Over the coming weeks, Rob Neyer is predicting who will be the best players of this decade at each position. You can view all his previous selections here as he makes them.
You know what I’m going to enjoy, one of these times? Coming up with a great Player of the Decade candidate who’s seriously young, and will spend most of this decade in the prime of his career.
Not this time, though. None of the dozen or so best second basemen in the majors last season were younger than 26. There are a couple of hot second-base prospects in the wings … but it’s not clear how long they’ll actually be second basemen. Of Seattle’s Dustin Ackley, John Sickels writes, “his glovework at second base is rough enough that not everyone thinks he can remain there.” Of Toronto’s Brett Lawrie, John writes, “his long-term position is still in question … I still think they should make him a right fielder, but we’ll see what the Blue Jays do.”
So even if we wanted to take a flier on some kid, we really couldn’t. We just don’t know enough about the available kids.
We do know about the veterans. We know that Chase Utley, the greatest second baseman on the planet, will be 32 this season. We know that Dan Uggla, probably the greatest second baseman who plays for the Atlanta, will be 31. We know that second baseman don’t generally age particularly well, and it’s likely that one or both of those potent hitters will find another position well before this decade’s out.
Which leaves, in my considered opinion, only five (theoretically) reasonable candidates: Robinson Cano (28 this season), Ian Kinsler (29), Dustin Pedroia (27), Martin Prado (27) and Rickie Weeks (28). And I think you already know even that’s a stretch. Prado’s lost his job at second base to Uggla, and Weeks has exactly one outstanding season (2010) on his ledger.
Really, then, we’re talking about three guys: Cano, Kinsler and Pedroia.
Or maybe only two. Does Kinsler really deserve to be included here? After all, in 2019 he’ll turn 37.
Look, if we go just by what happened last season, Cano’s the only choice here. The guy was awesome, easily the best second baseman in the majors.
But why would we go just by happened last season? Where in the sabermetrics handbook does it say that’s a super idea? Here’s the Wins Above Replacement list (via Baseball-Reference.com) for the last two seasons:
Utley – 11.9
Cano – 11.2
Pedroia – 8.6
Kinsler – 8.4
and for the last three seasons:
Chase – 18.5
Dustin – 13.8
Ian – 13.7
Robbie – 12.4
With all that out of the way, I’m ready to give up, however reluctantly, on Kinsler. He’s had real problems staying healthy, and his three-year WAR is inflated by an artificially inflated batting average in 2008. Otherwise he’s been a fairly steady performer, not on the same level as these other guys. And we’ve already reluctantly released Chase Utley from contention because he’s relatively ancient.
Which brings us back to everyone’s favorite American League East combatants.
Last April, this comparison came up and I chose Pedroia by just a bit.
In the event, not one of my all-time greatest predictions. Cano played brilliantly the rest of the way, and Pedroia was hurt most of the time. Funny thing, though. When Pedroia did play, he played better than ever. Let’s look at those three-year WARs again, just for these two guys, and give Pedroia credit for 75 of the games he missed last season ...
Dustin Pedroia – 17.5
Robinson Cano – 12.4
Hmmm. Pedroia’s a year younger than Cano, and over the last three seasons, when Pedroia’s been healthy he’s been better than Cano.
It seems to me that how you answer this question depends on what you think of Pedroia’s ability to stay healthy over the next six or eight seasons (beyond that, nobody can even guess). Missing half a season kills a player’s next-season projection, and it probably should. Players who get hurt tend to get hurt again. And in the last four seasons, Cano has averaged 160 games per season.
That’s awesome. Oh, and those three-year rankings? They include Cano’s weak 2008 season, which came after an outstanding 2007 campaign that we’ve not counted anywhere yet.
I was hoping to wind up with Pedroia on top, just to stir the pot a little. But considering Pedroia’s injury last season and Cano’s demonstrated ability to stay healthy, I have to reluctantly go with the obvious choice.
It might be closer than you think, but Robinson Cano is the Second Baseman of This Decade.