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A.L. East Second Baseman 2009

March 12, 2009

As it turns out, it is a lot of work writing and maintaining a blog. I have been spending many hours slouched with poor posture over my computer, snacking on bulk-purchased leftover Halloween candy, trying to project starting lineups and time-shares. And why do I do it, the love of baseball or the growing need to put my seemingly useless college degree to use (even if it is via a profitless internet site visited by a single-digit number of people each day)? You decide.

Self-loathing aside, second base is a pretty deep position in the east. The discussion must, of course, start with 2008 A.L. MVP Dustin Pedroia. Pedroia had a supreme season in which he started well and finished even better. The award is debatable, but Pedroia’s production is not. He put up an OPS of .869, hit 54 doubles, and just to top it off stole 20 bases while being caught only once. He also played exceptional defense, rating as the fifth best second baseman in baseball by the Bill James fielding bible plus/minus system. Oh, and he has a sweet commercial as well.

Pedroia bats far better at home, even though he is a well above average hitter for his position on the road. PECOTA sees a slight drop in his numbers, down t just about what his 2007 production was (when he won Rookie of theYear), with a projected line of .294/.358/.451 with an EqA of .283. I think he’ll split the difference of his first two seasons, which quite honestly are not that far apart. And remember, that superb bat is coupled with a very good glove, making Pedroia easily the best second baseman in the A.L.

Talent wise, Pedroia should have a lot more competition for that title from Robinson Cano. Cano is three inches taller, twenty-five pounds heavier, has one of those cliche sweet lefty swings, and is incredibly athletic in the field. All of that makes him probably the most frustrating Yankee to watch on a daily basis.

Cano has two major flaws with his game (or perhaps his on-field personality): he is a free swinger and he is prone to mental lapses. The former is something that he improved from 2006 to 2007, though that improvement stagnated last season. The latter is something that Larry Bowa, former third base coach for the Yankees, was almost personally responsible for preventing. However, Bowa left with Joe Torre after 2007 and coincidence or not, Cano’s defense and offense both suffered.

While his offense, which is predicated on the ability to hit for a high average, is likely to fluctuate throughout his career because of his low walk rate and moderate power, his defensive dropoff is astounding and befuddling. Once again diving into fielding bible, Cano was a +17 in 2007, good for the fifth best rating amongst second baseman. In 2008 Cano dropped to sisxth worst with a -16.

Cano’s terrible season at least capped off on a positive note, as he closed the year with 19 hits in his last 42 at bats, and his overall OPS in the second half was .815. It should also be noted that this is not an instance of a lefty in need of a platoon partner, as he hit far better against left-handers last season, and is even slightly better against lefties for his career. Cano is heading into his fourth season and is still only 26, so a bounceback after two good years should be expected. PECOTA projects him with a line of .289/.328/.446 with a .265 EqA. I think that is underestimating Mr. Cano, and I think that with proper focus (a crapshoot with that) his defense will be above average once again this season.

The Rays turnaround last year was the most talked about story in baseball, and equally famed was the turnaround for their defense. The middle-infield was their biggest upgrade over 2007, as Akinori Iwamura brought his range and glove-work to a new position by moving from third base (with Jason Bartlett coming over to play short). The previous years version of the Rays featured a combination of B.J. Upton, Brendan Harris and  Ty Wiggington, a trio that (at least in Upton and Wiggington’s case) inspires significantly more fear with their bat than their glove.

Iwamura took second, while Upton moved to center, where his speed and range are not countered by his inability to make basic plays on groundballs. Iwamura is only an average (at best) offensive player, even as a second baseman, but his defense gives him value. PECOTA has him at .263/.340/.400 and a .261 EqA in 2009. This is a slight dropoff as Iwamura enters his age 30 season, but if his defense is consistent once again then he shouldn’t have trouble getting his 2010 option picked up, or finding a starting role elsewhere.

Speaking of contracts, Brian Roberts signed a new deal with the Orioles three weeks ago, ensuring for the first time in about two years that the persistent trade rumors, mostly of Roberts going to the Cubs, are dead. Roberts received a four year deal worth $10 million each season, and when you look at what you are getting production wise the deal is a great one. Roberts is also very durable, his only major injury coming late in 2005 on a freak accident, as he collided with former Yankee Bubba Crosby and dislocated his elbow.

Roberts draws a good share of walks, has very good speed, and is capable of double digit homeruns. The forecast from PECOTA for him is  272/.356/.434, to go with a .282 EqA. A very solid season, though perhaps underestimating his on-base abilities which have improved with his age.

The final stop on this tour is in Toronto, where the Blue Jays have one of their better position players stationed. Former first round pick Aaron Hill never played a game at second in the minors, and his debut season in the majors had him primarily at third base. In 2006 he finally settled in at second, where he has played since, and played it well. In 2007 he led all second baseman in plus/minus, and has a career 98.6 fielding percentage there as well. Last year was a lost season due to a concussion he suffered in a collision with David Eckstein (perhaps the first and only time in history that someone else came out on the wrong side of a collision with Eckstein).

Hill has a huge breakout in homerun power in 2007, hitting only three less than he did in his 876 career minor league at bats. As one of the best defenders in the league at his position, Hill has positive value even if mediocre with the bat. A line of .261/.318/.394 with an EqA of .250 is what PECOTA expects (to go with a drop to his career norm in power, with 8 homeruns). If he can put up even an average on base percentage and hit double digit homeruns then Hill is an extremely valuable player under team control throgh (potentially) 2014, though his contract is heavily backloaded with three expensive option years. If Hill’s bat doesn’t recover from post-concussion effects then he can kiss those options goodbye.

These always end up longer than planned, but hopefully it is worth it for anyone reading through them. The most amusing part of this for me, aside from poring through varying statistics and box scores, is getting feedback and comments, so don’t be shy with those.

Next preview: third base!

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