The Rivalry: At Second

Rob Neyer has started a new series at SB Nation in which he breaks down who is the player of the new decade by each position.  Catcher? Mauer. Albert Pujols took first base for last decade and Neyer projects Prince Albert will take this one as well.   In his third piece, he breaks down the question of who is the Second Baseman of the Decade, and it comes down to either that guy who plays for Boston or that guy who plays for the Bombers.

For perspective, Neyer offered a piece he wrote 11 years ago on the same topic.

23 comments… add one

  • It’s a good article. Interesting conclusion. I understand where he’s coming from regarding health, but it’s not like Pedroia was recovering from a hamstring pull or a concussion. A fluke broken bone does not really mean much going forward, providing Pedroia is fully recovered, which seems to be the case. But, yeah, there is that uncertainty.
    I think the better answer would have just been to call it a tie, given that “Pedroia’s a year younger than Cano, and over the last three seasons, when Pedroia’s been healthy he’s been better than Cano,” in Neyer’s own words.

    Paul SF February 9, 2011, 11:19 am
  • It is a good article, and I agree with you that it reads that it is effectively a draw. The question that Neyer didn’t raise regarding Cano (and maybe because it’s simply not true) is the speculation that Cano formerly lacked the motivation to work hard enough to elevate his game.
    Neyer has been cranking out quality articles at a surprising rate and since signing on with SB Nation.

    attackgerbil February 9, 2011, 12:06 pm
  • “…Cano formerly lacked the motivation to work hard enough to elevate his game…”
    except that now he’s working for [no, that’s not a slip] the master motivator:
    http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/yankees/2011/02/05/2011-02-05_cano_hires_boras_as_his_agent.html
    can’t argue with a draw, despite neyer’s desire for a different outcome…it’ll take a few more years to sort out these 2 guys…then we’ll see…right now they are eerily similar stat-wise, with nearly identical career ops+ and average WAR…
    and i wouldn’t put too much emphasis on the 1 year age difference paul…in fact to split that hair further, it isn’t even a full year…more like 10 months…

    dc February 9, 2011, 12:54 pm
  • I am not trying to start an argument but to call them even seems a bit off as well. Take HR’s out of the equation and yes they are very historically similar, but you can’t do that. Do the 15-20 SB’s that Pedroia logs each season offset the HR’s? I’d say no. Pedroia is a very good player, a star. I think it’s unfair to put him up against guys like Utley, Kinsler and Cano as they are different players. Pure stat lines lean towards Cano and that’s not a slight of Pedroia in the least.

    John - YF February 9, 2011, 1:06 pm
  • PS: I don’t think Cano is MUCH better, it’s close. I would just give him the nod based on power potential and the park he plays 81 games in. It is super close though.

    John - YF February 9, 2011, 1:21 pm
  • i deliberately left the power stats out of this john, because “counting” stats tend to be viewed less favorably here as a measurement of performance than stuff like ops+ and WAR…

    dc February 9, 2011, 1:28 pm
  • Pedroia easily makes up for any power gap with his baserunning and defense, as can be seen here:
    http://www.fangraphs.com/graphsw.aspx?playerid2=8370&playerid3=3269&playerid4=&playerid5=
    That seems to reinforce the idea of a draw, though if Pedroia can repeat for a full season what he was doing in 2010 before his injury, I don’t think it’ll be much of a contest. He was on track for 6-7 WAR last season, right around where Cano ended up.

    Paul SF February 9, 2011, 5:26 pm
  • I disagree. He’s a 2Bman not a SS. 20 SB’s and a slightly better glove at a position where defense isn’t paramount doesn’t close that gap. If they were both SS’s I’d say yes. And it’s just SB’s not XBH’s their XBH’s are similar with edge to Cano. This isn’t Luis Castillo vs Chase Utley by any means but I stick by my belief that Cano gets the edge.

    John - YF February 9, 2011, 6:22 pm
  • In his best season Luis Castillo was a 4.8 WAR. That number was inflated by his defense. Is there anyone alive that would rather have the ceiling year of Castillo or the ceiling year of a guy like Uggla? I’d rather have the guy who hits 30+ HR’s 7 days a week. Especially at 2B.

