The next stop on the “WAR Tour” involves second basemen, specifically Robinson Cano. If you hadn’t had an opportunity to read our Mark Teixeira WAR analysis, click here. Similar to the prior WAR post, I included several of the most productive second basemen in the game. Despite injury-plagued seasons, I also included Chase Utley* and Dustin Pedroia* as a point of reference. Just as before, I also chose my list of candidates based on the 2010 positional league leaders.
When taking a look at the pool of second basemen, the results are certainly favorable for the Yankees (surprise, surprise!). Given the fact that Cano is producing MVP-caliber stats this season, his overall value won't surprise anyone. Cano’s 2009 numbers, however, present a more interesting case. Compared with this year’s talent, 2009 Cano still stacks up quite favorably against the competition. This speaks volumes to his overall potential. No wonder the Yankees display such confidence in him.
When considering overall WAR, 2010 Cano simply dwarfs his competition. His overall value (5.9) is nearly double that of Kelly Johnson who has the second-highest (3.7). Pedroia and Utley both have solid numbers but their injuries inevitably preclude them from the discussion. Technically speaking, 2009 Cano would still overshadow all the competition this year with a 5.1 WAR. For a guy who was benched, considered “unclutch,” and deemed streaky for much of his career, that’s a fairly impressive accomplishment.
Of course, there is a clear correlation with his WAR, oWAR, and oRAR. He also leads the latter categories thus far through the 2010 campaign. Aside from the past several weeks, by and large, Cano’s been a beast offensively all year long. Interestingly enough, his 2009 offensive contributions still would be considered excellent when compared with this year’s more productive second basemen (such as Rickie Weeks and Dan Uggla). The first thought that popped to mind when looking at Cano’s oWAR is disbelief. The disbelief doesn’t even stem from Cano per se, but rather from the Yankees' ability to secure plus-offense from a traditionally barren position.
One point that did surprise me a bit was Cano’s dWAR. Of the candidates listed, he’s tied for third with Kelly Johnson with a 0.1 dWAR. If one includes Pedroia and Utley in the discussion, his ranking drops to fifth. After a few seasons of Kay, Waldman, and Sterling (not to mention the honorable Joe Morgan) incessantly praising Cano’s laurels (mostly in the form of complimenting his arm strength and to a lesser degree range to the left side), I anecdotally assumed he was an excellent fielder. I had remembered some sloppy performances early on his career but he seemed deliberate in efforts to improve. More importantly, it appeared that he had improved. Yet, Fangraphs places Cano’s UZR at 1.5 -- good for ninth-best in the league (the leaders among second basemen include Brandon Phillips, Orlando Hudson, Chase Utley*, Mark Ellis, and Kelly Johnson, respectively). Perhaps Cano isn’t quite as dynamic defensively as we’re led to believe. C'est la vie.
In terms of dollar value (as to be expected), the Yankees are getting tremendous value for their investment. Cano currently earns $9M per year and is under contract for another few seasons. According to Fangraphs, Cano’s actual value this season (as opposed to what he’s being paid) is an astounding $26.3M. To quote the great Roger Daltrey, “I call that a bargain...the best I ever had.” Of course, this sure makes the Red Sox appear especially clever with their $3.7M owed to Dustin Pedroia (also an MVP winner).
As another discussion point, the difference between what Cano and his peers are making isn’t nearly as monstrous as Teixeira was relative to other elite first basemen. Dan Uggla is making $7.8M, Philips $6.9M, and even Hudson is earning $5M. This of course doesn’t even include former MVP winner Chase Utley, who is making serious bank at $15.2M.
In essence, Cano might be the closest thing to a quality wine -- he’s getting better with age. Let’s just hope his offense kicks in for the playoffs.