The most powerful-hitting middle infielders of all time

Okay, stop me if you’ve heard this one before: “Until Cal Ripken came along, no one believed it was possible to have a big, strong power hitter play shortstop. Ripken changed the paradigm, and since then we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the prevalance of muscular power hitters handling middle infield positions.”

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Sound familiar? If you’re like me, if you’ve come across this assertion (or something close to it) once, you’ve come across it a hundred times. My reaction to it is invariably a sputtering, “But … but … what?!? Haven’t you ever heard of Ernie Banks? Or Vern Stephens? Or, for crying out loud, Rogers (expletive deleted) Hornsby or Honus (expletive deleted) Wagner?!?”

And the response to that is generally something to the effect of, well, they were really exceptional; Ripken may not have been exactly the first, but he was the one who marked the beginning of the new modern trend of having lots of big power guys at shortstop and second base.

So, all right then. Is it indeed true that in the current day we see significantly more power hitters in the middle infield than in the past? And to the extent that it is, just how accurate is this idea of Ripken’s example stimulating the change?

How about we see if we can find out.

In this exercise I’m not interested in identifying middle infielders with just pretty good power, or fine power “for a middle infielder.” I’m interested in testing the assumption about middle infielders who generate serious power, the type of power production found in the middle of the lineup on a good-hitting team. And I’m also interested in power per se, not necessarily all-around good offense. How high or low a guy’s batting average is and/or how many or few walks he draws are completely irrelevant here. We’re talking about the long ball, the serious long ball, and nothing but the serious long ball.

So here’s what I’ve done. I’ve gone back to 1893, the season in which the pitching rubber was moved to the 60-foot-six-inch distance, and baseball truly assumed its recognizably modern form. And beginning in that season and every season since, I’ve identified every player who:

{exp:list_maker}Had at least one-half of his defensive appearances at shortstop and/or second base
Played frequently enough to qualify for his league’s batting rate stat leaderboard
Produced an Isolated Power (SLG minus BA) figure at least 50 percent greater than the park-adjusted Isolated Power average for his league {/exp:list_maker}I’ve dubbed this comparison between a hitter’s Isolated Power (ISO) and the park-adjusted league average (which is simply ISO divided by LG ISO) as “ISO+.”

Let’s see how many of these serious-slugger middle infielders there’ve been.