    John - YF February 9, 2011, 6:48 pm
  • “…I don’t think it’ll be much of a contest. He was on track for 6-7 WAR last season, right around where Cano ended up….”
    ummm, so how is that not much of a contest?…potentially, cano will probably leave ped in his dust, but i’m no expert, so who knows?…
    ;)

    dc February 9, 2011, 10:57 pm
  • In his best season Luis Castillo was a 4.8 WAR. That number was inflated by his defense. Is there anyone alive that would rather have the ceiling year of Castillo or the ceiling year of a guy like Uggla? I’d rather have the guy who hits 30+ HR’s 7 days a week. Especially at 2B.
    Through his peak, Castillo was worth 14 runs per season more than average: 5 runs with the bat, 3 runs on the bases, 6 runs in the field (it comes out to 3.2 WAR per year when you include position adjustment and playing time). In is career, which has been all peak so far, Uggla has been worth 8 runs above average per season: 15 with the bat, 1 on the bases and -8 in the field (works out to 3.0 WAR per season with position and playing time, as he’s been healthier than Castillo).
    So WAR agrees with you: Uggla is a more valuable hitter than Castillo, and if you’re looking solely at offense, of course you go with Uggla every day of the week. But Castillo provides much more value with his glove.
    Is your position that a poor defensive second baseman does not cost his team wins with the glove? Given the Yankees were the direct beneficiaries of a second baseman’s horrible defense in 2010 (ironically, the player in question was actually Castillo, who has been a poor defender since he turned 30), and given that we’ve seen how bad Uggla’s defense actually is on the national stage (it was an extreme example, but Uggla certainly proved in the All-Star Game that poor defense at second can cost you deeply) I don’t think that’s what you’re arguing.
    Regarding Cano and Pedroia:
    In 6 seasons, Cano has averaged 17 runs above average per season: 13 with the bat, -2 on the bases, and 5 in the field.
    In 4 full seasons, Pedroia has averaged 25 runs above average per season: 13 with the bat, 4 on the bases, and 8 in the field.
    How can they be equally valuable with the bat despite Cano’s obvious slugging advantage? Because Pedroia in that time has been 28 points better at getting on base, while Cano’s slugging is just 22 points better, and not making outs is the most important thing a hitter can do (roughly 1.8 times more important than slugging the ball, as a matter of fact).

    Paul SF February 10, 2011, 11:11 am
  • I should have reworded my paragraph comparing Castillo and Uggla to note that Castillo is no longer a particularly valuable player on offense, and he’s no longer valuable at all on defense, while Uggla is of course very valuable on offense while not being valuable at all on defense.
    If the comparison is between Uggla and Castillo now, it’s no contest, but Castillo was very underrated as a second baseman during his peak.

    Paul SF February 10, 2011, 11:13 am
  • from my earlier comments on this thread:
    “right now they are eerily similar stat-wise, with nearly identical career ops+ and average WAR…”
    if slugging is less important, why do we reference ops and ops+ in our discussions?…let’s just go with obp and be done with it…since ped’s obp is 22 points better than cano’s, he is clearly the better, more valuable second baseman…

    dc February 10, 2011, 11:54 am
  • I guess I am in the minority here and with Neyer. I think defense is weighed far too heavy (especially because they are both 2Bman, the position they move SS’s to because they can’t field their position good enough to actually stick at SS) in both your calculations and those of Neyer. I also think anyone that watched Cano last year (with their eyes and not a calculator) saw a defender that consistently stole hits and cut down balls in both holes. He’s a more than competent defender. I guess we will have to agree to disagree on this one. I am a coach, not a mathematician. I can’t even begin to refute anything you listed above. That’s well beyond my sabermetric knowledge.

    John - YF February 10, 2011, 12:08 pm
  • f slugging is less important, why do we reference ops and ops+ in our discussions?
    Because they’re easy to understand and simple to explain, and it often doesn’t matter. It’s when the players are as close offensively as Pedroia and Cano that we need to break down where they’re getting their offense from. Players with identical OPS but with divergent OBP and SLG do not provide the same value.
    I also think anyone that watched Cano last year (with their eyes and not a calculator) saw a defender that consistently stole hits and cut down balls in both holes.
    The “calculator,” which is of course based on observation of each batted ball (with eyes, no less!) says Cano is an above-average second baseman. I guess it must be…. right?
    I don’t understand why it matters whether the position itself is more or less demanding defensively than another position. The defense portion is based on whether or not a given player makes plays more or less frequently than an average player at that position. A guy who is five runs above average at second may be a terrible shortstop, but he’s not playing short. He’s playing second, and he’s being compared to other guys playing second.

