Anticipated Criticisms Of Robinson Cano
Thursday, officially, the Seattle Mariners introduced Robinson Cano as a Seattle Mariner, with his physical done and with everyone involved with the team back from the winter meetings. There was much happiness and optimism expressed, which always follow any kind of nine-figure agreement between parties, and now that Cano’s name is signed in ink on the line, he’s a part of the family, the family that always embarrasses us but that we say we love anyway sometimes if only because we have to. Now that Cano is a highly-paid Mariner — the highest-paid Mariner, overall — it stands to reason it’s inevitable he’ll attract undue criticism. That’s the way it usually is with stars, and here are the things that I can see coming. There are probably more.
Sometimes he dogs it
I don’t read New York media, because I’m not a complete self-loathing idiot, but still I’ve been made aware that a lot of people around New York would rip on Cano for not always hustling. Lots of accusations of jogging down to first base, and whatnot. There are few things that drive fans more insane than watching a guy not sprint the 90 feet, especially if a ball ends up bobbled or thrown away. Or maybe from time to time Cano watches what he thinks are homers, and then they stay in the yard and he costs himself bases. That second one is just a guess but it wouldn’t surprise me. That doesn’t need to happen often for a guy to get a reputation.
Robinson Cano is not David Eckstein. He’s not a balls-to-the-wall, 110%, grinder, Diamondbacks type. He doesn’t put literally everything he has into literally everything he does, and fans notice, and that’s one of the first wells they’ll go to should things turn sour. But, what does it really mean? Maybe it’s helped Cano stay so durable. It doesn’t mean he’s not committed to the game; if he weren’t, he wouldn’t be what he is. He’s found a way to be one of the very best players in baseball for several years. From time to time maybe he won’t leg out a grounder. Many more times, Mike Zunino will strike out on a pitch out of the zone. It’s never going to be a big deal, and it’s never going to teach all the young players to just be lazy. Sometimes not legging out a grounder is frustration from not hitting the ball well enough, and that’s the opposite of not caring.
He doesn’t hit enough dingers
For $240 million, you expect there to be dingers, and people like to use 30 as a benchmark. Cano’s exceeded 30 one time, by three dingers, otherwise hanging out in the high 20s even spending half the time in new Yankee Stadium. Since the ballpark opened, Cano has hit 16 more dingers at home than on the road, so he might well end up a 20-25-dinger sort. That’s in the short-term, even, and that could look strange to people who just know about all the money.
Over the five years since the ballpark opened, Cano put up a .226 ISO at home, tied for 28th out of players with at least 1,000 home plate appearances. Over the same five years, he put up a .208 ISO on the road, 28th out of players with at least 1,000 road plate appearances. See, Cano also has doubles power, to blend with his dinger power. Also — and this can’t be expressed enough — power is only a part of Cano’s total value. He’s never been a pure dinger hitter. He’s been a quality all-around hitter who plays good defense up the middle. In 2007, he was worth five wins with 19 homers. Last year he was worth six with 27. Don’t expect him to be what he isn’t, because what he is is elite.
He’s too casual in the field
Another way of saying “he’s too casual” is “he makes it look easy”. Like Andruw Jones used to. Or like, you know, Ken Griffey Jr. used to. Cano tends to look extremely…comfortable, around second base, and again he seldom looks as if he’s hustling, but he’s so good the way he is, and some players are just smoother than others. And Cano has worked hard to improve. His first five years at second, he posted a -15 DRS, and a -37 UZR. His last four years at second, he’s posted a +38 DRS, and a +9 UZR. He’s probably not an elite-level defender, like a Darwin Barney or a younger Mark Ellis, but he’s good, and he’s good just the way he is. He already does a lot, because he’s naturally gifted and athletically smooth. One perspective is that “smooth” players should try harder. An opposite perspective is that “smooth” players represent the defensive ideal, where they don’t even need to spaz out.
He’s not a leader
Get paid a quarter of a billion and you’ll be expected to lead a clubhouse. Be an experienced, productive veteran, and you’ll be expected to lead a clubhouse. Cano said himself in his press conference that he’s not a vocal sort, that he prefers to lead by example with what he does on the field and with how he prepares. Lloyd McClendon has already said, in an unrelated press conference, that he’s not looking for leaders in the clubhouse, that he can do that. He’s looking for leaders on the field, and that’s where Cano comes in, as a guy who prepares well and plays extremely well.
Ichiro caused a bunch of local stirs by not being a vocal leader sort, but it’s fair to say Ichiro was a little more withdrawn than Cano presumably will be. Also, those stories were overblown, and Ichiro did a tremendous job of leading by example, even if he was quiet and sort of on an island. Ichiro always did his job, and it was the rest of the team that didn’t. But anyway, this isn’t about Ichiro. This is about Cano, and the team isn’t signing him to give inspirational speeches. That isn’t a part of the plan, so it can’t be a valid criticism later. And as for on-field leadership, how in the hell are we supposed to evaluate that? If the team’s winning, no one will care about this stuff. If the team’s losing, people will care about this stuff, but there will be more glaring performance-related reasons for the losing. Robinson Cano is getting paid a lot of money to be a good baseball player.
He can’t hit in the playoffs
Over 217 career postseason plate appearances Cano has batted .222 with a .686 OPS and I would personally love nothing more than to be able to think about these numbers in the 2014 season to come.