The Mariners didn’t feel very Mariners last night.
Opening day (read: night) is a perennial renewal of fandom- a time where wearied fans can spin extrapolated narratives from a single good night of baseball. We can exult in the possibility that meaningful (insofar as someone can really call any sort of professional sport “meaningful”) baseball may be played late in the year.
Opening night offered Mariner’s fans several narratives to cling to. I am going to cling to one of the more obvious ones: Fuck me, Robinson Cano is a Mariner.
Robinson Cano has been a model of consistency throughout his career. Sure, there has been a bump or two in the road naturally—but for the most part Robinson Cano has been a consistent, durable lefty with a smooth swing, gap power and a batting-title-worthy hit tool. He does all of this while playing great defense at a premium defensive position.
His one main criticism (his apparent lack of hustle) is basically just a byproduct of how easy he makes the game look. Cano hit an infield single last night. Poo-tee-weet.
Therefore, when “baseball people” preach ceaselessly about building “up the middle,” Robinson Cano is the kind of player that they salivate over But Robinson Cano isn’t a steak, he’s a human being. And a real hero. #Drivesoundtrack
Let’s take a quick look at Cano’s last 5 years in WAR according to Baseballreference.com:
I went ahead included Cano’s BB% for funsies. An interesting aspect of that facet of Cano’s game is that his BB% for his first 5 years in the league was never above 5% which validates the perception he carries as somewhat of a free-swinger.
For a Mariners team that has been notoriously awful at getting on base for quite some time- his uptick in BB% is encouraging and probably stands to improve if only by virtue of the free passes he will inevitably be receiving, the first taste of which we experienced last night. It is also worth noting that his better years in terms of overall value were the years in which he posted a higher BB%. Could be coincidence, but it may not be. Mysteries abound.
Mainly we see consistency. Cano has consistently produced at an all-star level for 5 years. As you can see, there is some fluctuation in his WAR numbers year-to-year, but that fluctuation has been between that of an All-star and MVP contender. The Mariners have not had an everyday player like Cano in quite some time. As a point of comparison, the Mariners’ best everyday player for the past two years has been Kyle Seager. Kyle Seager has never been worth more than 3.7 WAR, his value last season. Cano’s worst season in the last 5 years is nearly a full win more than our most valuable position player the past 2.
In terms of familiarity, that makes Cano to the Mariners what a breakfast menu is to Taco Bell. Glorious. And yet the times are changing, Cano is in Mariners green, and I can get a waffle-sausage-taco for less than 3 dollars. As Professional Baseball Hat Enthusiast, Fro-yo Magnate and Sportsketball Agent Jay-Z once said during a private, unsuccessful negotiation with Hank Steinbrenner: “That’s the anthem, get ya damn hands up.”
There have been those who have argued that the money spent to land Cano would have been better spent distributed among a number of lesser players to make up for some of the question marks the Mariners roster still has.
I disagree with this notion. It seems to me that, given the relative youth and volatility of this roster, signing Cano makes sense if the organization maintains the belief that the younger guys have the potential to figure it out following 2 or 3 years of big league experience.
Cano’s consistent value allows the Mariner’s baseline to hover more closely to respectability. The volatility and potential upside of the rest of the roster is the projected gray area that can fill the gap between that baseline and a potential playoff contender, should a portion of the younger guys outperform what have been largely skeptical projections.
And there is the gamble upon which our season hinges: the young guys.
The great “if.”
We have been fed this narrative before, but it has never been nearly as plausible as it seems now in the post-coital embrace of last night’s victory.
The young guys are not as young as they used to be. This is a group that has less time to prove itself, but also a more realistic opportunity to do so. Rather than a group trying to carry a team on their inexperienced shoulders, they are instead a group with multiple seasons of big-league experience trying to bridge the gap between a slightly-less-lackluster-than-usual floor and a rather exciting ceiling.
Let us hope our young guys will be the moon-shoes to Cano’s feet, as long as he doesn’t hit his head on the ceiling fan!
That analogy was so fucking bad. I am sorry. Go Mariners.
Note: As a quick reference for various stat definitions and other baseball-y things, check out the glossary on fangraphs.com. If you scroll down they have some cool articles that detail the ins and outs of advanced statistics. Definitely worthy of a read.