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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Is Robinson Cano already the best Yankee second baseman of all time?

Robinson Cano put on an amazing display of power at the 2011 Home Run Derby. Towards the end of the contest, he needed to break the final round record of 11 that Adrian Gonzalez had just tied to win, and he got to 12 while missing just six times.

He has very possibly been the best Yankee player, at least among position players, since the beginning of 2010.

When you think of Yankees, it’s pretty easy to identify the best at each position (or, in the case of center field, a top two). However, nobody really jumps to mind as an all-time great at second base. The Yankees have never had a Joe Morgan or Jackie Robinson caliber second baseman.

So, could Cano already be the answer?

Candidates: Cano, Joe Gordon, Tony Lazzeri, Willie Randolph, Snuffy Stirnweiss

Some of you might already know the answer looking at the names on that list. Everyone else, we can pretty safely say that Cano has some work to do:

             PA    WAR     o/dWAR        BA/OBP/SLG   OPS+

Randolph   7465   49.8   40.5/9.3    .275/.374/.357   105

Lazzeri    7058   46.6   46.3/0.3    .293/.379/.467   120

Gordon     4216   36.3   26.1/10.2   .271/.358/.467   120

Cano       4100   26.8   23.7/3.1    .308/.346/.492   118

Stirnweiss 3800   26.0   19.6/6.4    .274/.366/.382   108

Notes, for those not sabermetrically inclined: WAR is Wins Above Replacement, an approximation of a player's value compared to how a career AAA player might have performed. oWAR and dWAR are the offensive and defensive components of WAR. Total Zone, referenced once below, is the statistic that makes up dWAR.

On first glance, Cano’s offense may appear to blow the rest out of the water, with the only .300 average in the group, as well as the top slugging percentage. But he is last of the five in getting on base, and Lazzeri and Gordon have slightly better OPS+ ratings (which adjust for era).

Total Zone loves it some Yankee defense at second base, with Randolph, Gordon, and Stirnweiss gaining quite a bit of value from their defense. Cano’s defense is pretty good as well, but not the best.

Given the overall package brought to the table by each of these players, it is pretty safe to say Cano is not quite the top Yankee second baseman of all time. In fact, it’s not particularly close. Yet.

Were he to end with as many plate appearances with the Yankees as Willie Randolph, Cano would be worth 48.8 wins, one shy of Randolph. He would, however, have more offensive value than Randolph--but not quite as much as Joe Gordon.

However, simply by going for what Cano is “on pace” for may shortchange him. In 2009 and 2010, Cano put together a .320/.366/.527 (131 OPS+) line, and was worth 11.4 wins. If that is his peak, and he maintains, say, an All-Star caliber 5 WAR per season for the next 5 years (minus the the 2.7 he already has this season), that gives him a total of 49.1 WAR through his age 32 season. A few more years at even 2 wins a year would easily give him the highest number among the five players we looked at here.

Cano has a good shot at being looked back on as the best Yankee second baseman of all time, joining other Yankee positional giants such as Lou Gehrig at first, Babe Ruth in right, and Yogi Berra catching. But he is not even close yet. Lazzeri probably deserves the title currently.

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