Fantasy Baseball: What's Robinson Cano's Value?

Robinson Cano had a terrible first half and an incredible second half in 2015. What can we expect in 2016?

Sometimes, when you're so good for so long, even a decent performance is considered a sub-par one. Case in point: Robinson Cano and his 2015 season.

The standard he set over the course of the 10 previous seasons is of superstar caliber, something he failed to live up to this past season with the Seattle Mariners.

Cano slashed .287/.334/.446 with 21 home runs in 2015 to go along with a .335 Weighted on Base Average (wOBA). Only five second basemen posted a higher wOBA, and only one hit more home runs than Cano.

So even in a “down” year, he still ranked among the best second basemen in the game.

However, except for his home runs, all of these stats -- including a 116 Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) and a 2.1 Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) -- were the lowest since his 2008 season. 

Does this mean Cano is trending in the wrong direction?

Cano's Splits

The first half of 2015 was disastrous for Cano. He not only wasn’t playing like a superstar, but he was actually performing below the league average. His 83 wRC+ in the first half means that he was 17 percentage points worse than the league average hitter. But, in the second half, Cano posted a 157 wRC+, which was the 14th best total during this time frame. Basically, all of Cano’s numbers improved in the second half, as evidenced by the chart below.

1st Half .251 .290 .370 6 4.6 17.3 .287 83 -0.4
2nd Half .331 .387 .540 15 8.5 14.1 .395 157 2.5

Based on fWAR, Cano was actually hurting the Mariners when on the field in the first half, but his performance in the second half was equivalent to the likes of Paul Goldschmidt and Jose Bautista, who were also worth 2.5 fWAR.

Cano had a horrible first half and an impressive second half. Is there any explanation as to why?

Cano's Approach

After looking at Cano’s plate discipline from each half of last season, a few things stand out. First, he was able to increase his walk percentage by almost four points, all while decreasing his strikeout percentage by more than three points.

Second, Cano swung at fewer pitches outside of the strike zone in the second half, while swinging at more pitches inside the strike zone. Perhaps more importantly, he also increased the percentage of contact he made with pitches outside of the strike zone by more than three percent from the first half to the second.

Lastly, the percentage of balls Cano pulled dropped almost six percent, while the percentage of balls he hit to the opposite field increased by the same amount. His second half totals fall in line with his career averages and suggest that, in the first half, he was either trying to do too much at the plate or was being over aggressive in his approach.

All of these observations imply that Cano was seeing the ball better during the second half, and his offensive output directly benefited. It also helps solidify the argument that Cano’s poor first half was the outlier and his second half performance was no fluke and in line with the player we know Cano to be.

Cano's 2016 Season

Cano spent much of the first half batting in the three-hole, with slugger Nelson Cruz behind him. You would think this kind of protection meant Cano would see better pitches to hit and, thus, have a greater chance of success at the plate.

But the opposite appears to be true.

A lineup move was made for the second half that saw Cano and Cruz switch spots in the order, and despite no longer having the protection of Cruz, Cano’s numbers exploded. Considering the Mariners went from ranking 27th in runs scored in the first half to 8th in the second half, it’s safe to assume that they will deploy Cano and Cruz in the same spots for 2016.

Steamer projects Cano to slash .285/.344/.444 with a .337 wOBA, 18 home runs, and a 3.6 fWAR in 2016. This is an improvement on what he did last season, but by my estimates, it could be too low of a projection. Cano’s first half was so poor that it weighed down his overall season numbers, hurting his 2016 expectations. He posted a 5.2 fWAR his first season in Seattle, and he would come close to reaching this total when extrapolating his 2015 second half over a full season, which doesn’t seem improbable.

Fantasy Implications

Cano’s 2016 fantasy rankings vary depending on where you look. ESPN’s Tristan H. Cockcroft has Cano ranked 39th, while FantasyPros has Cano’s average draft position (ADP) at 55. Unfortunately for advantageous drafters, Cano’s poor first half hasn’t made his 2016 draft stock plummet.

An argument can be made for many of the players ranked 1st through 38th on Cockcroft’s list to be taken ahead of Cano, although waiting until the fifth round, which is where FantasyPros has his ADP, is too late in my mind because informed drafters will select him before then. I’d be comfortable taking him in the third round, especially if I had a pick around the turn and would select early in the fourth round.

It was reported in November that Cano is unhappy in Seattle and wants to go back to playing for the New York Yankees. It’s impossible to determine how this will affect his play in 2016, but one thing is clear: Cano is still one of baseball’s best hitters, and a horrendous first half last season shouldn’t scare you off from drafting him this season.