Leyland: “Cano is one of the best players I’ve ever seen”

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Tigers manager Jim Leyland offered high praise for Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano before Game 2 of the ALDS Sunday in New York:

“My staff think he’s one of the top five players in all of baseball without question,” Leyland said. “He’s a great player. He’s one of the best players I’ve ever seen. He came up on the big stage last night. We have the utmost respect for him obviously, as we do the Yankee team.”

(Quote comes via ESPN’s Andrew Marchand)

Cano hit a grand slam and tallied six total RBI in Saturday’s 9-3 Game 1 defeat of Detroit. He also had a monstrous regular season, posting a .302/.349/.533 batting line with 28 home runs and 118 RBI in 681 plate appearances. But is he really one of the top five players in the league right now? To the numbers:

According to FanGraphs’ calculation of WAR (Wins Above Replacement), the top 10 players in baseball this season were (in order): Jacoby Ellsbury, Matt Kemp, Jose Bautista, Dustin Pedroia, Ryan Braun, Ian Kinsler, Miguel Cabrera, Curtis Granderson, Alex Gordon and Joey Votto. Cano ranked 22nd.

But, hey, maybe Leyland’s staff has better metrics. Or maybe October really is hyperbole’s favorite month.

Justin Turner is a postseason monster

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A not-insignificant amount of the Dodgers’ success in recent years has to do with the emergence of Justin Turner. In his first five seasons with the Orioles and Mets, he was a forgettable infielder who had versatility, but no power. The Mets non-tendered him after the 2013 season, a move they now really regret.

In four regular seasons since, as a Dodger, Turner has hit an aggregate .303/.378/.502. His 162-game averages over those four seasons: 23 home runs, 36 doubles, 83 RBI, 80 runs scored. And he’s also a pretty good third baseman, it turns out. The Dodgers have averaged 95 wins per season over the past four years.

Turner, 32, has gotten better and better with each passing year. This year, he drew more walks (59) than strikeouts (56), a club only five other players (min. 300 PA) belonged to, and he trailed only Joey Votto (1.61) in BB/K ratio (1.05). He zoomed past his previous career-high in OPS, finishing at .945. His .415 on-base percentage was fourth-best in baseball. His batting average was fifth-best and only nine points behind NL batting champion Charlie Blackmon.

It doesn’t seem possible, but Turner has been even better in the postseason. He exemplified that with his walk-off home run to win Game 2 of the NLCS against the Cubs. Overall, entering Wednesday night’s action, he was batting .363/.474/.613 in 97 postseason plate appearances. In Game 4, he went 2-for-2 with two walks, a single, and a solo home run. That increases his postseason slash line to .378/.495/.659, now across 101 plate appearances. That’s a 1.154 OPS. The career-high regular season OPS for future first-ballot Hall of Famer Albert Pujols was 1.114 in 2008, when he won his third career MVP Award. Statistically, in the postseason, Turner hits slightly better than Pujols did in the prime of his career. Of course, we should adjust for leagues and parks and all that, but to even be in that neighborhood is incredible.

In the age of stats, the concept of “clutch” has rightfully eroded. We don’t really allow players to ascend to godlike levels anymore like the way we did Derek Jeter, for instance. (Jeter’s career OPS in the playoffs, by the way, was a comparatively pitiful .838.) Turner isn’t clutch; he’s just a damn good hitter whose careful approach at the plate has allowed him to shine in the postseason and the Dodgers can’t imagine life without him.