What is the Robinson Cano effect?

Robinson Cano is fourth in batting average in the AL, hitting .323. He is tied for sixth in OBP with .383. He is in the top twenty in hits and runs scored. He is unquestionably the Seattle Mariners’ offensive leader, though his power numbers are down from his career statistics across the board.

When Cano signed his incredibly rich contract last November there was considerable criticism of the deal. $24 million a year was too much. Ten years was too long. The Mariners would never receive returned value on such a deal In truth, measured by WAR, Cano with his 2.8 WAR ranked 17th by ESPN, is well behind some of his less well-paid colleagues.

But the Seattle Mariners are playing winning baseball. Their current record is 47-38. The Mariners haven’t been nine games over .500 since the end of the 2007 season. They are currently holding on to the second AL Wild Card spot and trail the Oakland Athletics for the division lead by only five games. There is talk about this team I haven’t heard for years. They are the subject of local talk radio, that before June was the organ for Seahawks football 24/7. There are surprising stories about the Mariners on ESPN.mlb and SI.com. But the real measure of a change in attitude about a team is about the number of butts in seats. Today, the Mariners are ranked ninth in attendance with an average of nearly 24,000 fans per game. Last year the M’s finished 11th in attendance with an average of 21,747. No it’s not the stuff of 2002 with over 43,700 per game, but it’s better.

Increasingly there is talk of Robinson Cano and how this turnaround is due to his veteran leadership. During the Houston series, broadcasters Dave Sims and Mike Blowers referred to advice offered to centerfielder James Jones from Manager Lloyd McClendon. Follow Robinson Cano around like a puppy was suggested to rookie Jones. In his article Wednesday for USA Today, baseball writer Bob Nightengale followed the Mariners in Houston and noted the effect Cano was having on the team.  He quoted starting pitcher Chris Young:

All I know is these guys are as good a  group of guys I’ve ever played with, and Robinson Cano has had a huge influence on everyone in here.

Robinson Cano, Logan Morrison, James Jones, John Buck, Willie Bloomquist.  These are the new position players on this team. Aside from the former Yankee, the rest are role players, though each have contributed to the team’s success.  The rest are guys who have been here-Dustin Ackley, Michael Saunders, Mike Zunino, Kyle Seager, Endy Chavez presided over last year’s flop.  Together with Lloyd McClendon, Cano has convinced these guys they can go out every day and win.  The statheads don’t like to talk about chemistry because they can’t see it in the box scores; they can’t measure the affect of high fives, handshakes and salutes to the bullpen  with BABIP, xFIP, or wRC+. .But Cano has them playing hard each day, winning for each other, and that’s the real Robinson Cano effect, not the hits, the power shortage, or the $240 million.



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