Who Deserves the All-Star Nod? The Astros’ Altuve or The Mariners Cano?
It is awesome how some guys can be so fun to watch in so many different ways. Some guys are flashy and cocky, and some guys have one mentality, and that is just to go. Robinson Cano (Mariners) and Jose Altuve (Astros) exemplify those two different styles in a baseball player. One is 6’0” tall weighing 210 pounds. The other is 5’6” (on a good day) weighing 170 pounds.
Cano has one of the prettiest swings in baseball today. Forget today, and he has one of the most beautiful ever. Robinson Cano’s swing is a piece of art. The swing and the way he plays the game of baseball is just so smooth to watch. Everything happens in one movement. No jerking, no rushing, nothing. There is no need for him to think, all he does is smile and play a fun game. Everything is just natural.
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Altuve is different. Yes, he usually is also smiling, but it’s different. His body and his mind just work really fast. He has to be doing something. Whether it is chewing his nails at second base, fixing his helmet after a pitch, or evening out the stacks of cups in the dugout on the few days he isn’t playing, there is always something. Everything isn’t natural for him, though. He worked to get to this level. Remember, he was sent home after the first day of the Astros tryout in Venezuela, but he came back, and I think it’s safe to say the Astros are fortunate because of that.
So far this year, Altuve and Cano have been the two best second baseman in the American League. Altuve is reaching that elite level some would say he hadn’t gotten to at the plate. Sure Altuve has consistently hit over .300 the past four seasons and had at least 200 hits the past two years, but he didn’t get on base enough. He wasn’t in the tier of Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, etc. He has never had an on-base percentage of .380, and these guys have been well above it.
Fortunately, as of May 12th, he has a .321 average, along with a .409 OBP, a .635 slugging percentage, and a 1.044 OPS. Not only has his OBP gone up, but so has Altuve’s power. It’s obviously showing in his OPS and slugging, and that is going along with the nine homers he has hit so far. He is already six homers away from his career high, and there are about four and half months of the season left. 30 home runs is probably a stretch, but if he hits 20-25 home runs this year, then not only has he taken another level with his hitting overall, but his power is making a tremendous jump.
Cano has been one of the best second basemen in baseball for a while now, and it’s pretty safe to say he was the best second baseman in baseball before last season happened. Last season wasn’t his best, and a lot of that was due to a stomach illness he had dealt with for most of the year. But it seems he is back, or almost there. His OBP isn’t everyone expects it to be at .349, but with that, he is hitting .303 with 12 homers and a .954 OPS. He did go through a little rough stretch for a little bit, and obviously, we’re still somewhat dealing with small sample size, so I expect him to pick his OBP up as the year continues.
We obviously know who is going to steal more bases and be more aggressive on the basepath, but looking at defensive stats, Altuve has the edge. They both have the same amount of defensive runs saved at two and defensive WAR at 0.3, but Altuve takes the cake when it comes to ultimate zone rating. Altuve has a 2.1 UZR compared to a 0.2 UZR from Cano.
At the end of the day, both of these guys are awesome and two of the most fun players to watch in baseball. But if you are looking at who should start at second base in the 2016 All-Star game, it’s Altuve. He has been a better overall hitter so far this year, as well as a baserunner and fielder. There are also other accomplished guys that can jump into the fray.
Ian Kinsler is going to continue to be one of the best defensive players in baseball, and if he can bat going, he will be right in the discussion. Rougned Odor is a couple of years away, mostly due to his defense and poor OBP, but he is only 22. He has plenty of time to grow as a player and join the best at second base. It is early, and things can change, but right now Altuve sits on the throne for best second baseman in the American League.
***Stats from Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs***