Why Robinson Cano Is a Better Second Baseman Than Dustin Pedroia

Phillip BrownSenior Analyst IIDecember 30, 2011

Why Robinson Cano Is a Better Second Baseman Than Dustin Pedroia

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    There are always arguments over who is the best at a certain position, but not many are as controversial as second base.

    First, I would like to say that I am sorry to players like Ian Kinsler, Chase Utley, Brandon Phillips, Ben Zobrist, Howie Kendrick, Rickie Weeks and Dan Uggla, but by far the best second basemen in the majors are Dustin Pedroia and Robinson Cano.

    Now that we have narrowed it down to two players, which is better? The only way to do that is to compare them head-to-head. To do that, we need criteria and those criteria are simple: batting average, plate discipline, extra base hits, power, speed, defense, arm and playoff performance.

    Let's begin.

Batting Average

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    Robinson Cano's .302 batting average in 2011 may be lower than Dustin Pedroia's .307 batting average, but overall Cano has been a better hitter throughout his career.

    During their careers, Cano has a .308 batting average and has a career high of .342 in 2006, while Pedroia has a career .305 batting average with a career average of .326 in 2008.

    Over the last three seasons, Cano has a .314 batting average and Pedroia has a .299 batting average.

    While their batting numbers are similar it is quite clear that Cano has been a better hitter, according to batting average, both over their entire careers and recent history.

    Verdict: Robinson Cano

Plate Discipline

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    Robinson Cano may have a higher batting average and collect more hits, but Dustin Pedroia gets on base more often because of his plate discipline and ability to draw walks.

    You may think that because Cano is a better hitter that pitchers would tend to pitch around him, but since Pedroia is not as free swinging as Cano he draws more pitches per plate appearance and more walks.

    In 2011 Pedroia had an impressive 4.21 pitches per plate appearance, which is sixth in the majors, while Cano had 3.43 pitches per plate appearance, which is 71st in the majors.

    In 2011 Pedroia had a .373 OBP while Cano had a .347 OBP. Pedroia also drew 86 walks in 2011 compared with 38 for Cano.

    Verdict: Dustin Pedroia

Extra-Base Hits

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    Sometimes a hit is not just a hit. I am not talking about runs batted in because that statistic has little to do with the hitter and more to do with the situations he is put in by the batters in front of him in the order.

    Most hits are singles and the hits that clog the highlight reels are home runs, but how about the ever-important doubles and triples, the hits that immediately put somebody in scoring position or clear the bases?

    In 2011 Robinson Cano hit 46 doubles and seven triples compared with Dustin Pedroia's 37 doubles and three triples.

    Despite Pedroia having seven more hits that Cano in 2011, Cano had more total bases because of his doubles and triples before you even factor in Cano's higher home run total. Pedroia may rack up more hits but Cano's hits have a greater impact.

    Verdict: Robinson Cano

Power

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    Is this one even a question? Not only did Robinson Cano win the 2011 Home Run Derby but he has also hit 25-plus home runs three straight years while Pedroia has not even eclipsed that mark once.

    You may point to the park they play in but if that was such a huge factor why doesn't Pedroia hit double after double in Fenway Park, which was the second most double-friendly park in the majors (Yankee Stadium was 16th).

    Yes, Yankee Stadium is known for giving up cheap home runs, especially to right field, but according to ESPN Home Run Tracker, Cano only hit one "cheap home run" compared with two by Dustin Pedroia in 2011. Cano also only hit six "just enough" home runs compared with 11 by Pedroia and hit nine "no doubt" home runs compared with seven by Pedroia.

    No matter how you look at it, Robinson Cano has more power than Dustin Pedroia.

    Verdict: Robinson Cano

Speed

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    This one is tough. What do you consider for speed? Stolen bases? Extra-base hits? Defensive range? They all have their flaws. People can steal bases without much speed by waiting for a low breaking ball, by taking advantage of a catcher with a weak arm or a pitcher with a slow wind-up. Extra-base hits have just as much to do with where the ball is hit as with speed, especially doubles but not as much with triples. Defensive range is more about lateral quickness and reactions than speed.

