Robinson Cano’s Positional Value, Improved Defense Give Him Edge in AL MVP Race

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It’s hard to stand out in an infield that includes Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, but Robinson Cano is doing his best to try.

In fact, not only is Cano distinguishing himself from his talented teammates, but he’s proving to be one of baseball’s brightest young stars.

Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler offer Cano some competition for baseball’s best all-around second baseman in the AL, as do Chase Utley, Rickie Weeks and Brandon Phillips in the NL. But while Red Sox fans might not want to hear it, Cano has been far and away been baseball’s best second baseman this season.

Through 595 at-bats, Cano’s statistics are dazzling. The sweet-swinging lefty has a .319 average, 28 home runs, 104 RBIs and is reaching base at a .380 clip. He has driven in more runs than any middle infielder in the majors, and ranks second in average, home runs and runs scored among all second baseman.

Cano’s numbers would be impressive no matter where he played on the diamond, but such production is nearly unheard of from any second baseman this side of Ryne Sandberg.

In addition to Cano’s offensive prowess, he’s a Gold Glove candidate as well. Cano is second to only David Eckstein in fielding percentage among second baseman, has made just three errors in 745 total chances, and is widely renowned for having one of the strongest arms on the left side of any infield in the game. And for those who believe in advanced fielding statistics, Cano has improved his UZR from – 2.8 last season to 1.5 this year.

It’s obvious that Cano has been the best second baseman in baseball in 2010.

What’s less obvious, however, is that Cano hasn’t just been the best middle infielder in the American League this season. He’s arguably been the AL’s best overall player.

Miguel Cabrera and Paul Konerko are both having phenomenal years, and both have slightly better offensive numbers than Cano. But their teams — the Tigers and White Sox, respectively — are both out of the playoff race, and neither first baseman provide the same kind of defensive value that Cano does.

Adrian Beltre needs to be in any MVP discussion, but the Red Sox are also unlikely to make the playoffs. And while Cano and Beltre have similar numbers, those statistics are more impressive coming from second base.

Cano’s biggest challenge in the MVP race may have been Josh Hamilton, who plays for the AL West champion Texas Rangers and is also a solid defender. Hamilton has more home runs and a higher average than Cano, but has not played since Sept. 4. With Texas’ playoff ticket already punched, he may not play again until the postseason.

All four players offer a solid challenge to Cano’s MVP bid, as do franchise cornerstones Joe Mauer, Mark Teixeira and Evan Longoria along with the surprising Jose Bautista. But no player offers Cano’s complete package of impressive statistics, positional value and defensive prowess.

The last second baseman to win an MVP award was Pedroia in 2008. His stats that year? A .326 average, 20 home runs and 84 RBIs. Sure, he had more doubles and steals than Cano is likely to finish with, but in terms of power, there is no competition.

It’s true that the Yankees are littered with perennial All-Stars, giving Cano plenty of help achieving his great statistics.

But that Cano has largely out-performed the future Hall of Famers around him makes his achievements all the more impressive.

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