Are the Yankees' Infielders the Best in the AL at their Respective Positions?

After reading Rob Neyer and Steve Lombardi address George King’s article where six surveyed scouts determined Robinson Cano has surpassed Dustin Pedroia as the best second baseman in the American League, I began to wonder if each Yankees’ infielder is the best player at his respective position in the Junior Circuit. (Shakespearean Aside: That nickname for the AL is quite ironic given the league’s extraordinary talent advantage over the Senior Circuit…and yes, I know the monikers refers to the age of the two leagues, not the talent.) Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez each could make a case that he is the better than the thirteen other big leaguers that occupy his position at the Varsity level. As good of a year as Jorge Posada is having, it is impossible to claim that he is better than Joe Mauer, especially when defense is taken into account. Therefore, let’s break down the other four players’ arguments looking at their past three seasons’ WAR and adding some subjective thoughts about the current young season.

First Base: Mark Teixeira (2009: 5.6 WAR, 2008: 7.1, 2007: 4.1)
Main Competition: Miguel Cabrera (5.4, 3.0, 5.9), Kevin Youkilis (6.0, 5.7, 3.8)
While Youk fancies himself a good defensive first baseman, I have not seen someone play the french kiss position better than Teixeira on a night-in, night-out basis since Don Mattingly. While UZR slightly favors Youkilis, I believe the defensive statistic of choice does not appropriately value first baseman as it disregards their ability to receive throws (i.e. stretch, scoop, and swipe-tag). Many pundits have credited Derek Jeter’s career defensive year in 2009 to his improved lateral movement and his work over the preceding offseason; however, the (*I think*) unquantifiable reason for his improvement was his no longer fearing he had to perfectly aim his throws as he had a viable first baseman for the first time in a decade. Offensively, Teixeira holds a small advantage over Youkilis with a 137 to 131 wRC+ advantage and a .51 point advantage in slugging. This more than offsets Youk’s career .13 point OBP lead.

Cabrera, the now sober 4 months Tigers’ first baseman, has better offensive numbers than Teixeira. Yet, his defense is so atrocious that Teixiera could be half the defensive player he is and still be more valuable than the former Marlin. Last season was Miggy’s only year as a positive defensive player according to UZR, and even with the statistic’s shortcomings, his consistent negative showings illustrate his inability to help prevent runs.

Second Base: Robbie Cano (2009: 4.7 WAR, 2008: 0.2, 2007: 4.6)
Main Competition: Dustin Pedroia (4.9, 6.7, 3.8)
Robinson Cano has been Jesus In Cleats this year, maintaining a slash line of .382/.424/.730 and creating runs better than twice the average player (206 wRC+). If they gave out the MVP award after one month, he would win it in Lebron-like fashion. Unfortunately, they play 162 games in baseball, but Cano has yet to show signs of slowing down.

Cano’s main rival for domination of the second base position is Dustin Pedroia. Coming into this season, Pedroia had better career statistics than JIC. Yet, I believe many would argue Cano had a higher ceiling than his rat-esque counterpart; he just needed to “put it all together.” Although it is too early in the season to say Cano’s excellent showing has vaulted him past Pedroia, he is closing the gap provided by the Red Sock’s impeccable early career numbers. As of now I think Pedroia still holds claim to king of second baseman in the AL, but ask me again at the end of this year and I might have a different answer.

Shortstop: Derek Jeter (2009: 7.3 WAR, 2008: 3.7, 2007: 3.4)
Main Competition: None
Derek Jeter is off to another great start in 2010. The previously crowned Most Interesting Man in the World (sorry, Dos Equis guy), Jeter has put up .327/.356/.510 line so far in his age 36 season. Never has a shortstop maintained their offensive abilities at such a late age as DJ has. Sadly, no other American League shortstop threatens his stranglehold as top-dawg, even those 10 years his junior. While there are several up-and-coming sixes, Jeter is still the best.

Alex Rodriguez: 2009: 4.7, 2008: 6.1, 2007: 9.1)
Main Competition: Evan Longoria (7.2, 5.4, minor leaguer)
A-Rod is probably the easiest player in baseball to hate. Up until last year’s playoffs, most Yankees’ fans despised him. Now, after four or five of the most heroic late-game hits in Yankees’ postseason history, a majority of Yankees’ fans can now tolerate the highest paid player in the game.

Third base is an up and coming position around the majors, with Ladies’ Man Evan Longoria leading the way. Already a two-time all-star, a rookie of the year, a gold glover, and a silver slugger, Longoria is off to another hot start posting a .337/.400/.587 slash line while playing defense to a 29.3 UZR/150 (i.e., he would be worth nearly 3 wins for his defense alone if he continues to wield the leather as he has done so far).

Before researching this article, I was fairly sure my third-base thesis was going to be “A-Rod is still better than Longoria, but not by much and not for long.” Well, after about 45 seconds collectively on fangraphs and baseballreference, I quickly realized my hypothesis was incorrect; that is, after all, why you perform the experiment itself (scientific method jokes are the best!). Longoria has surpassed A-Rod on the field, and if you take their contracts into account, he is probably four to five times better than the man they call Centaur.

So $85,250,000 in 2010 contracts alone does not buy you the best player at each infield position; yet, it does get you at least a top-two player and the best collective unit at the three through six spots. Add, Jorge to the mix, and you can argue the Yankees might have the best infield of all time. But that is a hypothesis to test in another article.

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