The second base position is loaded going into 2012 with talent permeating throughout the Major Leagues from players just hitting their primes, like Brandon Phillips in Cincinnati, to up-and-comers such as Dustin Ackley in Seattle . The elite class of second basemen however, play for the powerhouses in the AL East, Robinson Cano and Dustin Pedroia. The second base debate was touch on a little last season, but let’s give it a little more in-depth look.
Dustin Pedroia and Robinson Cano each finished in the top 10 of the MVP balloting last season, and for good reason. The pint-sized Red Sox hit .307/.387/.474 with 21 homers and 91 RBI, while receiving a majority of his at bats in the 2 hole. Not to be outdone, Cano hit an impressive .302/.349/.533 with 28 homers and 118 RBI while primarily hitting 5th in the Yankee lineup. Both players are highly effective fielders as well, with each splitting the last 2 Gold Gloves in the AL.
Pedroia is most known for his endless grit and hustle, both of which will be discussed anytime you turn a Red Sox game on. If you watch him on defense, before each pitch he starts in the shallows of the outfield, takes a large leap to the edge of the infield dirt, gets low and into position. All this movement can distract a batter and makes Pedroia a little quicker to the ball. Pedroia was 5th in the American League in assists last season, with 425, which can be attributed to how many more ground balls he is able to reach compared to the average 2nd baseman.
In addition to his production at the plate, he steals bases at a good clip, with an 80.9% success rate over his career, after a career-high 26 steals in 2011. Pedroia does come with some downside, with a 36 point drop in his batting average on the road, hitting .287 compared to .323 in Fenway Park. His OPS takes a 113 point dive, down to a solid .780. This is a relatively minor issue because he still produces at a near-elite level outside of Boston but it is worth noting. His home/road power numbers are fairly evenly split over the course of his career (40 homers to 35 on the road), disputing the notion that he only can go deep in Fenway. He is also fantastic at working a pitcher deep into at bats and drawing a walk. Last year Pedroia walked a career-high 86 times and worked the count full 106 times OPS’ing an absurd 1.132 in those situations. He grinds out every at bat, which makes the opposing pitcher show him and his teammates all his pitches.
Robinson Cano, age 29, is at the peak of his career, coming off of three straight fantastic seasons. He has been eerily consistent hitting at least 40 doubles, 25 homers, producing between a .870-.920 OPS, while playing excellent defense. His power for the 2nd base position is impressive. Cano also has had no issue over the course of his career hitting left handed pitching. He has a career OPS of .854 against righties, while hitting for a .818 OPS against lefties. Cano does have a couple weaknesses. He does not walk very much, relying on a high batting average to keep his OPS up. The two seasons in his career when he did not hit .300 were also the only two in which he OPS’d less than .800. Cano also does not steal many bases, and he gets thrown out quite a bit when he does going only 28-53 in his career, for an abysmal 52.8% success rate.
Cano has one of the strongest arms for the position and he turns the double play quicker than any 2nd baseman in baseball because of it. He was able to turn 97 last year, second in the American League and only 4 behind Ian Kinsler. Because he can make an accurate throw without having his feet in proper position, he is able to mow down quicker runners and save the Yankees runs. His range is also excellent, as he was second among American League position players in assists at 444. The perception that he is slow-footed and does not get to as many grounders as the elite fielders is incorrect. Cano is one of the 3 best defense second baseman in the league and should be viewed as such.
Overall, you can’t go wrong if your starting 2nd baseman is Dustin Pedroia or Robinson Cano. Your team will most definitely put up a winning record and compete for a spot in October baseball. There are other great 2nd basemen in the league as well. Ben Zobrist is a jack-of-all-trades, Dustin Ackley is going to be a star, Ian Kinsler and Brandon Phillips can both mash, but none are as good as Cano or Pedroia. If I had to choose one player however, I would take Cano because he grades out slightly ahead of Pedroia offensively while playing him to a draw defensively. Cano has hit for a higher OPS the last 3 seasons, hits for more power, and drives in more runs. Pedroia’s advantage in talking walks and working deep into counts does not make up for that.