As part of SI.com's 2014 fantasy baseball draft preview, our experts Michael Beller and David Gonos will be engaging in a series of debates. For our first debate, they argue who's the top second baseman, Robinson Cano or Jason Kipnis?
Michael Beller makes the case for Jason Kipnis:
No debate takes place in a vacuum. At face value, it's hard to argue that Jason Kipnis is a more valuable player than Robnison Cano. However, you'll have to use a first-round pick on Cano, and you likely need to have one of the first eight picks in your draft to get him. If you're in an auction league, you probably have to spend about $35 on him. Meanwhile, you can get Kipnis in the middle of the third round in an average draft or for about $10-$12 cheaper in an auction. Is Cano really worth that much more than Kipnis? Not even close. In fact, it's Kipnis who is the better value at his expected price.
Let's start with their respective 2013 stats. I'll admit right off the bat that Cano was better across the board. He hit .314/.383/.516 with 27 homers and 107 RBIs. Kipnis had a great season, but it didn't quite measure up to what Cano did last year. He hit .284/.366/.452 with 17 homers, 84 RBIs and 30 steals. It was his second straight year with at least 30 swipes, and the 17 bombs set a new career-high. Again, I submit that Cano deserves to be the No. 1 second baseman heading into the 2014 season, all things being equal. However, not all things are equal.
Kipnis is on the upswing. He's entering his age-27 season, and looks like an easy 20-30 guy who should help fantasy owners in both batting average and OBP. Cano, on the other hand, will be in a radically different environment this season. First of all, he's leaving the Yankees for a Seattle lineup that hit .237/.306/.390 as a team last year. Secondly, he waved goodbye to the hitter's paradise that is Yankee Stadium for cavernous Safeco Field. Yankee Stadium boosted run scoring by five percent over the average park last season. Safeco suppressed it by three percent. Cano won't have the same support system around him that he had last year, let alone his previous seasons with the Yankees.
Furthermore, Cano had a fair amount of luck last season, some of it attributable to Yankee Stadium. According to ESPN's home run tracker, Cano led the league with four "lucky" home runs. He also had two at Yankee Stadium that were classified as "just enough." Yankee Stadium is incredibly friendly in the right-center alley, and that's exactly where Cano did most of his damage last season. Eight of his 27 home runs in 2013 were to straightaway right-center field, and another nine were to right. If and when Safeco keeps those same balls in the yard, Cano will not be worth taking in the first round.
Cano simply won't be able to take advantage of Safeco in the same way he did Yankee Stadium, and that alone makes him an overrated commodity. When you factor in Kipnis' base-stealing ability, he has the exact same overall upside and comes at a much cheaper price. That makes him a better value pick, as well as a better overall pick, given the opportunity cost associated with Cano. If you grab the newest Mariner, you're passing on guys like Chris Davis, Ryan Braun, Clayton Kershaw and Adrian Beltre. That is way too high a price to pay for a 31-year-old who is facing a downgrade in both the lineup around him and his home park. Give me Kipnis two rounds later to go along with a first-round pick that can truly carry a team.
David Gonos makes the case for Robinson Cano:
Before I get too far into this debate, let's make it clear -- we both have Cano and Kipnis ranked No. 1 and No. 2 (in different orders), so it's not as if we're debating which player will stink up the joint.
With that said, I'm definitely taking Cano ahead of Kipnis (and have already in a few drafts) as the top middle infielder in fantasy baseball.
Many fantasy players and writers are discounting Cano as the top fantasy second baseman of 2014 because he left the Bronx for the Great Northwest. The thinking is that pitcher-friendly Safeco Field (especially compared to the hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium that he's leaving) will limit Cano's power numbers and his fantasy owners will rue the day they drafted him by midsummer.
Kipnis' speed certainly sets him apart from Cano, and Kipnis is not a detractor in any other category, with power that continues to develop (he'll turn 27 this season). But Kipnis does strike out twice as much as he walks, and Cano is about 15-20 percent better than him in all of the other hitting categories.
While Kipnis has been consistent over his two seasons as the Indians' starting second baseman, he has a long way to go to match Cano's ongoing streaks of:
• 180 or more hits in five consecutive seasons
• 159 or more games played in seven consecutive seasons
• 25 or more homers in five consecutive seasons
• 85 or more RBIs in four consecutive seasons (Kipnis has yet to reach 85 once)
• 600 or more at-bats in five consecutive seasons
• Hitting .300 or better in five consecutive seasons
The question is -- will Cano keep it up in Seattle?
The best answer to the "power outage in Safeco" question is -- every home run Robinson Cano hit in 2013 would have ended up going out in Safeco Field anyway. Actually, 17 of his 27 homers went beyond 400 feet, and the farthest spot at Safeco Field is 401 feet, in right-center field.
That guy's good.
While Kipnis certainly has great attributes, he still doesn't have Cano's kind of 2014 ahead of him.
SI.com Fantasy Baseball Debate Series:
I. Robinson Cano vs. Jason Kipnis
II. Shin-Soo Choo vs. Alex Rios
III. Adam Wainwright vs. Stephen Strasburg
IV. Prince Fielder vs. Joey Votto
V. Evan Longoria vs. David Wright
VI. Carlos Santana vs. Joe Mauer