Comparing two players is difficult enough when they come from different eras, but comparing two when one of them is active is next to impossible. Doing so requires that you suspend disbelief a little. We know the active player will add to his totals and the two will no longer be similar when he is done. We are essentially taking a snapshot in time. This will be true in Robinson Cano’s case as well, but this season has proven that players can age suddenly before your very eyes.
However, at this point in time he appears to be most similar to Jeff Kent. Considering that Kent is the all-time leader for home runs by a second baseman it would seem he would be a lock for the Hall of Fame. That’s hasn’t been the case yet. He has been on the ballot for seven years and Is currently hovering around 18 percent of the vote. Of course, Cano will add to his totals, but in the interim it might not look so good for him. However, we need to look at the counting numbers, percentage statistics, and awards voting.
The natural assumption is that Cano will make the nice slow march to 3000 hits. He has four more seasons on his contract and players usually don’t leave 24 million per season on the table. So, he needs just over 100 hits per season to reach the magic number. With those 100 hits per season will come some extra base hits. He conservatively should have 700 doubles and triples if he plays every day. Of course, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
It is less of a sure thing that Cano will pass Kent in terms of run production. He still needs 53 home runs and nearly 250 RBI to reach Kent. Most guys with 1500 RBI are in the Hall of Fame, but counting numbers can be deceiving. We don’t have much context to surround those numbers. For one, Kent normally played on very good teams with a lot of good offensive performers. For another, he played during a good offensive era. In point of fact, the era was known for more offense than Cano’s era.
This is one of the many reasons why we take a look at the percentage statistics. In particular, we pay close attention to numbers like OPS+. It has a way of distilling the effects of home ballpark and the era. However, even the basic numbers can give us a clue as to why Kent has been so underrepresented.
As you can see, Kent has slightly better numbers but his OPS+ is a little lower than Cano. That’s only part of the equation when it comes to figuring out why Kent is not in the Hall of Fame. The other portion comes on the defensive side of the equation. We can look at the awards voting at the time (particularly with Gold Gloves) but when we look at the index we normally look at the cold, hard numbers like defensive runs saved, ultimate zone rating, or Rfield.
Those numbers tell a more complete story. Kent had -52 runs saved according to defensive runs saved and more than -30 runs according to UZR. Cano might end up having the same issue when he retires. Players often see their fielding numbers decline as they age and Cano has been wildly inconsistent defensively.
That being said, usually the awards voting gives us a bigger clue as to how the player was perceived at the time. Jeff Kent famously told Jeff Bagwell his goal was to have no friends when he left baseball. That likely included the press. The same people that vote for those awards also vote for the Hall of Fame. Our normal benchmark for Hall of Fame fitness is ten all-star games for instance. Looking at Kent and comparing him to Cano might give us some clue as to why he hasn’t gotten more support.
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These comparisons are usually a mixed bag. Kent has an MVP award to his name and those usually bring some cache with them. Cano has never won the award, but he has more all-star game appearances, gold gloves, silver slugger awards, and seasons in the top five and ten in the voting. In other words, the writers and fans (since they vote for the all-star team) seem to think Cano was the better player.
We have to dig deeper than that. Awards voting can explain why the vote turns out the way that it does, but it can’t tell us whether those awards are given to the best person. It would be difficult to call Robinson Cano likeable, but he was infinitely more likeable than Jeff Kent. We all know that shouldn’t matter, but unfortunately it does.