Right This Very Second, Robinson Cano Probably Isn’t Sprinting
Here’s as February a story as you’re ever going to find. Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long said some things about Robinson Cano’s effort running down to first base. Lloyd McClendon subsequently issued a response. Long has since issued a response to the response, and Joe Girardi has also been asked for his own opinion. In this way, the media can create the illusion of a war of words, and out of one quote there can be written several articles. Mission accomplished, for the newspaper types, and to be fair this is a hell of a lot more interesting than learning about which player lost weight to get better, and which player gained weight to get better. If you’re holding out for substance, you won’t be doing a lot of baseball writing or reading this month.
The heart of what Long said that caused a stir:
“If somebody told me I was a dog,’’ Long said here Sunday, “I’d have to fix that. When you choose not to, you leave yourself open to taking heat, and that’s your fault. For whatever reason, Robbie chose not to.’’
“Last time I checked, I didn’t know that Kevin Long was the spokesman for the New York Yankees,” McClendon told ESPN.com. “That was a little surprising. I was a little pissed off, and I’m sure Joe [Girardi] feels the same way. He’s concerned with his team and what they’re doing, not what the Seattle Mariners players are doing.
“I’m a little surprised that Kevin Long is the spokesman for the New York Yankees. I wonder if he had any problems with Robbie when he wrote that book [“Cage Rat”] proclaiming himself as the guru of hitting.”
So here’s what’s going on here. Spring training just started, and Robinson Cano just showed up in Peoria, and McClendon is a new manager who’s trying to defend his new superstar. Probably, McClendon was sought out for comment, and probably, McClendon heard about Long’s criticisms while paying less attention to the context. McClendon is trying to defend his own team and get off on the right foot with Cano so that the two can have a deep and positive relationship. There was realistically no other way he could have responded. McClendon, of course, has no issues with Cano because he hasn’t managed him yet. As far as he’s concerned, Cano’s starting over in a new place. McClendon’s supposed to be the leader of this team, and here there was a chance to stick up for a guy and speak forcefully about it. This is Lloyd McClendon, Mariners manager, managing.
And Long? Long, probably, was sought out for comment. Jogging down the line has long been a criticism of Cano’s, and you hear about it now more than ever, and Long acknowledged that much. But one should also pay attention to the rest of his words. Long and Cano formed a very strong relationship, and Long talked about how hard Cano worked to improve in all the other areas of his game. To go with one critique, there were a lot of compliments, and Long noted that last year Cano started to become more of a leader. It frustrated Long and the Yankees that Cano still jogged sometimes, and that led to a worse perception, but it’s important to understand that Long didn’t call Cano a dog. He said that he dogged it sometimes, which I don’t think anyone disagrees with. Even Cano would probably say, yeah, sometimes he doesn’t bust his ass. He’s 31 now and that’s just part of his game.
Long said a critical thing, among complimentary things. McClendon stood up for his player against the critical thing. Long, later, noted that there were a lot of complimentary things, too. Today is February 18th.
We can try, I guess, to evaluate the impact of Cano not always running so hard. Maybe it’s cost him a few groundball singles. Maybe it’s cost him a few reached-on-errors, or advances after a dropped pop. Alternatively, maybe it’s helped Cano stay so healthy, as he’s played at least 159 games seven years in a row. Any effect you’re going to find is going to be super small, and it also isn’t really the point.
The concern isn’t about a player busting it to first. The concern is about what that tendency, or lack thereof, says about the player. If a player jogs to first on a grounder, it probably doesn’t make a difference on that grounder, but it makes you think the player might be lazy. Maybe the player doesn’t care. Maybe the player isn’t committed. Maybe the player doesn’t put in the extra hours. Maybe the player is just coasting on his own talent. Jogging can suggest a total lack of drive.
And none of these assumptions would be true about Cano. Long’s own words:
“He overcame so much while he was here,’’ Long said. “As a young kid there were holes everywhere. There were holes in his swing, in his makeup, in his body composition. This kid grew and grew and grew.
“All the other stuff … he’d take plays off in the field, he’d give away at-bats in RBI situations. He made a lot of personal decisions to get over the hump in those areas. People don’t know how hard he worked, how many times he was the one asking me to do extra work in the cage.’’
Cano reached the majors as a non-prospect. At least, he was never considered elite. He made improvements everywhere and turned himself into one of the best and most reliable all-around players in the world. There’s no indication that Cano was ever content to rest on what he already had. It takes work to become that good and stay that good, and no one has ever said Cano isn’t a hard worker, at least since he was a younger player. All that gets said is that Cano jogs to first base sometimes, when he figures he’s hit into an out. The positive spin would be that Cano cares so much that he’s beside himself when he makes an easy out and is too upset to sprint.
If you see Cano jog to first, there is no deeper significance. It’s not that he isn’t a hard worker. It’s that, at that instant, he isn’t working hard. Probably because he worked hard through the at-bat, and now it’s effectively over.
In a way this is a variation on the Ichiro/diving-for-fly-balls theme. People couldn’t stand that Ichiro wouldn’t lay out. Ichiro didn’t want to chance it, and for a decade he was an absolutely fabulous player. Cano’s fabulous, too, and Ichiro had some other weird quirks and didn’t have the leadership potential that Cano does. I can at least understand why Ichiro might’ve been hard for some people to like. Cano seems to have one issue, and it almost couldn’t be more insignificant.
If Cano jogs, and the Mariners are losing, people will grumble, because that’s what dumb fans do. Teams can’t please all the dumb fans, and teams shouldn’t strive to please all the dumb fans, and it’s mostly all better when the team is better, and Cano will make this team a lot better. It doesn’t matter how Cano is perceived by the fans, and the people with the team will see a lot more than Cano taking the occasional grounder off. They’ll see the other work he does, for himself and with his teammates, and they’ll see a professional role model, solitary quirk be damned. Yeah, okay, I guess I wish Cano would go at 100% literally all of the time. I’d like to not even be talking about this. I also wish Justin Smoak would slug four-friggin-fifty.