Dustin Pedroia won the 2008 AL MVP.  Based on that victory, Robinson Cano should run away with the AL MVP this year. 

It’s important to compare Cano’s year to Pedroia‘s and expose some truths about baseball, position scarcity, and the real value of players.

First off, Pedroia and Cano are good comparisons because they both play second base for strong AL East teams.  They play(ed) in the same road ballparks, in the same division and they both played in strong lineups, in hitter friendly home parks

Here’s a quick comparison of their stats.

Pedroia (2008) 54 doubles, 118 runs, 17 HR, 83 RBI, 20 SB 50 BB 322 TB .326/.376/.493 122 OPS+ 5.2 WAR  4.63 range factor, .982 fielding percentage

Cano (2010)    36 doubles, 93 runs,  26 HR, 95 RBI, 2  SB 50 BB 289 TB .318/.381/.544 151 OPS+ 6.2 WAR  5.00 range factor, .996 fielding percentage

Cano and the Yankees have 22 games left this season.

Cano can already lay claim to having a better season than Pedroia.  His OPS+ is significantly higher and his WAR is currently a win better. 

With another month of games to go Cano can easily pad that lead.

Pedroia does have an advantage in some of the counting stats. 

Cano is unlikely to match his run total and he won’t approach Pedroia‘s 20 stolen bases or his 54 doubles. 

But other counting stats favor Cano. 

He has significantly more home runs, more RBI, and more walks.  His margin in these categories will only grow over the final 22 games.  Cano can probably catch Pedroia in total bases seeing as he’s averaged 57 per month and he’ll probably finish around 10 runs short of Pedroia.

A small indicator that speaks to each player’s hitting prowess and level of respect from pitchers is the difference in intentional walks.  Pedroia had one in 2008. Cano has 12 so far this year.

Pedroia won his MVP easily, collecting 16 of 28 first place votes and a 317 total points.  Justin Morneau finished second, 60 points behind. 

Like Cano, Pedroia played on a team competing with the Tampa Bay Rays for first place in the AL East.

The 2008 Red Sox won 95 games and finished second, two games behind the surprising Rays.  The Red Sox qualified for the wild card and later lost to Tampa Bay in the ALCS.

This year Cano has helped propel the Yankees to a one game lead over Tampa Bay.  The Yankees are nearly assured of a playoff berth. They currently boast an eight game advantage over Boston, the second place team in the AL wild-card standing.

Like the 2008 Red Soxs, this year’s Yankees will duel with the Rays for the division title over the wild-card.  The Yankees and Rays are both on target for 95-100 wins.

If Dustin Pedroia can win an MVP with the season he had in 2008, Cano should be in serious contention this season.

That being said, there are other players in the mix for the AL MVP.

Josh Hamilton is having an amazing year.  He’s helped the Rangers to a commanding lead in the NL West by hitting a MLB high .361. Jose Bautista has emerged from nowhere to slug .623 and threaten the 50 home run plateau. Miguel Cabrera is leading the AL in .OBP, .SLUG, .OPS+, and the category MVP voters adore the most, RBI.

The difference between Hamilton, Bautista, Cabrera, and Cano comes down to position scarcity. 

Hamilton and Bautista are outfielders.  Cabrera is a first baseman.

It’s much easier to find good hitters at these positions than it is to find one at second base.

For example Hamilton leads all outfielders with a 1.050 OPS, drop down 200 points (or a little less than 20 percent) and you still have quality hitters like Torri Hunter, Shin-Soo Choo, Delmon Young, Vernon Wells, Carl Crawford, Alex Rios, and Carlos Quentin. There are 10 AL outfielders within 250 points of Hamilton’s OPS.  (Hamilton recently hurt his ribs and has not played since September 4th.  The Rangers have not given a date for his return.)

The same thing happens at first base. 

Cabrera’s OPS is 1.077.  If we drop down 200 points we find all-star first basemen like Mark Teixeira (.880), Kendry Morales (.833), and Billy Butler (.831). Besides Cabrera, there are three other AL first basemen with an .OPS over .975. 

Cano at second base is an entirely different story.

Second base is a premium defensive position, not known for producing players who are strong offensive contributors. Offense from a second baseman is more important than offense from a corner outfielder.  It is even more important than strong contributions from a first baseman.

This is where Cano stands out.

Cano currently has an OPS of .951.  No other AL second baseman is within 91 points of this mark (among ones with at least 300 plate appearances). 

Only four second basemen are within 20 percent of Cano’s mark.  (Orlando Hudson barely makes it at .760). 

The AL second baseman with the sixth highest OPS is Sean Rodriguez (.711). 

The sixth highest outfielder is Torri Hunter (.845) and the sixth highest first baseman is Billy Butler (.831).

Hamilton is the leading contender for MVP.  His numbers are fantastic and his team is running away with the division.  But his injury limits his ability to pad his numbers down the stretch.

The advantage that Robinson Cano gives the Yankees through his production at second base is greater than the contribution made by Hamilton and other MVP candidates at their position.

This argument is sealed by the statistic of WAR or wins above replacement.  WAR not only factors in fielding, it also factors in position scarcity or the value of production from that position.

Here are the AL leaders:

Robinson Cano   6.5

Miguel Cabrera  6.4

Evan Longoria   6.2

Josh Hamilton   6.0

Justin Morneau  5.4

Jose Bautista   5.2

Joe Mauer        5.2

Shin-Soo Choo   5.2

When Pedroia won the 2008 MVP he finished tied for eighth in WAR.

Cano is having a better season than Pedroia did in 2008.  He is having arguably the best season in the AL.  If Pedroia can win the MVP in 2008, Cano should certainly win it in 2010 if things remain the same for the reminder of the season. 

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