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Second Baseman Profile: The power outage of Robinson Cano

The Seattle second baseman lost about half of his homers last year. Can he get at least some of them back and climb back atop the position's peak?

Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

You look at Robinson Cano's numbers from last year, and the change from 2013 to 2014 is a clear one. Frankly, once you correct for the fact that he changed lineups, and went from a bunch of run-scoring ability around him to not as much, his year-to-year lines look crazy similar-except for that one thing.

Here, I'll show the numbers. Each individual statistic is unimportant; just note the similarities.

First, I'll start with his Baseball-Reference page:

BBREF

And now his Fangraphs:

Fangraphs

Give those numbers a couple of looks. The differences are obvious, but the similarities are pretty damn amazing. Really, other than those power numbers (27 homers to 14, .516 slugging to .454, .202 ISO to .139), the Robinson Cano of 2014 was exactly the same guy as the Robinson Cano of 2013. Like, eerily so.

Entering last season, Cano was pretty universally considered the No. 1 second baseman, an easy first-rounder. And that was when we knew he would be playing his home games in Safeco. We all knew he'd play in Seattle, where offense goes to die, and we all had him No. 1.

Now, that power difference. It's obviously a big deal. A second baseman hitting almost 30 homers is a top-five pick; the same guy with 10-15 is good-not-elite. Cano is still going to be plying his trade in Seattle next year, and while his supporting cast (Nelson Cruz, Seth Smith, a full season of Austin Jackson) should provide him with more run-producing opportunities, that power will need to take a step back up for fantasy owners to fully reinvest.

(Sidebar: Not to go all Joe Sheehan here, but one of the big mistakes we make in analysis is overestimating small samples, also known as underestimating exactly what makes a sample "large." A week is too small to make any conclusions. So is a month. A season? Frankly, no, it's not enough, not when it comes to things like statistical aberrations that could be explained away with a two-week hot streak. I'm acknowledging all that now, right before I play around big-time with some arbitrary endpoints. I present the following not as conclusive proof, but just as things I noticed. Frankly, I'm reasonably comfortable saying that a six-year home-run tally of 25-92-28-33-27-14 is enough to say the 14 is the outlier, and he'll bounce back, correcting slightly for age and home ballpark, but that's not much of a column. So, yeah, things I've noticed follow.)

Okay, arbitrary endpoints time. Through June 28 last year, 77 games, 330 plate appearances, Cano had four homers. The rest of the way, 80 games, 335 plate appearances, he had 10. One way to look at that is that handfuls of homers come in spurts, and if you're only hitting 14 in a year, sure, a half with four and a half with 10 comes close enough to seven and seven as makes no difference. Flip a coin 14 times, 10 heads ain't some crazy result.

But there's another way to see Cano's splits. See, Cano's groundball/flyball rate last year was a career-high 2.13; it had never before topped 1.89. That alone is enough to explain his homer dip even before correcting for Safeco and/or age. In the middle of the season, though, it was 2.48, as noted by Dayn Perry in a middle-of-June column.

In other words, if the first half of Cano's season had a GB/FB rate of 2.48, and he ended the season at 2.13, then his second half had to be somewhere in the 1.8 range or lower - in other words, more or less in line with his recent-career numbers. It could be simple statistical noise, and his full-season 2.13 number is reality. But a player playing out of character for a couple months before reverting to his norm tells me to look at the norm and not the out-of-character period. It could be a mechanical adjustment, random fluctuation or a different approach, but one way or another, things changed for Cano over the course of last season.

So imagine - and no, the math isn't quite this easy, but imagine - Cano's 10-homer second half could be doubled into a 20-homer full season, and at that point, we're pretty happy with the season Cano had in 2014.

Will he be able to keep his GB/FB rate lower in 2015, putting a few more balls out of the park? I think so. Now, I don't think vintage, eight-WAR Cano is likely, not at 32 years old. I wouldn't take him fourth overall, as I did in a league last year. But against guys with shorter track records, guys like Anthony Rendon (2014 was his first full, healthy season at pretty much any level) and Jose Altuve (40-point spike in BABIP), I'll trust the track record of Robinson Cano, and he's still my No. 1 second baseman for 2015.