The most powerful-hitting middle infielders, 1893-1919

Year Player             Team   Age  Pos     AB   2B   3B   HR  OPS+   ISO LG ISO ISO+
1894 Bill Dahlen         CHC    24   SS    502   32   14   15   136  .209  .133  1.57
1896 Bill Dahlen         CHC    26   SS    474   30   19    9   156  .201  .102  1.97
1897 George Davis        NYG    26   SS    519   31   10   10   144  .156  .097  1.61
1898 Nap Lajoie          PHI    23   2B    608   43   11    6   137  .137  .077  1.78
1899 Bobby Wallace       STL    25   SS    577   28   14   12   120  .159  .089  1.79
1900 Nap Lajoie          PHI    25   2B    451   33   12    7   140  .173  .092  1.88
1901 Nap Lajoie          PHA    26   2B    544   48   14   14   200  .217  .099  2.19
1901 Bobby Wallace       STL    27   SS    550   34   15    2   136  .127  .083  1.53
1901 George Davis        NYG    30   SS    491   26    7    7   130  .125  .082  1.52
1902 Nap Lajoie        PHA-CLE  27   2B    352   35    5    7   175  .187  .097  1.93
1903 Honus Wagner        PIT    29   SS    512   30   19    5   161  .163  .085  1.92
1903 Nap Lajoie          CLE    28   2B    485   41   11    7   169  .174  .092  1.89
1904 Honus Wagner        PIT    30   SS    490   44   14    4   187  .171  .076  2.25
1904 Nap Lajoie          CLE    29   2B    553   49   15    6   205  .176  .079  2.23
1905 Honus Wagner        PIT    31   SS    548   32   14    6   174  .142  .082  1.73
1906 Honus Wagner        PIT    32   SS    516   38    9    2   168  .120  .071  1.69
1906 Nap Lajoie          CLE    31   2B    602   48    9    0   169  .110  .071  1.55
1907 Honus Wagner        PIT    33   SS    515   38   14    6   186  .163  .069  2.36
1908 Honus Wagner        PIT    34   SS    568   39   19   10   205  .188  .071  2.65
1909 Honus Wagner        PIT    35   SS    495   39   10    5   176  .150  .075  2.00
1909 Larry Doyle         NYG    22   2B    570   27   11    6   140  .117  .074  1.58
1909 Nap Lajoie          CLE    34   2B    469   33    7    1   151  .107  .069  1.55
1910 Nap Lajoie          CLE    35   2B    591   51    7    4   199  .130  .073  1.78
1911 Larry Doyle         NYG    24   2B    526   25   25   13   154  .217  .102  2.13
1911 Honus Wagner        PIT    37   SS    473   23   16    9   156  .173  .103  1.68
1911 Heinie Zimmerman    CHC    24   2B    535   22   17    9   124  .155  .101  1.53
1912 Honus Wagner        PIT    38   SS    558   35   20    7   144  .172  .101  1.70
1914 Del Pratt           SLB    26   2B    584   34   13    5   130  .128  .078  1.64
1915 Honus Wagner        PIT    41   SS    566   32   17    6   126  .148  .086  1.72
1916 Del Pratt           SLB    28   2B    596   35   12    5   121  .124  .077  1.61
1916 Larry Doyle       NYG-CHC  29   2B    479   29   11    3   126  .125  .083  1.51
1917 Rogers Hornsby      STL    21   SS    523   24   17    8   169  .157  .081  1.94
1918 Rogers Hornsby      STL    22   SS    416   19   11    5   136  .135  .075  1.80
1919 Larry Doyle         NYG    32   2B    381   14   10    7   136  .144  .083  1.73

Right away we see a couple of things very clearly. First, of course, is the fact that in this era, very few home runs were hit. Power hitters in those days distinguished themselves by delivering doubles and triples in copious quantities, but homers were a rarity.

And second, we see that serious power-producing middle infielders were a regular feature on the landscape from the get-go. Superstar shortstops Bill Dahlen, George Davis and Bobby Wallace (the latter two in the Hall of Fame, and all three in the Hall of Merit) were all producing ISO+ figures of at least 1.50 in the 1890s. And by the first decade of the 20th century, two big-and-burly middle infielders, second baseman Nap Lajoie and some shortstop named Wagner, were putting up power figures as impressive as those by any slugger at any position, year in and year out.

In the 1910s, as Lajoie and Wagner finally faded (though Wagner was still producing one of these seasons as a 41-year-old shortstop; how astounding was he?), a couple of new second basemen, Larry Doyle and Del Pratt, were delivering big-time power. And another guy, Heinie Zimmerman, was primarily a third baseman, but makes this list as a power-hitting second baseman in 1911. And late in the decade a very young Cardinals shortstop by the name of Hornsby was beginning to make his mark with the long ball.

One guy who I expected to make the list but didn’t was Boston Beaneaters second baseman Bobby Lowe, who smacked 14 home runs in 1893 and 17 in 1894; neither of those seasons was quite exceptional enough against the league norm to qualify.

An important issue to consider with regard to this period is that the position of second base didn’t occupy exactly the same place on the defensive spectrum then that it does now. A combination of factors, including rudimentary gloves and historically high rates of stealing and bunting, rendered double plays much more rare in these years than they would soon become. This meant that teams were able to get by with a second baseman less quick on the DP pivot than in later decades, and also that teams needed to have quicker and nimbler third basemen and first basemen than in later decades; therefore second base was a bit more of an offense-first position than it’s since become.

Nevertheless, this list is hardly dominated by second basemen; of the 34 player-seasons that qualify for inclusion in this period, 16 were produced by second basemen, and 18 by shortstops. And the shortstop position’s placement on the defensive spectrum was exactly the same then as it has been ever since: the most challenging and crucial of all the positions behind the pitcher, demanding range, agility, soft hands and a strong and accurate arm.

