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From ESPN‘s Keith Law:

Joel Sherman of the New York Post wrote Friday that the Dodgers were disappointed in how slow Hudson was, even referring to him as “Slow-Dawg,” a play on his “O-Dawg” nickname. This struck me as incredibly funny, since I saw Hudson a lot when we were both in Toronto, and he was never a plus runner, stealing 19 bases in three and a half years — yet when he was on first base, pitchers would throw over to hold him with absurd frequency. And from talking to people with Arizona, I know they noticed the same phenomenon when Hudson played there. Unfortunately, I think the cause here is that Hudson looks the part of a speedy, low-power middle infielder, and scouts and coaches are making assumptions that just don’t bear out in reality. He’s not fast, he’s never been fast, and anyone who files a report on him with a grade of 50 (average) or better for his running speed has made a bad evaluation.

While Law is discussing Orlando Hudson here – the “Slow-Dawg” – he might as well be referring to Robinson Cano. Though Cano is not viwed as a “low-power middle infielder,” he is often mistakenly perceived as having “good speed,” although, as Law says, such a characterization just does not “bear out in reality.” I remember Joe Buck referencing Cano in this way throughout the World Series and wondered how, exactly, Buck came to that conclusion given Cano’s poor stolen base numbers – 17 steals in 38 attempts – and decidedly low speed score (3.6). To be fair to Buck, even I admit that I was surprised at how sluggish Cano was on the bases when he first arrived on the scene in 2005.

Perhaps stereotypes regarding infielders as well as stereotypes pertaining to appearance are to blame. While Cano is a powerful middle infielder, he is, still, a middle infielder. Thus, we assume that he is faster, for whatever reason, because middle infielders just are that way inherently. Plus, Cano is slim and “looks” athletic, so perhaps that visual is what makes many people think he is faster than he really is (conversely, when we look at Prince Fielder, we do not consider him to be fast, so, assuming the opposite – thin equals fast – is often the case). In addition, though I am hesitant to say this in fear of a backlash, there are longstanding ethnic and racial stereotypes which distinguish minorities as “fast runners,” so I wonder if this is also implicitly at play with guys like Robinson Cano and Orlando Hudson. This is a difficult issue to discuss, but, as many academics have noted, it is a characterization that exists.

It is a mixture of these things – sometimes one or the other, sometimes all three – that likely influence our perceptions of speed in baseball. Orlando Hudson and Robinson Cano are just two examples of players that are “surprisingly slow” because of these preconceived thoughts. It is an interesting issue to consider the next time we watch a game.

Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

7 Responses to “Robinson Cano and false perceptions of speed”

  1. In addition to being slow, Cano many times doesn’t hustle either, making him “surprisingly” slower than perceived.  (Quote)

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    Moshe Mandel Reply:

    Eddie Perez: Cano many times doesn’t hustle either,

    I think that is overstated. I really do not see him not hustling on the basepaths very often, nor in the field. I think he looks smooth in the field, and it has carried over into this non-hustling reputation.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    Matt Imbrogno Reply:

    Bingo.  (Quote)

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    NDR Reply:

    I agree. The perception that Cano doesn’t hustle has always bothered me. It seems that these perceptions can sometimes be more powerful than actual events sometimes. For example, most Yankee fans perception of Paul O’Neill are of a hustling do anything to win ballplayer. However, it seems few people remember that O’Neill actually failed to run out 2 balls in game 3 of the 1999 World Series.
    http://tinyurl.com/ydubncf
    Fortunately for O’Neill this is forgotten in the aftermath of the 1999 sweep, but I wonder if someone like Cano would have gotten a similar pass in the same situation (I am pretty sure the answer to that is no).  (Quote)

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  2. I think you’re dead on here, Chris. I remember how frequently Torre would send Cano, only to watch him get thrown out.  (Quote)

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  3. Re: Cano (& Melky), two of the poorest base-runners that I can think of given their youth and speed. Infuriating watching Cano get thrown out at second over & over (either trying to stretch a single into a double or trying to take the extra base behind a scoring runner). Cano simply has no base-running instincts, even worse than Bernie Williams. I hope that it is something that can be helped by coaching. BTW, I watched at least 80 games last year (TV), and for the life of me I cannot fathom the poor defensive metrics that he gets pinned with…..  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

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