For months it seemed as though the race for the AL MVP Award would come down to Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Josh Donaldson, and Jose Altuve. However, there has been a player that has been overlooked most of the year that is coming on strong at the most crucial time. That man is Seattle Mariners second baseman, Robinson Cano.
Since coming over to the Mariners in 2014, Cano was seen as a player that Seattle had overpaid for, especially considering his age and position. Those pundits would only be more vocal as Cano struggled for a large chunk of the 2015 season in route to one of the worst statistical seasons of his career. Cano was looking like an overpriced bust that the Mariners would regret signing for another eight years.
Then the 2016 season started.
Return to Form
Cano got off to a hot start, swatting seven homeruns in the first few weeks of the season. He was able to keep those power numbers up throughout the season, as he already has a now career high thirty-six homeruns.
Let’s also not forget that he’s been able to hit for average as well, as he’s hovered around .300 the entire season. In fact, his .299/.351/.526 slash line is one of the best of his career, and he’s closing in on 100 RBIs as well, all while playing a premium position. If it wasn’t for the unreal exploits of Brian Dozier, he would be far and away the most productive second baseman in MLB.
So obviously, Cano has had a very strong bounce back season, but is it really good enough to be considered MVP worthy? If you look at some of the advanced stats, it’s not as farfetched as you would think.
How Cano Stacks Up
Trout is far and away the leader in terms of WAR (10.5), with Betts over a full run behind him (9.4). Then we come to Altuve (7.6), Donaldson (7.4), and Cano (7.1) who are all lumped very close together. If WAR is the stat you choose to decide the MVP, then Trout should be the clear choice. However, given his less then desirable circumstance with the Los Angeles Angels, most writers may discount Trout altogether.
So let’s unpack the grouping of Altuve, Donaldson, and Cano. Both Altuve and Donaldson have had excellent seasons to be sure, but both have come back to earth a bit in recent weeks. Obviously, Cano has been on a tear to get back into the race, but considering all three men are on teams fighting for a playoff spot, Cano is the playing the best at the most important time for his team.
Playing well at the Plate and in the Field
Additionally, both Altuve (7.8 WAR) and Donaldson (7.3 WAR) have proven their value at the plate, but given their overall WARs, they aren’t too favorable defensively. Cano has a strong offensive WAR of 5.9, but given his overall number of 7.1, he is still adding value in the field as well.
Betts is a bit of a tougher case, because like Cano, he has strong offensive and defensive metrics in his favor. While Betts has a superior WAR; Cano beats him with more homeruns, a stronger OPS+, adjusted batting runs and adjusted batting wins.
Also, Betts has the benefit of playing in one of the best lineups in baseball, so there are greater opportunities for him to have an impact in a game. Cano certainly has some capable help around him in the form of Kyle Seager and Nelson Cruz, but they aren’t quite David Ortiz, Xander Bogaerts, and Dustin Pedroia.
The one final piece that may push Cano over the edge this year would be if the Mariners qualified for the playoffs. Seattle hasn’t made the playoffs since 2001, and if Cano continues to be the driving force for their late season run, it just may enough to give him some extra hardware this year.