The most powerful-hitting middle infielders, 1920-1939

Year Player             Team   Age  Pos     AB   2B   3B   HR  OPS+   ISO LG ISO ISO+
1920 Rogers Hornsby      STL    24   2B    589   44   20    9   185  .189  .090  2.10
1921 Rogers Hornsby      STL    25   2B    592   44   18   21   191  .242  .111  2.18
1922 Rogers Hornsby      STL    26   2B    623   46   14   42   207  .321  .115  2.79
1923 Rogers Hornsby      STL    27   2B    424   32   10   17   188  .243  .113  2.15
1923 Marty McManus       SLB    23   2B    582   35   10   15   117  .172  .114  1.51
1924 Rogers Hornsby      STL    28   2B    536   43   14   25   222  .272  .113  2.41
1925 Rogers Hornsby      STL    29   2B    504   41   10   39   210  .353  .129  2.74
1926 Tony Lazzeri        NYY    22   2B    589   28   14   18   108  .187  .116  1.61
1926 Travis Jackson      NYG    22   SS    385   24    8    8   129  .167  .110  1.52
1927 Rogers Hornsby      NYG    31   2B    568   32    9   26   175  .225  .110  2.05
1927 Travis Jackson      NYG    23   SS    469   29    4   14   125  .168  .110  1.53
1928 Rogers Hornsby      BSN    32   2B    486   42    7   21   200  .245  .120  2.04
1928 Tony Lazzeri        NYY    24   2B    404   30   11   10   146  .203  .120  1.69
1929 Rogers Hornsby      CHC    33   2B    602   47    8   39   178  .299  .139  2.15
1929 Tony Lazzeri        NYY    25   2B    545   37   11   18   160  .207  .126  1.64
1929 Charlie Gehringer   DET    26   2B    634   45   19   13   139  .193  .129  1.50
1932 Tony Lazzeri        NYY    28   2B    510   28   16   15   138  .206  .131  1.57
1933 Arky Vaughan        PIT    21   SS    573   29   19    9   146  .164  .101  1.62
1933 Tony Lazzeri        NYY    29   2B    523   22   12   18   135  .192  .121  1.59
1935 Arky Vaughan        PIT    23   SS    499   34   10   19   190  .222  .123  1.80
1937 Alex Kampouris      CIN    24   2B    458   21    4   17   111  .175  .114  1.54
1938 Joe Gordon          NYY    23   2B    458   24    7   25   108  .247  .142  1.74
1939 Joe Gordon          NYY    24   2B    567   32    5   28   123  .222  .137  1.62
1939 Charlie Gehringer   DET    36   2B    406   29    6   16   139  .219  .141  1.55

With the sudden arrival of high-scoring, home run-friendly conditions in the 1920s, the frequency of double plays dramatically increased, and the defensive spectrum assumed the form it’s held ever since: It was now critical for the second baseman to be nimble on the pivot. Yet it was a second baseman, the robustly strong Hornsby (now shifted over from shortstop), who emerged in the early ’20s as the most devastating power hitter in the National League; to this day he remains one of just three second basemen to produce a 40-homer season.

The name appearing second-most frequently on the list in this period is that of another second baseman, Tony Lazzeri. This surprised me; I figured Lazzeri would be a contender to qualify, but I hadn’t realized just how unusual his extra-base power was for the period. And I was also surprised to discover that a guy I thought would definitely be on this list multiple times never made it at all: shortstop Joe Cronin, who came quite close several times, but didn’t qualify.

Indeed, of the 24 player-seasons making the list in this 20-year span, only four were from shortstops (two each by Travis Jackson and Arky Vaughan). Besides Cronin, the only other shortstops who threatened to make it were Glenn Wright and Eric McNair, but no cigar.

Overall, the decade of the 1930s saw fewer middle infielders reaching the 1.50 ISO+ mark than any of the preceding three. Would it be the case in the years to follow that the incidence of power-hitting shorstops and second basemen would continue to dwindle?

