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Robinson Cano and Dale Murphy: Are we watching a Hall of Famer?

Posted By Chad Jennings On January 10, 2013 @ 8:59 am In Misc | 183 Comments

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Dale Murphy’s 15 years have come and gone. Yesterday, he received just 18.6 percent of the Hall of Fame vote, and that wasn’t nearly enough. It was his last year of eligibility, and if he’s ever going to be enshrined, a committee is going to have to do it. The writers’ consensus seemed to be that Murphy had a Hall of Fame peak, but not a Hall of Fame career. 

That might put into perspective the Hall of Fame potential of Robinson Cano.

Cano turned 30 years old in October, meaning he just completed his age 26 through 29 seasons. They were not his first great years — he’d been an all-star and finished 22nd in MVP voting three years earlier — but they were the years that established Cano as one of the game’s elite superstars.

Murphy turned 30 in 1986, meaning his age 26 through 29 seasons came from 1982 to 1985. They were not his first great years — he’d been an all-star and finished 12th in MVP voting two years earlier — but they were the years that established Murphy as one of the game’s elite superstars.

[3]Compare the two, using each player’s four-year period from age 26 through 29:

Cano – .314/.365/.534 with an .899 OPS
Murphy – .293/.383/.533 with a .916 OPS

Cano – 788 hits, 115 home runs, 406 RBI, 19 stolen bases
Murphy – 707 hits, 145 home runs, 441 RBI, 82 stolen bases

Cano – Two Gold Gloves, three Silver Sluggers, three Top 10 MVP finishes (3rd, 6th, 5th)
Murphy – Four Gold Gloves, four Silver Sluggers, four Top 10 MVP finishes (1st, 1st, 9th, 7th)

Entering his age 30 season, Murphy had played in 1,200 career games and was a career .278/.357/.493 hitter with 1,225 hits and 237 home runs.

Entering his age 30 season, Cano has played in 1,214 career games and is a career .308/.351/.503 hitter with 1,459 hits and 177 home runs.

If we’ve just witnessed Cano’s peak, it’s very similar to Murphy’s. Murphy’s was probably better, but Cano’s has included a World Series title and nearly 50 postseason games (Murphy played in three postseason games in his entire career). They’ve played different positions, but both are, or were, up-the-middle players at positions where defense is key. Both have, or had, good defensive reputations.

The lesson learned is this: Cano may be experiencing a Hall of Fame peak, but his next eight to 10 years that will determine whether he has a Hall of Fame career.

Murphy was again an all-star and Gold Glove winner at age 30, and at age 31 he moved from center fielder to right field and reached career-highs in home runs (44) and slugging percentage (.580). But his numbers quickly declined after that. Knee injuries took their toll, and from age 32 to 37 – his final six years as a player – Murphy hit just .234/.307/.396. He never made another all-star team, never won another Gold Glove, never again ranked among the MVP leaders.

So far, Cano seems healthy, but so did Alex Rodriguez five years ago when he was 32 years old, had just won his third MVP award and signed his current 10-year contract. Rodriguez has been on the disabled list every year since.

It’s not impossible to imagine Cano making a Murphy-like position switch — third base, maybe, if his legs start to fatigue with age? – and it’s not hard to envision Cano experiencing a power spike like Murphy had in 1987.

The rest is impossible to imagine and pointless to speculate. Some guys stay healthy and produce well into their late 30s. Some are struck down by injuries. Some simply fade away with age. With Cano, we’ve been watching a Hall of Fame performance. Time will tell whether we’ve been watching a Hall of Fame player.

Associated Press photos

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