We pick up our Yankees By the Decade series today with the guys who manned the second base spot. Much of the decade was dominated by two top-hitting second basemen with a whole bunch of rather forgettable — but ultimately adequate — fill-ins in between.
Between the two of them Alfonso Soriano and Robinson Cano combined for 74 percent of all Yankee second base at-bats, and they didn’t do too badly for themselves. On the whole, Yankee second basemen hit .290/.327/.460. The on-base percentage is a little low, but the batting average and slugging figures look a-OK to me. As a comparison, Boston’s second basemen hit .274/.330/.420 on the decade.
Individually, Soriano and Cano were both among the top of the game at their position, and yet, fans always wanted more. Before getting sent to Texas for A-Rod, Soriano launched 95 home runs and hit .286/.325/.505, mostly at the top of the Yankee order. Cano doesn’t have the same power as Soriano but has show a bit more patience. He has hit .305/.337/.475 with just 330 strike outs to Soriano’s 410 in 1000 more ABs.
Why then do Yankee fans always feel as though their second basemen should be better than they are? Cano takes a lot of guff for seemingly not hustling in the field or for being a lackadaisical base running. Soriano was accused, rightfully so, of flailing and too many pitchers, and fans and commentators always wanted him to exhibit more patience than he did at the plate. Always, it seems, Yankee fans want more, more, more.
What we can see from the chart, though, is how the Yankees have it good with a decade bookended by Soriano and Cano. Although Soriano’s .830 OPS is slightly better than Cano’s .812 mark, I have to give the decade award to Robinson Cano. He has far more playing time in pinstripes this decade than Soriano, and I like the OBP edge. We might be singing a different tune had Soriano’s late-game home run held up on a Sunday night in Phoenix, but that’s ancient history now.
Beyond those two, the decade was filled with a quest to fill the whole. I was surprised to see Miguel Cairo’s numbers at second base looking so decent. In nearly a season’s worth of at-bats, he hit .293/.344/.414. Considering those numbers are far above his career triple-slash line of .266/.315/.358, the Yankees were able to catch a bit of lightening in a bottle with Cairo, and it’s no wonder that Joe Torre seemingly fell in love with giving him playing time.
In the end, the Yanks had a good run this decade largely in part because of the solid play at second base. Robinson Cano has been an anchor since 2005 after the misguided Tony Womack experiment came to end. Before him, we lived through the era of Soriano, and even the guys who filled the hole for a year weren’t too bad. Meanwhile, Cano is just 27, and the next decade should belong to him. We know what he brings to the table; we know what he doesn’t bring to the table. As he hits his peak years offensively, he’s a great second baseman for a great Yankee team.