Who needs Robinson Cano? Apparently not the Yankees, who, at 15-10, will welcome their former All Star second baseman back to the Bronx as co-owners of the best record in the American League. The team’s early success has allowed many to overlook the absence of Cano, but a more careful inspection suggests the Yankees still need to fill the void he left behind.
The Yankees’ league leading record has come in spite of one of the lowest run differentials in the majors. On both sides of the ball, the Yankees have lagged the league average, but the team’s pitching has actually been a relative strength in most games. In fact, almost half (54 of 113) of the runs allowed by Yankees’ pitchers were surrendered in only four games. In 17 of the other 21, the team’s staff has kept the opposition to four or fewer runs, giving the Yankees a chance to win almost every night.
Yankees’ Percentage of Games Scoring 4 or Fewer Runs, 1901 – Present
The Yankees’ stingy pitching has helped the team thrive despite an early season offensive malaise. To be fair, the team’s bats have been about average based on metrics like OPS+, wRC+ and even runs per game, but as with the pitching, the aggregate numbers skew the daily reality. In 16 of 25 games, or 64% of the time, the Yankees have scored 4 or fewer runs. If pro-rated over the full schedule, that percentage would rate among the franchise’s worst offensive seasons. However, unlike year’s past, the Yankees have managed to win more than their fair share of low scoring games. In fact, the team’s 8-8 record when scoring four or fewer runs would rank as the third highest winning percentage among all American League teams since the end of the dead ball era. Good pitching is to thank for that, but will the rotation and bullpen be able to carry the load all season? A better question is why should they have to?
All-Time Best Records When Scoring 4 or Fewer Runs (A.L), 1920-Present
It’s too early to define the Yankees’ offense by their lackluster first three weeks. However, with the exception of Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann, there aren’t many areas where you can reasonably expect improvement. On the contrary, regression from Yangervis Solarte seems likely, while injuries always remain a concern for several key members on the lineup. That’s why it’s hard to not to look at Cano’s return to the Bronx and think about what might have been. Without Cano, the Yankees have a competent batting order, but one that is still missing both length and middle-of-the-order punch. Adding his potent lefty bat back into the middle of the Yankees’ lineup, however, would make it one of the most fearsome in the game, especially now that second base is the weakest link in the Yankees chain. Granted, despite having a lineup that is at least one bat short, the Yankees are still a good bet win their division, but with Cano, making the postseason wouldn’t have been much of a gamble.
So, who needs Cano? The Yankees do. Or, at the very least, they need another impact bat, preferably one who can play second or third base. The debate over Cano was settled in the offseason, but the Yankees’ offense hasn’t moved on. To suggest otherwise would be an insult. The injury comes tomorrow when Cano takes the field at Yankee Stadium wearing a Mariners uniform.