    Paul SF February 10, 2011, 2:58 pm
  • This conversation can easily get dragged into minutiae, which I happen to enjoy, but the big picture and the most important thing from a fan’s perspective is we have a new version of the “(Jeter/Nomah)’s better” argument from a decade ago. Two excellent players, playing the same position for the their teams in the greatest rivalry in all of sports. It can only be fun.

    attackgerbil February 10, 2011, 3:07 pm
  • Now, if you want to compare second base to shortstop, then yes, you need to adjust for the fact that shortstop is a harder position to play. That’s what position adjustments do: They account for the fact that it’s harder to play some positions than others and give credit accordingly:
    http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/position-adjustments/
    Catcher: +12.5 runs
    Shortstop: +7.5 runs
    Second Base: +2.5 runs
    Third Base: +2.5 runs
    Center Field: +2.5 runs
    Left Field: -7.5 runs
    Right Field: -7.5 runs
    First Base: -12.5 runs
    Designated Hitter: -17.5 runs
    So if Pedroia or Cano were to move to shortstop, they’d each lose five runs of value off their defense.
    I always thought of psotional adjustments as being offense-centric. Some quick research at Fangraphs reminds me it’s a defense-minded adjustment. You get credit for playing tougher defensive positions (not more offense-scarce positions, though those are often interchangeable).

    Paul SF February 10, 2011, 3:27 pm
  • Maybe I misunderstood you then Paul, I thought I read where you said that Pedroia makes up the gap in HR’s, etc…with his above average defense. If we are then calling them both competent, near same level fielders we are back to square one.
    Cano: .309/.347/.489
    Pedroia .305/.369/.460
    I’d say that is a virtual deadlock. OBP offset by slugging. I’d agree, tie.
    This is where the difficult part of the comparison comes in because they are 2 different players. Pedroia is a top of the lineup, line drive hitter. Cano is a middle of the lineup, line drive hitter with decent power. But even with that said Cano leads Pedroia in totals (1.5 more years of playing time, so that’s obvious) and average per season (P/S).
    In 6 seasons Cano has 503 RBI’s. 83 P/S
    In 5 (really 4 1/2) seasons Pedroia has 253 RBI’s. 56 P/S
    In 6 seasons Cano has 116 HR’s. 19 P/S
    In 5 (really 4 1/2) seasons Pedroia has 54. 12 P/S
    In 6 seasons Cano has 240 2B’s. 40 P/S
    In 5 (really 4 1/2) seasons Pedroia has 169. 37 P/S
    In 6 seasons Cano has 20 3B’s. 3 P/S
    In 5 (really 4 1/2) seasons Pedroia has 5. 1 P/S.
    In 6 seasons Cano has 1075 hits. 179 P/S
    In 5 (really 4 1/2) seasons Pedroia has 667. 148 P/S
    In 6 seasons Cano has 1703 total bases. 283 P/S
    In 5 (really 4 1/2) seasons Pedroia has 1008. 224 P/S
    (They only stat I left out was runs because we all know runs are not really a direct reflection of the player but rather the player’s team.)
    The only 2 areas of all the offensive categories that Cano does not have a lead in both totals and P/S avg is K’s and SB’s.
    In 6 seasons Cano has 412 K’s. 68 P/S
    In 5 (really 4 1/2) Pedroia has 184 K’s. 41 P/S
    In 6 seasons Cano has 20 SB’s. 3 P/S
    In 5 (really 4 1/2) Pedroia has 56 SB’s. 12 P/S
    All of the averages for Cano were divided by 6. Pedroia by 4.5.
    Those are all of the offensive categories. Cano leads Pedroia in every one but 2. So if we are saying their defense is similar, with a slight edge going to Pedroia, I don’t see why it’s so crazy of me to think that overall Cano has a slight edge.
    I think the difficult part (and it’s really unfair to Pedroia) is that they really are 2 different types of players. It’s a more drastic comparison but along the same lines it’s like trying to compare Ichiro to the prototypical RF’r. Ichiro puts up #’s that are more on line with CF’s or MI’s. So you need to change the parameters of how his value is measured.
    I am really not trying to be stubborn or a count the rings Yankee fan. I think I’ve been honest and stuck to the numbers in my estimations. All in all they are both great young players that are extremely fun to watch and should remain that way for the next 8-10 years.

