By the Numbers: Why Robinson Cano is NOT the Best Hitting 2B

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Seattle Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano is touting a .302 BA, 12 HR, 33 RBI stat line. He is arguably the best hitter in the AL West, and is leading the first-place M’s heading into mid-May. And he’s not even the best hitting second baseman in baseball.

Robert Stanton / USA Today

Seed SackConventional statistics like batting average, RBI, and slugging percentage are good indicators of how a player performs over a given period of time, but the advanced metrics really tell a better story. All statistics below are current as of May 12 by Fangraphs (an incredible site if you are a statistics nerd like me).

Rather than look at batting average to determine offensive capability, we will use wOBA. Batting average treats every hit as the same – if a player goes 4-8 with three singles and another player goes 4-8 with four homeruns, one would hardly argue that the two players are giving the same offensive output even though they have the same batting average.  Similarly, slugging percentage treats doubles twice as valuable as singles, triples three times as valuable as singles, and round-trippers as four times as valuable as singles.  In reality, a double is much greater than twice as valuable as a single, as statistically more doubles will score than singles. wOBA uses a weighted formula to determine a player’s offensive output.

The wOBA formula gives a certain weight to each type of hit. Specific wOBA weights can be found online for every year dating back to 1871. The wOBA formula for 2013 is below:

wOBA = (0.690×uBB + 0.722×HBP + 0.888×1B + 1.271×2B + 1.616×3B +
2.101×HR) / (AB + BB – IBB + SF + HBP)

With the numbers behind wOBA understood, let’s examine the highest wOBA among 2B for the past 5 years.

2011: Dustin Pedroia .375
2012: Robinson Cano .394
2013: Robinson Cano .384
2014: Jose Altuve .363

2015: Jason Kipnis .355

Neglecting the season Robinson Cano had last year in which he vastly under-performed, he has been near or at the top of the list for the past five years. This year, Cano burst back onto the scene. The praise that Cano is a great 2B is due: he consistently hits and hits in a way that is productive to the offense. The Worldwide Leader and our past time’s network both have treated Cano as the best hitting 2B in the game up to this point in the season.

However, Cano currently ranks 3rd in wOBA so far this season behind Jose Altuve and… Daniel Murphy. For those of you who make your rounds on the junior circuit, Murphy had the postseason of a lifetime in 2015 and, shortly after arriving in the nation’s capital, has outhit Bryce Harper in the Nationals lineup.

Murphy’s current wOBA is an astounding .472, and he recently moved behind Harper in the lineup to give him some protection.

It will be an interesting year in following this new class of lumber-savvy second basemen, but by the numbers, Murphy has earned the title of best hitting second baseman in baseball.

For those of you interested in the advanced statistics of baseball, I will be doing a weekly By The Numbers series.  Follow me throughout the season to see more Major League Baseball myths debunked by the numbers.