The most powerful-hitting middle infielders, 1940-1976

Year Player             Team   Age  Pos     AB   2B   3B   HR  OPS+   ISO LG ISO ISO+
1940 Joe Gordon          NYY    25   2B    616   32   10   30   121  .230  .142  1.62
1942 Joe Gordon          NYY    27   2B    538   29    4   18   155  .169  .105  1.61
1942 Bobby Doerr         BOS    24   2B    545   35    5   15   128  .165  .108  1.53
1943 Vern Stephens       SLB    22   SS    512   27    3   22   142  .193  .098  1.97
1943 Joe Gordon          NYY    28   2B    543   28    5   17   126  .164  .098  1.67
1944 Bobby Doerr         BOS    26   2B    468   30   10   15   165  .203  .097  2.09
1944 Vern Stephens       SLB    23   SS    559   32    1   20   129  .169  .100  1.69
1945 Vern Stephens       SLB    24   SS    571   27    3   24   134  .184  .096  1.92
1945 George Stirnweiss   NYY    26   2B    632   32   22   10   144  .167  .096  1.74
1945 Eddie Miller        CIN    28   SS    421   27    2   13    89  .166  .103  1.61
1946 Bobby Doerr         BOS    28   2B    583   34    9   18   116  .182  .118  1.54
1947 Joe Gordon          CLE    32   2B    562   27    6   29   135  .224  .113  1.98
1948 Joe Gordon          CLE    33   2B    550   21    4   32   134  .227  .121  1.88
1948 Bobby Doerr         BOS    30   2B    527   23    6   27   131  .220  .124  1.77
1948 Vern Stephens       BOS    27   SS    635   25    8   29   113  .202  .124  1.63
1949 Vern Stephens       BOS    28   SS    610   31    2   39   138  .249  .126  1.98
1949 Eddie Joost         PHA    33   SS    525   25    3   23   137  .190  .121  1.57
1950 Bobby Doerr         BOS    32   2B    586   29   11   27   116  .225  .145  1.55
1955 Ernie Banks         CHC    24   SS    596   29    9   44   144  .301  .155  1.94
1956 Ernie Banks         CHC    25   SS    538   25    8   28   136  .233  .152  1.53
1957 Ernie Banks         CHC    26   SS    594   34    6   43   149  .294  .147  2.00
1958 Ernie Banks         CHC    27   SS    617   23   11   47   156  .301  .150  2.01
1959 Ernie Banks         CHC    28   SS    589   25    6   45   155  .292  .147  1.99
1959 Woodie Held         CLE    27   SS    525   19    3   29   114  .214  .135  1.59
1960 Ernie Banks         CHC    29   SS    597   32    7   41   145  .283  .140  2.02
1961 Ernie Banks         CHC    30   SS    511   22    4   29   122  .229  .151  1.52
1964 Denis Menke         MLN    23   SS    505   29    5   20   136  .196  .128  1.53
1966 Dick McAuliffe      DET    26   SS    430   16    8   23   148  .235  .137  1.72
1969 Rico Petrocelli     BOS    26   SS    535   32    2   40   167  .292  .133  2.20
1970 Rico Petrocelli     BOS    27   SS    583   31    3   29   114  .212  .140  1.51
1973 Dave Johnson        ATL    30   2B    559   25    0   43   143  .276  .132  2.09
1973 Joe Morgan          CIN    29   2B    576   35    2   26   154  .203  .125  1.62
1974 Joe Morgan          CIN    30   2B    512   31    3   22   159  .201  .117  1.72
1975 Joe Morgan          CIN    31   2B    498   27    6   17   169  .181  .119  1.52
1976 Joe Morgan          CIN    32   2B    472   30    5   27   187  .256  .113  2.27

Well, the answer is yes and no. Or to put it more accurately, no and yes.

It’s “no” in the sense that the 1940s witnessed a booming rebound of power-hitting middle infielders. At the vanguard was Lazzeri’s replacement as the Yankees’ second baseman, Joe Gordon, who had already put up qualifying seasons in 1938 and ’39, and then logged five more in the ’40s. Gordon was particularly famed for his rare combination of acrobatic defensive work around the second base bag and home run production at the plate.