    John - YF February 11, 2011, 9:10 am
  • I think right now, stat-wise, they’re very similar. A few differences (Cano obviously hits more HRs, Pedroia more 2Bs), but generally about the same.
    Going forward I’d say Cano’s bat has far more potential than Pedroia’s.
    I don’t know how much defense should play into this, so I’m speaking specifically about offense.

    Atheose - SF February 11, 2011, 10:50 am
  • Are you doing 4.5 seasons because Pedroia lost half of 2010 or because he was a late-season callup in 2006?
    If it’s the former, you’re punishing Pedroia severely for having a poor first month in the majors (September of ’06) by weighting it equally to a full season. If it’s the latter, you’re still unfairly punishing Pedroia by weighting one-sixth of a season as one-half and then ignoring the fact that he lost half of 2010. So while Cano has played six full seasons since his debut, Pedroia has played roughly 3.67, not 4.5. If you’re going to do counting stats and convert them into rates, I’d do it by plate appearance, and then multiply by 700 (the midpoint of each player’s 162-game average for plate appearances) to get an idea of what they have done in their career over a fully healthy 162-game season.
    Cano has 503 RBI’s. 0.13 RBI/PA, 91 per year
    Pedroia has 253 RBI’s. 0.10 RBI/PA, 70 per year
    [I’ll stop here to say that RBI in this context are fairly meaningless, as Pedroia bats second while Cano bats fifth, so obviously Cano receives many more chances to drive runners in.]
    Cano has 116 HR’s. 0.03 HR/PA, 22 per year
    Pedroia has 54. 0.02 HR/PA, 15 per year
    Cano has 240 2B’s. 0.06 2B/PA, 45 per year
    Pedroia has 169. 0.07 2B/PA, 48 per year
    Cano has 20 3B’s. 0.005 3B/PA, 4 per year
    Pedroia has 5. 0.002 3B/PA, 1 per year
    Cano has 1075 hits. 0.29 H/PA, 202 per year
    Pedroia has 667. 0.27 H/PA, 189 per year
    Cano has 1703 total bases. 0.46 TB/PA, 319 per year
    Pedroia has 1008. 0.41 TB/PA, 286 per year
    But let me add a couple more categories that I think are extremely important to determining offensive value that you did not include:
    First, there’s runs, which like RBI are heavily context dependent, but they are a stat that measures offense, and unlike RBI (which is generally a slugger’s-only stat you can compile even while making outs) they look at a player’s ability to reach base, regardless of how, and his ability to run the bases somewhat competently:
    Cano has 509 runs, 0.14 R/PA, 95 per year
    Pedroia has 377 runs, 0.15 R/PA, 107 per year
    Then there are these nontrivial offensive contributions:
    Cano has 186 walks, 0.50 BB/PA, 35 per year
    Pedroia has 215, 0.87 BB/PA, 61 per year
    Cano has reached base by hit, walk or HBP (not errors or fielder’s choices) 1,261 times, 0.35 TOB/PA, 242 per year
    Pedroia has reached base 906 times, 0.37 TOB/PA, 257 per year
    Conversely, Cano has made 2,578 outs, 0.69 Outs/PA, 484 per year
    Pedroia has made 1,628 outs, 0.66 Outs/PA, 461 per year
    And let’s add walks to total bases, a number showing every base a player reaches via positive event (HBP, BB, 1B, 2B, 3B, HR):
    Cano has 1,918 of these Total Bases, 0.514 TTB/PA, 360 per year
    Pedroia has 1,247, 0.505 TTB/PA, 353 per year
    That’s seven bases per year. They are essentially even on offense, which is what the batting runs above average numbers I posted earlier indicated, even if we ignore the fact that not making outs (which Pedroia does better) is more important than slugging (which Cano does better).
    THEN we look at baserunning, where as you note:
    Cano has 20 SB’s. 0.005 SB/PA, 4 per year
    Pedroia has 56 SB’s. 0.023 SB/PA, 16 per year
    Except it’s even further apart than that:
    Cano has 23 CS. 0.006 CS/PA, 4 per year
    Pedroia has 12 CS. 0.004 CS/PA, 3 per year
    So Pedroia has 13 additional bases that he gains each year, while Cano is stagnant, which means Pedroia now gains six more bases per year (BB+HBP+TB+SB-CS) than Cano. And that’s also without considering that being caught stealing, especially in a lineup like the ones the Sox and Yanks have is worse in terms of run expectancy than making an out at the plate. This is why the “break-even point” on being a successful base stealer in the era of the home run is around 75-80 percent. Cano is below 50 percent.
    THEN there’s defense, where the various defensive numbers have this to say (per-year career averages):
    Cano:
    Total Zone: +5 RAA
    BIS: 0 RAA
    UZR: -6 RAA
    Average: 0 RAA
    Pedroia:
    Total Zone: +9 RAA
    BIS: + 6 RAA
    UZR: +7 RAA
    Average: +7 RAA
    There’s some disagreement on Cano. You say that observationally there is no reason to say Cano is anything less than an above average defender, so perhaps you like Total Zone’s rating best. That’s fine; I have no reason to disagree with someone who sees far more Yankee games than I do. But Total Zone, like all three of these measures, rates Pedroia as a better defender than Cano.
    So to summarize: Pedroia is no worse than Cano’s equal with the bat. He is much better than Cano stealing bases (and overall a slightly better baserunner, according to WAR), and he is a better defender to a not-insignificant degree.

