June 05, 2015

How close to toast is Robinson Cano?

Robinson Cano
When people talk about the bottom 5 or bottom 10 current worst baseball contracts, they may think of the lumbering 35-year-old Albert Pujols (or older, according to the occasional rumor), the potential and expected decline of Miguel Cabrera, and the fragile, relapse-possible Josh Hamilton.

Not mentioned in those? Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano.

Maybe he should be. (Showing that even the best sportswriters can be fallible, Jonah Keri didn't even list Cano's current contract ($24M/year through his age 40 season) on his bottom 10. He didn't even give it a dishonorable mention.

Second base, defensively, is the most grinding position other than catcher. And history shows that.

Roberto Alomar's last good season was at age 33. Bobby Grich and Lou Whitaker, both of whom should be with Alomar at Cooperstown, were only part-timers at the second sack after 35. Ryne Sandberg's last really good year was at age 32, his last semi-good one at 33, and his first retirement one third of the way into his age-34 year. Rod Carew had more WAR at second, but moved to first at age 30. Frank Frisch's last good season was at age 33, and last decent one at 36. Plus, between days off and time at third base, he was a 3/4 time second baseman by 33.

Even the cream of the cream in the Hall aren't all immune. Rogers Hornsby hit the wall at the end of his age-35 season. Nap Lajoie had a terrific year at 35, but was a two-thirds time player after that.

Eddie Collins, Joe Morgan and Charlie Gehringer are the only seeming exceptions. And, then, only by a couple of years. Collins was down to two-thirds time after age 37. Gehringer retired after a partial-play season at age 38. Morgan is the greatest outlier. After an injury-shortened age-37 year, he played through his age-40 year with more than 500 plate appearances at age 38 and 39, as a 2B.

And, Cano's slightly older contemporary, Chase Utley, has had noticeable slipping himself.

One could claim Craig Biggio as an exception, but he didn't move there until age 26. And, though he didn't totally lose his bat, he was a negative defender for most of his plus-30 seasons.

Cano is only 32, but it's 32 with a lot of mileage.

He's already No. 30 in career games played at second. He's an even higher No. 25 at career double plays by a second baseman. And of course, takeout slides by runners coming from first on potential double plays are a large part of that position's wear and tear.

How much does all of this play into what seems to be a major fielding slump this year, per Fangraphs? And, how much does it play into his batting slump? Or Utley's, for that matter?

A fair amount, I'd say. And, contra people who say short is as tough as second? I beg to disagree.

Above all, on double play attempts, you're facing straight down the runner from first. You can see the angle of a potential takeout slide, and you don't have to worry about making a pivot.

Second, Ozzie Smith, Derek Jeter, and Barry Larkin are among HOF shortstops who played semi-regularly, even regularly, to near 40 or beyond. From the classic past, Honus Wagner did past age 40. Luis Aparicio had a full season at short at 39. In the non-HOF division, Omar Vizquel had a full season at short at age 40.

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