Two other American League middle infielders in those years also delivered outstanding home run power: second baseman Bobby Doerr and shortstop Junior Stephens, who became teammates with the Red Sox in 1948 and in that season presented the only ballclub in history with both keystone partners surpassing the 1.50 ISO+ barrier.

But the answer to the question is “yes” in the sense that following the 1940s the power-hitting middle infielder became rare again. As the Gordon-Doerr-Stephens trio declined in the early 1950s, there was no younger cohort to replace them. The four-season span of 1951 through 1954 produced no qualifiers for the list, the longest drought since we began keeping track in 1893. Just a couple of guys in those years came somewhat close: Eddie Joost in ’51 and ’52, and Daryl Spencer in 1953.

The burst into superstardom by Ernie Banks in 1955 broke up the shutout. Yet as stupendous a power-hitting shortstop as Banks was, those who maintain that he was highly atypical for his era have an excellent point; there was just no one else like Banks at the time. Aside from a lone season from Woodie Held in 1959, Banks is the lone qualifier on this list between 1950 and 1964. The 1950s genuinely was a decade in which light-hitting middle infielders were the norm as never before, and thus Banks’ consistently lusty hitting becomes all the more extraordinary in context.

In the early 1960s, several younger shortstops emerged who hit with some authority. I anticipated that at least a couple among Eddie Bressoud, Ron Hansen, Leo Cardenas, Tom Tresh, Zoilo Versalles and Jim Fregosi would have qualifying seasons, but none did. The only middle infielders of the era who made the list were Denis Menke and Dick McAuliffe.

Late in the decade a home run-hitting shortstop of historic proportions suddenly emerged in Rico Petrocelli. His peak would prove to be brief, but it was towering: Petrocelli’s ISO+ of 2.20 in 1969 was higher than any produced by Banks, and indeed to this day remains higher than that from any shortstop in history except Honus Wagner.

A few years later another freakish performance occurred, as 30-year-old Dave Johnson came out of nowhere to join Hornsby as the second 40-dinger second baseman in history, and Johnson’s ISO+ also surpassed the stratospheric 2.00 level. And then the mid-1970s was the setting for Joe Morgan’s phenomenal sustained peak, capped by the staggering 1976 display in which Morgan’s ISO+ of 2.27 was the highest by any second baseman in history except Rogers Hornsby (and, of course, Little Joe was meanwhile stealing 60 bases and winning a Gold Glove—you might say he was pretty good).

Yet like those of Banks, all these performances must be understood as quite exceptional for their era. Like the 1950s, the 1960s and ’70s remained a period in which high-grade power hitting by middle infielders was very rare.

Bringing us to the question of what’s happened since then.

