"Robinson Cano plays a lot harder in those [WBC] games than he does for the Yankees," Colin Cowherd said on his ESPN Radio show Wednesday.
Both Messrs. Marchand and Calcaterra do a fine job of dismissing this, the former saying, "Cano is an equal opportunity non-hustler in certain situations," but he, "works very hard at the game of baseball," and the latter pointing out that, "Cano plays 160 games a year," and suggesting that this might be an example of, "casual racism, the kind of which always seems to find black or Latin players to be slackers at some point or another." Both assessments seem fair to me: Cano does seem to zone out at times, but he's out there every day and is generally excellent. Marchand points to occasional lapses on the bases and in the field; I see the same in increasingly rare stretches of one-pitch plate appearances that end in pop-ups to shallow left field. At those times, even Cano's swing seems lethargic. That is, however, not the same as saying he doesn't play hard, or he isn't dedicated. I think, like many of us, his focus wanders. We'd like that not to be the case in a professional athlete, but not everyone can be as relentless as Ty Cobb or as self-possessed as Joe DiMaggio -- and Cobb and DiMaggio had their off-days as well.
In other words, Cano is less than perfect. There's some breaking news for you.
What I wonder is, if Cowherd (and I assume others share his opinion) thinks that Cano doesn't play hard, how does he explain how well he actually does? Cano is probably about halfway through his career and he's got nearly 1500 hits; in his latest handbook, Bill James rates him a 32 percent chance at 3,000. He's hit between .302 and .320 for four straight years, and slugged well over .500 in each of those seasons. He's had over 40 doubles six times in eight seasons, just missing 50 twice. Two years ago he had seven triples, and if the doubles don't suggest hustle, the triples should, because (A) Cano is not fast, and (B) it's really hard to hit triples in Yankee Stadium. The park just doesn't allow for that. His career .308 batting average ranks 10th among active players -- he's two spots and .005 behind Derek Jeter. You'd think for all of Jeter's superior hustling, he'd be leading Cano by more. Defensive metrics think highly of Cano as well, and suggest that his two Gold Gloves have been well earned.
So, this is my question: If you believe Cano doesn't play hard, just how well do you think he should be doing? There aren't a ton of .308/.351/.503 career hitters, fewer still at second base. Are we saying that Cano should be the best player ever at his position? He'd have to be to be much better than he is. Regardless, the evidence of sloth is not to be found in the statistical record. As for those occasional lapses, we should be careful not to equate a player being distractable with a lack of intensity. They are far from the same thing.