 at 10:27 AM

        Pitching WAR is an even more of an enigma to me. I understand how the numbers add up, but the formula seems flawed to me

        The problem is which WAR are you using because fWAR and bWAR use two different calculations. fWAR is reliant on FIP whereas bWAR uses RA/9 (I believe, I’m far more familiar with fangraphs calcs than brefs). From your later comment, it looks like you are using fWAR (bWAR has AJ at 1.1 and Hellickson at 4.2 as an FYI).

        Great year. I get that defense influences ERA, but not enough to discount his year, and just call him lucky. David Price did not have as good of a year as Hellickson, but his WAR is 2.5 times that of Hellickson

        This is because of FIP. Hellickson’s peripherals are not that good. He has a K rate under 6 and a walk rate over 3. As far as what he can control he’s not doing well. Look at the peripherals between two pitchers:

        A – 8.18 K/9, 3.92 BB/9 throwing 190IP
        B – 5.57 K/9, 3.43 BB/9 throwing 189IP

        A is Burnett, B is Hellickson. Burnett’s peripherals are better, but his problem is he can’t stop giving up HRs. League average HR to Fly Ball ratio is around 10%. Burnett’s is 17.0%, almost double the league average. This is why Burnett’s xFIP (controls for league average HR/FB rate) is better than his FIP.

        You probably want to use bWAR for pitchers. FIP tends to be a more predictive stat than tells you what actually happened. If you want to get a record of what the pitcher did, use bWAR. If you want to know how a pitcher will do in the future given his previous results, use fWAR.

      • bigleagues - Oct 3, 2011 at 10:50 AM

        Church – EXCELLENT post.

  2. Jonny 5 - Oct 2, 2011 at 3:46 PM

    Just what Cano needed to hear….. On top of the many times he tells himself the same thing.

    Drew, maybe Leyland just hasn’t seen the 21 better players???? ;)

    • Drew Silva - Oct 2, 2011 at 3:58 PM

      Those smoke breaks probably do cause him to miss some at-bats.

  3. obpedmypants - Oct 2, 2011 at 5:12 PM

    “Wins Against Replacement”: Is this the product of a typo? Or the byproduct of HBT’s feeble attempt to cargo cult the Sabermetric approach and capture its audience?

    Also, the cumulative effort of what someone produces over the course of the latest season is not the same thing as the talent that someone if bringing to the table in this very moment.

    • hittfamily - Oct 2, 2011 at 5:23 PM

      I can’t stand WAR. Anyone who thinks Kevin Youklis or Matt Joyce is a more valuable player than Brian McCann or Rickie Weeks in the same number of at bats hasn’t watched the games, or doesn’t understand how unvaluable run of the mill RF and 3B are compared to great C and 2baseman.

      • obpedmypants - Oct 2, 2011 at 5:43 PM

        WAR is an interesting concept. It has its flaws, but baseball analysis is better off with this type of analysis being present than it is without it.

        The biggest problem is when people who have no understanding of statistics get their hands on a few numbers, then think they have some magical answer to all of baseball’s mysteries. Baseball has sh-tloads of summary statistics, but they are all flawed. And writers have no business even referencing the stats if they don’t understand statistics in general, let alone this specific stat, let alone what the acronym stands for.

        And in this example, repeating a list of 2011 Fangraphs WAR isn’t even close to an acceptable refutation of Leyland’s statement.

  4. Lukehart80 - Oct 2, 2011 at 6:55 PM

    This has turned into people griping about WAR, but does anyone actually disagree with Drew’s basic point that Robinson Cano is not one of the five best players in baseball?

    • obpedmypants - Oct 2, 2011 at 7:19 PM

      Does that really matter? I imagine that Cano is in the top 20 for most fans, but what the average fan doesn’t understand about baseball can easily make up the difference between top 20 and top 5.

      • Lukehart80 - Oct 2, 2011 at 7:33 PM

        Yes, I think that matters.

        I agree with your statement that looking at a single season of one of the two versions of WAR does not constitute a complete analysis, but a more complete analysis would still make the same basic point: Cano is not one of the five best players in baseball.

        People seem displeased that this was posted, but no one seems to disagree with what it was really saying.

      • obpedmypants - Oct 2, 2011 at 8:07 PM

        I agree that Cano would not be in my top 5, but I am self-aware enough to regard my knowledge as amateurish. If Jim Leyland wants to call Cano a top 5 player, I don’t consider that to be absurd.