The most powerful-hitting middle infielders, 1977-2007

Year Player             Team   Age  Pos     AB   2B   3B   HR  OPS+   ISO LG ISO ISO+
1979 Bobby Grich         CAL    30   2B    534   30    5   30   145  .243  .136  1.79
1979 Dave Lopes          LAD    34   2B    582   20    6   28   128  .199  .129  1.54
1980 Robin Yount         MIL    24   SS    611   49   10   23   130  .226  .128  1.77
1981 Bobby Grich         CAL    32   2B    352   14    2   22   164  .239  .117  2.04
1982 Robin Yount         MIL    26   SS    635   46   12   29   166  .247  .135  1.83
1982 Cal Ripken          BAL    21   SS    598   32    5   28   115  .211  .138  1.53
1984 Ryne Sandberg       CHC    24   2B    636   36   19   19   140  .206  .124  1.66
1984 Cal Ripken          BAL    23   SS    641   37    7   27   145  .206  .133  1.55
1985 Ryne Sandberg       CHC    25   2B    609   31    6   26   132  .199  .133  1.50
1987 Juan Samuel         PHI    26   2B    655   37   15   28   116  .230  .152  1.51
1989 Lou Whitaker        DET    32   2B    509   21    1   28   133  .211  .122  1.73
1989 Ryne Sandberg       CHC    29   2B    606   25    5   30   134  .207  .128  1.62
1990 Ryne Sandberg       CHC    30   2B    615   30    3   40   140  .253  .138  1.83
1991 Cal Ripken          BAL    30   SS    650   46    5   34   162  .243  .132  1.84
1991 Barry Larkin        CIN    27   SS    464   27    4   20   143  .204  .131  1.56
1991 Lou Whitaker        DET    34   2B    470   26    2   23   141  .210  .136  1.54
1992 Ryne Sandberg       CHC    32   2B    612   32    8   26   146  .206  .124  1.66
1996 Barry Larkin        CIN    32   SS    517   32    4   33   154  .269  .153  1.76
1996 Alex Rodriguez      SEA    20   SS    601   54    1   36   160  .273  .168  1.63
1998 Jeff Kent           SFG    30   2B    526   37    3   31   142  .258  .152  1.70
1998 Nomar Garciaparra   BOS    24   SS    604   37    8   35   140  .261  .162  1.61
1998 Alex Rodriguez      SEA    22   SS    686   35    5   42   136  .250  .159  1.57
1999 Alex Rodriguez      SEA    23   SS    502   25    0   42   134  .301  .167  1.80
1999 Jay Bell            ARI    33   2B    589   32    6   38   131  .268  .169  1.59
2000 Alex Rodriguez      SEA    24   SS    554   34    2   41   162  .290  .164  1.77
2000 Jeff Kent           SFG    32   2B    587   41    7   33   162  .262  .167  1.57
2001 Alex Rodriguez      TEX    25   SS    632   34    1   52   160  .304  .164  1.85
2001 Bret Boone          SEA    32   2B    623   37    3   37   153  .247  .157  1.57
2002 Alex Rodriguez      TEX    26   SS    624   27    2   57   158  .323  .165  1.96
2002 Jeff Kent           SFG    34   2B    623   42    2   37   147  .252  .153  1.65
2002 Mark Bellhorn       CHC    27   2B    445   24    4   27   133  .254  .155  1.64
2002 Alfonso Soriano     NYY    26   2B    696   51    2   39   129  .247  .161  1.53
2003 Alex Rodriguez      TEX    27   SS    607   30    6   47   147  .302  .169  1.79
2003 Bret Boone          SEA    34   2B    622   35    5   35   140  .241  .157  1.54
2004 Jose Valentin       CHW    34   SS    450   20    3   30    92  .257  .165  1.56
2005 Chase Utley         PHI    26   2B    543   39    6   28   132  .249  .163  1.53
2005 Alfonso Soriano     TEX    29   2B    637   43    2   36   109  .244  .161  1.52
2006 Bill Hall           MIL    26   SS    537   39    4   35   125  .283  .171  1.65

Here we see the environment into which our powerful friend Mr. Ripken arrived.

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And we see that while it’s true that the late ’70s/early ’80s period was certainly on the lean side regarding power-hitting middle infielders, they weren’t unknown. There had been a two-year drought in 1977-78 (half as long as the four-year absence of qualifiers that preceded Ernie Banks), but by Ripken’s rookie season of 1982, big-and-strong second baseman Bobby Grich had presented two heavy-slugging years in a three-year span (including a tremendous 2.04 ISO+ in the strike-interrupted 1981 season), and little-but-strong second baseman Dave Lopes had chipped in one of his own in 1979.

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Moreover, in Ripken’s outstanding Rookie of the Year season, his league’s MVP was a fellow shortstop, Robin Yount, putting up his second heavy-slugging year in a three-year span.

And in Ripken’s big MVP season of 1984, his counterpart MVP in the National League was a big strong second baseman, Ryne Sandberg, whose ISO+ exceeded Ripken’s. Big Cal would go on to post another big slugging season in 1991, but Sandberg would outdo him with four additional years on this list.