    In the end I settled on stolen bases, but this is imperfect.

    Dustin Pedroia has stolen 20-plus bases three times in his career while Robinson Cano has yet to eclipse 10. That type of descrepancy makes it clear.

    Verdict: Dustin Pedroia

Defense

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    Both Dustin Pedroia and Robinson Cano own a Gold Glove and both are good defensive second basemen.

    Depending on which statistics you use you could make an argument for either of them.

    Robinson Cano has better traditional stats. Pedroia leads Cano in fielding percentage .990 to .987 and has fewer errors, but Cano has a 5.15 range factor compared with Pedroia's 4.62. Cano also turned 16 more doubles plays, had 19 more assists and had 33 more putouts in 2011 despite touching the ball 52 fewer times.

    I am not a huge fan of sabermetrics as a whole, but UZR is perhaps the worst, rivaled only by WAR. Why do I hate UZR? It is very hypothetical and it can be flat out wrong.

    For example, we all agree that Mark Teixeira is at least an above-average, if not great, defensive first basman, right? Then how did he have a -2.9 UZR in 2010? That was the 14th best UZR among qualified first basman.

    Despite my hatred of UZR I have to admit that Pedroia is the better defensive player. Not only did he have the highest UZR among second basman in 2011 but he also had the second highest UZR in the entire majors, behind only Brett Gardner.

    Cano on the other hand had the third worst UZR among second basmen in 2011. Is Cano that bad? No but he is not as good as Pedroia when it comes to defense.

    Verdict: Dustin Pedroia

Arm

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    A great arm helps turn difficult double plays and throw out runners would be infield singles, but it is not only about arm strength. A good arm needs to be accurate on top of strong, which basically summarizes Robinson Cano's arm.

    Cano may not have the best glove but when he transitions the ball from his glove to his hand and gears up to throw there is not many people I trust more to throw somebody out.

    Cano has an incredible double play arm, which is helped tremendously by his quick footwork, that is among the majors' best. There is no stat to show this but if you do not believe me turn on a Yankees' game and just watch, you'll see.

    Verdict: Robinson Cano

Postseason Performance

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    Many people point to Robinson Cano's 2009 postseason and World Series, but why not look at the rest of the work he did in the postseason.

    Cano's career .258/.307/.491, .798 OPS postseason line may not be too impressive but let's compare it with Pedroia's. Pedroia has a career .252/.344/.461, .804 OPS postseason line. They seem very similar, right? How do you elevate one over the other? Easy, let's look at recent history.

    In the last two postseasons, Cano has hit .333/.367/.736, 1.103 OPS. That is incredible. In fact, Cano has posted an OPS above 1.000 in three of his last four postseasons. Pedroia on the other hand has yet to post an OPS above .860.

    Cano has shown that he can be a game changer and carry a team in the postseason, has  Pedroia?

    Verdict: Robinson Cano

Situational Hitting

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    Runners On Base:
    Cano: .303/.352/.545, .897 OPS 
    Pedroia: .303/.391/.439, .830 OPS

    RISP: 
    Cano: .318/.373/.636, 1.009 OPS 
    Pedroia: .316/.408/.471, .879 OPS

    Bases Loaded:
    Cano: .444/.409/1.167, 1.567 OPS 
    Pedroia: .333/.364/.556, .920 OPS

    In 2011 Robinson Cano was a better situational hitter in every single way. I will admit that in 2009 (Dustin Pedroia did not play most of 2010) but they are both very good situational hitters that seem to switch off who is better in this regard each season.

    Verdict: Push

Final Verdict

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    Not all of these categories are equal. For example, "arm" is not as important as "postseason performance" but Robinson Cano still won five of the nine categories (with one push).

    Cano is the best second baseman in the majors right now.

    Feel free to disagree or come up with other valid criteria that I did not use, but do not say something like "leadership" because the Yankees and Red Sox are in completely different situations.

    Cano does not and really can not be a leader with players like Derek Jeter surrounding him and a very stable bench and front office. On the flip side the Red Sox need a leader with all of the controversy, turnover and turmoil surrounding them.

    Final Verdict: Robinson Cano