      • Lukehart80 - Oct 2, 2011 at 8:31 PM

        Fair enough.

    • hittfamily - Oct 2, 2011 at 7:30 PM

      I don’t know about top 5, but I absolutely disagree with him being the 22nd best non pitcher. I think to look at just WAR is a foolish way to evaluate the value of a player. Just the last 3 days alone, Evan Longoria has proven he not the 16th best player in baseball.

      My list, excluding contracts and including previous years and my expectations of next years production:

      Tulo
      Votto
      Bautista
      Longoria
      Pujols
      Kemp
      Cano
      Braun
      Cabrera
      Zobrist
      Pedroia
      Upton
      Ellsbury
      Kinsler
      Gonzo

      • Lukehart80 - Oct 2, 2011 at 7:37 PM

        “Just the last 3 days alone, Evan Longoria has proven he not the 16th best player in baseball.”

        Do you really believe it’s possible for someone to prove much of anything in three days? Is Max Scherzer the best pitcher in baseball because he pitched 6 shutout innings an has an ERA of 0.00 over the last 3 days?

        Longoria is better than the 16th best player, but the last 3 days aren’t the proof.

      • obpedmypants - Oct 2, 2011 at 8:10 PM

        Don’t be absurd. Matt Moore is obviously the best pitcher in baseball.

      • hittfamily - Oct 2, 2011 at 8:12 PM

        No, but I believe it is possible to open peoples eyes to how worthless a batting average is. People say Longoria had a down year because his average is down, but he is still one of the most dangerous hitters in the game.

        I was referring to his obscurity when people discuss the best players. When the spotlight was on him for the first time this season, he made a diving double play against the Sox, turned a triple play against the Yankees, and hit 3 of the clutchest homers of the season, including last night’s, although it was in defeat. He didn’t establish himself as premiere this last week, but he may have reestablished himself, down season or not.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Oct 2, 2011 at 7:30 PM

      Yes, because there’s far too much a value in defensive metrics in fWAR. When Cano is the second best hitter via Batting Runs (29.3) and a plus runner (2.5) but fifth something is wrong. It’s the defensive value. Howie Kendrick never put up a +8 defensive value, but this year he’s +16 (more than double his career best!)? Ian Kinsler topped out at 10.1, this year he’s +15 (50% increase).

      MGL, the creator of UZR, says you need a minimum of 3 years of UZR before making a statement of fact about a person’s defense. Yet we use one year, often less since MVP/value discussions start well before the seasons ends.

      Also, as Colin Wyers pointed out on twitter earlier (combining a bunch of tweets):
      Let’s consider the Cano/Pedroia example, since it seems to be the topic of the day. Pedroia leads Cano by ~37 runs, from ’09 through ’11. Now as it turns out, in reality, Cano has made more plays than Pedroia, even if you account for the disparity in playing time. So for you to believe UZR, you have to think that Pedroia had vastly fewer chances to make plays than Cano, to make up for two things: the fact that he made fewer players and the higher UZR rating.

    • bigleagues - Oct 2, 2011 at 10:39 PM

      Is Cano one of the best players in baseball? Yes.

      Top 10-15 perhaps. I wouldn’t call his 2011 campaign monstrous though. Monstrous is Jose Bautista’s last two seasons.

      The thing is, and admittedly I may be a little biased, but I think Cano, overall, is the second best secondbaseman.

      • hittfamily - Oct 3, 2011 at 12:21 AM

        Who is the best, Zobrist?

      • bigleagues - Oct 3, 2011 at 12:40 AM

        Ha!

  5. hellmaca - Oct 2, 2011 at 7:04 PM

    Nice story drew! You’re such a good journalist!

  6. Kevin S. - Oct 2, 2011 at 9:43 PM

    I wouldn’t use a one-year WAR sample to judge who the best players are. Over the past two years, Cano is tenth in fWAR, and if you think he’s a plus defender (as most observers do) as opposed to an average-to-below-average fielder as UZR has him pegged, he jumps up to fourth. Over the past three, he’s sixth if you adjust him to a plus fielder.

  7. mrznyc - Oct 3, 2011 at 8:34 AM

    There are only three things in life: Lies, Damnable Lies and Statistics

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Oct 3, 2011 at 10:28 AM

      I thought it was death, taxes and people using terrible cliches?

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