It does seem that the frequency of serious power-hitting middle infielders was greater in the 1980s and ’90s, and on into the current decade, than it had been in the preceding 20 or 30 years. But the raw magnitude of names on the list might be deceptive, because due to expansion there are significantly more teams in the modern era. Let’s take a look at how many middle infielders qualified for the list in each decade as a proportion of team-seasons:

 Years   Teams  Qualifiers  Q/T
1893-99    84       5      .060
1900-09   160      17      .106
1910-19   160      12      .075
1920-29   160      16      .100
1930-39   160       8      .050
1940-49   160      17      .106
1950-59   160       7      .044
1960-69   198       5      .025
1970-79   246       8      .033
1980-89   260      10      .038
1990-99   278      12      .043
2000-07   240      14      .058

Here we see that while the frequency of big-slugging middle infielders did indeed increase in the ’80s over the ’70s, it was only ever-so-slightly. And their abundance in the 1990s was only about equal to what it had been in the Banks-and-almost-nobody-else 1950s. It’s only been in the 2000s that the proportion has crept higher than it was in the 1930s, and it remains barely over half of what it was in the 1940s or 1920s.

Thus while there is some truth to the notion that things have changed since Ripken’s arrival, the fact is that what may appear as an explosion of power-hitting from middle infielders in the current era is largely an illusion fostered by the twin effects of (a) just so many more teams and players than in the past, and (b) the high-slugging conditions that pervade overall. Indeed, when setting out to research this issue, I fully anticipated several names to qualify,

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such as Miguel Tejada, Rich Aurilia, Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla, but at least through 2007 they didn’t quite make it: their raw numbers have been gaudy, but in comparison with park-adjusted league-wide power-hitting, not that exceptional. (Ramirez and Uggla are on pace to qualify in 2008, which would allow them to match Vern Stephens and Bobby Doerr of the 1948 Red Sox as qualifying keystone teammates.)

Understanding this, we’re able to appreciate the genuinely exceptional power-hitting middle infielders of the modern era as the great producers they’ve truly been. This applies mostly, of course, to Alex Rodriguez, legitimately one of the greatest power-hitting middle infielders in history (until some team got the brilliant idea to remove him from the middle infield). But we should also recognize in particular those others who’ve made multiple appearances on this list: Lou Whitaker, Barry Larkin, Jeff Kent, Bret Boone and Alfonso Soriano. Also, Chase Utley is on a 2008 pace that will allow him to achieve repeat qualifier status.

So, sorry, Cal

Alas the idea that Ripken alone stimulated a dramatic change in the prevalence of power-hitting middle infielders isn’t supported by the facts. It’s more accurate to say that Ripken himself was part of a trend, and a gradual trend at that.

image

And, incidentally, regarding the related notion that Ripken’s size itself was unprecedented for a middle infielder, and has as well opened the gates for many more king-sized middle infielders to follow, there isn’t a whole lot to that either. Yes, Ripken (listed at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds in bb-ref.com) is perhaps the biggest middle infielder of all time, but there had been others before him who were almost as big: Mike Andrews (6-3, 195), Ron Hansen (6-3, 200), Andre Rodgers (6-3, 200), Tony Kubek (6-3, 191), Roy Smalley Sr. (6-3, 190) and Don Kolloway (6-3, 200) all come to mind.

Nor has there been a long list of Ripken-sized middle infielders in his wake: A-Rod (listed at 6-3, 225 on ESPN.com) is the biggest of the guys on this list following Ripken, and no one else here approaches that size. After A-Rod, the biggest middle infielders in the current era have probably been Hanley Ramirez (6-3, 200) and Derek Jeter (6-3, 195); there just aren’t a lot of guys that big playing shortstop or second base, even post-Ripken.

The top 50

So, one last round of applause for the best there’ve ever been: the top 50 ISO+ performances by middle infielders.

