Whatever level of respect the Mariners have earned by landing superstar Robinson Cano could pale in comparison to the level of respect his Mariner teammates may inherit simply by having Cano in the lineup. I am not talking about lineup protection. I am talking about something as simple as called balls and strikes on borderline pitches. Check this out:
One of these strike zone plots belongs to Robinson Cano. The other belongs to Kyle Seager. Both gentlemen are excellent left-handed hitters who make contact on pitches inside the zone over 90% of the time. Seager has the superior eye, or perhaps we should call it restraint, with an O-Swing% (percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the strike zone) of 28.2% compared to 34.2% from the more aggressive Cano. You can guess by now where I am going with this.
Despite his advanced control of the strike zone, Seager (the second image) gets nowhere near Cano’s level of respect from umpires (first image). It remains to be seen how much of that respect will follow Cano to Seattle, and how much will rub off on rest of the lineup, but reputation goes a long way in this game. Whether it comes in the form of an expanded strike zone for Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine or a contracted strike zone for Robinson Cano and Ichiro Suzuki, it is real, measurable and inheritable. Wait, Ichiro Suzuki? Yes, Ichiro Suzuki:
The first strike zone plot is Ichiro as a Mariner in 2011, coming off a 10-year run as one of the most prolific hitters in baseball history. The second strike zone plot is Ichiro as a Yankee in 2013, coming off a two-year run as Juan Pierre. Yet, it’s the Pierre Ichiro who umpires treated like Ichiro while the Ichiro Ichiro was treated like Pierre. Much like the previous sentence, it is confusing and makes little sense, but it exists nonetheless. The 2011 Mariners featured one of the worst offenses in baseball history and Ichiro suffered for it. The 2012-13 Mariners were not much better, and Seager has suffered for it.
As a five-time All-Star and Silver Slugger Award recipient, Cano has absolutely earned every inch of respect he has received in the form of called balls and strikes. Seager has earned some of that respect, too, but perhaps now he and his teammates will actually get to enjoy it.