Robinson Cano vs. Matt Carpenter: A Comparison of the Second Base Silver Sluggers

Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

Even though Matt Carpenter swatted less than half as many home runs as Robinson Cano in 2013, the St. Louis Cardinals second baseman still had a batting season on par with the New York Yankees slugger.

The St. Louis Cardinals moved infielder Matt Carpenter from third base to second base for the 2013 season in order to get the eagle-eyed hitter's bat into the lineup. The position change worked out brilliantly for the Redbirds. Last week, Carpenter was awarded the National League Silver Slugger for second base.

Looking at Carpenter's 2013 stats, it's easy to see why he won the Silver Slugger award. Whether one subscribes to the more traditional stats or the newer, more accurate ones, Carpenter was excellent. Last week, we looked at how each of the Cardinals' primary position players compared the MLB average offensive stats for his position. Carpenter was head and shoulders above the league-average for second basemen.

Second Base

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

wOBA

wRC+

MLB

.257

.316

.376

.692

.119

.305

91

Carpenter

.318

.392

.481

.873

.163

.381

147

Diff.

+ .061

+ 0.76

+ .105

+ .181

+ .044

+ .076

+ 56

Carpenter hit safely in the highest share of plate appearances that ended with a swing (BA). Carpenter made outs at the lowest rate of any individual manning the keystone in his league (OBP). The former Horned Frog led all MLB second basemen with 199 hits, as well. It's no wonder that he joined Robinson Cano, a man widely regarded as one of baseball's best players, in winning the Silver Slugger award for second basemen. The following chart compares the two second basemen's offensive rate stats.

Player

AB

H

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

Cano

605

190

.314

.383

.516

.899

.202

Carpenter

626

199

.318

.392

.481

.873

.163

Diff.

+21

+9

+ .003

+ .009

- .035

- .022

- .039

Clearly, the two lefthanded-batting second basemen produced on offense in different ways. Cano's batting profile is that of a power hitter. Carpenter hits with pop at a higher level than most MLB second basemen, but not for power like Cano. This is reflected by their difference in slugging percentage (SLG): Cano's .516 to Carpenter's .481.

All hits are not equal. A homer is worth more than a triple, which is worth more than a double, which is worth more than a single. It has been true since the century of the game's birth and recognized for nearly 100 years. This reality gave birth to SLG, which is calculated as follows:

([HR x 4] + [3B x 3] + [2B x 2] + [1B x 1]) / AB

SLG rightly recognizes reality: HR > 3B > 2B > 1B. What SLG gets wrong is the relative value of a homer to the other types of hits. A home run is not worth four times as much as a single or a walk. A double is not worth twice as much as a single. This incorrect valuation pollutes Isolated Power (ISO), which is derivative of SLG, and on-base plus slugging (OPS), which includes SLG as a component part.

At Fangraphs, they've calculated the run value for each offensive outcome in 2013.


wScale

wBB

wHBP

w1B

w2B

w3B

wHR

Run Value

1.277

.690

.722

.888

1.271

1.616

2.101

With these run values in mind, take a look at the contours of Carpenter and Cano's offensive performance:

Player

H

BB

1B

2B

3B

HR

HBP

Cano

190

65

122

41

0

27

6

Carpenter

199

72

126

55

7

11

9

Diff.

+9

+7

+4

+14

+7

-16

+3

Based on Fangraphs' 2013 run values, here are the run values of Carpenter and Cano's offensive production:

Player

HBP

BB

1B

2B

3B

HR

Total

Cano

4.332

44.85

108.336

52.111

0.000

56.727

266.356

Carpenter

6.498

49.68

111.888

69.905

11.312

23.111

272.394

Diff.

+2.166

+4.83

+3.552

+17.794

+11.312

-33.616

+6.038

Carpenter had 717 plate appearances in 2013; Cano, 681. Thus, on the rate basis of Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA), which is calculated using the values shown above, Cano was more productive. Cano posted a .384 wOBA to Carpenter's .381.

There's another consideration when comparing Carpenter and Cano's batting in 2013: home ballparks. Cano called Yankee Stadium home, a park that is infamous for being a lefthanded hitter's haven. Yankee Stadium lived up to its reputation again in 2013. It was the second-most-accommodating to lefthanded homers. Carpenter, on the other hand, played his home games at Busch Stadium, which skewed in pitchers' favor last year and was seventh-worst at allowing dingers off lefthanded batters' bats last season.

Given the fact that Carpenter and Cano played their home games in such different batting environs, it's no surprise that when we adjust their wOBA rates for park effects, Carpenter comes out ahead. The stat Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) does this and scales the park-adjusted wOBA so that 100 is exactly league average and the higher above 100, the better a hitter's performance. In 2013, Carpenter posted a 147 wRC+ and Cano a 142 wRC+.

Even though Carpenter hit fewer than half as many homers as Cano, the Cardinals' second baseman nonetheless put together a 2013 batting season on par with the man who might become MLB's first $300 million player.

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