    Paul SF February 11, 2011, 11:00 am
  • “Are you doing 4.5 seasons because Pedroia lost half of 2010 or because he was a late-season callup in 2006?”
    Neither, because I was writing that and trying to keep my 3 and 5 year old from killing one another with their Nerf Swords. I apologize. It was definitely not in an effort to tip the scale.
    If you take both partial seasons on Pedroia’s record and combine the nearly 100 AB’s and his nearly 400 AB’s last year, you get just 3/4 of a season.
    Here it is revised and done correctly:
    In 6 seasons Cano has 503 RBI’s. 83 P/S
    In 3 3/4 seasons Pedroia has 253 RBI’s. 67 P/S
    In 6 seasons Cano has 116 HR’s. 19 P/S
    In 3 3/4 seasons Pedroia has 54. 14.4 P/S
    In 6 seasons Cano has 240 2B’s. 40 P/S
    In 3 3/4 seasons Pedroia has 169. 45 P/S
    In 6 seasons Cano has 20 3B’s. 3 P/S
    In 3 3/4 seasons Pedroia has 5. 1.33 P/S.
    In 6 seasons Cano has 1075 hits. 179 P/S
    In 3 3/4 seasons Pedroia has 667. 177 P/S
    In 6 seasons Cano has 1703 total bases. 283 P/S
    In 3 3/4 seasons Pedroia has 1008. 268 P/S
    OK, onto addressing your post. If we are going to disallow RBI’s and I agree we should, we should also do the same for runs. Think about that we are saying based on batting slot it’s more likely to drive in runs from the #5 slot than the #2, completely fair. In the same breath it’s a heck of a lot easier (on a great team like the Sox or Yankees) to score runs in the #2 slot in the order. You get on in the #2 slot you have your teams best hitters to drive you in. Cano, who up until this season was batting in the lower 3rd of the lineup had the #6, #7, #8, etc…depending on where he hit. I say we disallow both runs and RBI’s, to be fair.
    I’d also argue walks have a lot to do with where you hit. It’s Pedroia’s job to get on base for the big boppers. So that automatically makes the #2 someone that needs to take more pitches and be less aggressive knowing that the teams best hitters are lurking behind. In the #5/#6 slot you are more aggressive, especially because it’s a position in the lineup that gets a ton of RBI chances. All that said Cano is not as patient as he should be, but still it’s unfair to compare the two.
    CS is unfortunately a stat without context. How many of the CS’s were on H&R’s that were is some way or another botched by the batter? Was he thrown out in a 1st and 3rd situation? Pitchout? It’s clear Pedroia is the better stolen base threat, but it’s also unfair to penalize Cano based on CS’s. They are without context.
    Again to me, this is like comparing Ichiro to a prototypical RF’r. Their spots in the lineup are completely different, as are their responsibilities. I think this is a pointless venture for both of us there are just too many variables that cannot be accounted for.
    In an olive branch act I will say they are tied, but I can tell you right now if you are drafting in your fantasy league and you have your choice of the two: slam dunk go Cano! ;)
    Cano (by HQ projections) 720 Pts
    Pedroia (by HQ projections) 650 Pts

    John - YF February 11, 2011, 12:03 pm
  • “…In an olive branch act I will say they are tied, but I can tell you right now if you are drafting in your fantasy league and you have your choice of the two: slam dunk go Cano! ;)…”
    well, john, an objective person might make that case, but we’re not dealing with that here are we?….

    dc February 13, 2011, 3:22 am
  • John - YF February 24, 2011, 2:18 pm

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