Year Player           Team   Age  Pos    AB   2B   3B   HR OPS+   ISO LG ISO ISO+
1922 Rogers Hornsby    STL   26   2B    623   46   14   42  207  .321  .115  2.79
1925 Rogers Hornsby    STL   29   2B    504   41   10   39  210  .353  .129  2.74
1908 Honus Wagner      PIT   34   SS    568   39   19   10  205  .188  .071  2.65
1924 Rogers Hornsby    STL   28   2B    536   43   14   25  222  .272  .113  2.41
1907 Honus Wagner      PIT   33   SS    515   38   14    6  186  .163  .069  2.36
1976 Joe Morgan        CIN   32   2B    472   30    5   27  187  .256  .113  2.27
1904 Honus Wagner      PIT   30   SS    490   44   14    4  187  .171  .076  2.25
1904 Nap Lajoie        CLE   29   2B    553   49   15    6  205  .176  .079  2.23
1969 Rico Petrocelli   BOS   26   SS    535   32    2   40  167  .292  .133  2.20
1901 Nap Lajoie        PHA   26   2B    544   48   14   14  200  .217  .099  2.19
1921 Rogers Hornsby    STL   25   2B    592   44   18   21  191  .242  .111  2.18
1929 Rogers Hornsby    CHC   33   2B    602   47    8   39  178  .299  .139  2.15
1923 Rogers Hornsby    STL   27   2B    424   32   10   17  188  .243  .113  2.15
1911 Larry Doyle       NYG   24   2B    526   25   25   13  154  .217  .102  2.13
1920 Rogers Hornsby    STL   24   2B    589   44   20    9  185  .189  .090  2.10
1944 Bobby Doerr       BOS   26   2B    468   30   10   15  165  .203  .097  2.09
1973 Dave Johnson      ATL   30   2B    559   25    0   43  143  .276  .132  2.09
1927 Rogers Hornsby    NYG   31   2B    568   32    9   26  175  .225  .110  2.05
1981 Bobby Grich       CAL   32   2B    352   14    2   22  164  .239  .117  2.04
1928 Rogers Hornsby    BSN   32   2B    486   42    7   21  200  .245  .120  2.04
1960 Ernie Banks       CHC   29   SS    597   32    7   41  145  .283  .140  2.02
1958 Ernie Banks       CHC   27   SS    617   23   11   47  156  .301  .150  2.01
1957 Ernie Banks       CHC   26   SS    594   34    6   43  149  .294  .147  2.00
1909 Honus Wagner      PIT   35   SS    495   39   10    5  176  .150  .075  2.00
1959 Ernie Banks       CHC   28   SS    589   25    6   45  155  .292  .147  1.99
1947 Joe Gordon        CLE   32   2B    562   27    6   29  135  .224  .113  1.98
1949 Vern Stephens     BOS   28   SS    610   31    2   39  138  .249  .126  1.98
1896 Bill Dahlen       CHC   26   SS    474   30   19    9  156  .201  .102  1.97
1943 Vern Stephens     SLB   22   SS    512   27    3   22  142  .193  .098  1.97
2002 Alex Rodriguez    TEX   26   SS    624   27    2   57  158  .323  .165  1.96
1955 Ernie Banks       CHC   24   SS    596   29    9   44  144  .301  .155  1.94
1917 Rogers Hornsby    STL   21   SS    523   24   17    8  169  .157  .081  1.94
1902 Nap Lajoie      PHA-CLE 27   2B    352   35    5    7  175  .187  .097  1.93
1903 Honus Wagner      PIT   29   SS    512   30   19    5  161  .163  .085  1.92
1945 Vern Stephens     SLB   24   SS    571   27    3   24  134  .184  .096  1.92
1903 Nap Lajoie        CLE   28   2B    485   41   11    7  169  .174  .092  1.89
1900 Nap Lajoie        PHI   25   2B    451   33   12    7  140  .173  .092  1.88
1948 Joe Gordon        CLE   33   2B    550   21    4   32  134  .227  .121  1.88
2001 Alex Rodriguez    TEX   25   SS    632   34    1   52  160  .304  .164  1.85
1991 Cal Ripken        BAL   30   SS    650   46    5   34  162  .243  .132  1.84
1990 Ryne Sandberg     CHC   30   2B    615   30    3   40  140  .253  .138  1.83
1982 Robin Yount       MIL   26   SS    635   46   12   29  166  .247  .135  1.83
1935 Arky Vaughan      PIT   23   SS    499   34   10   19  190  .222  .123  1.80
1999 Alex Rodriguez    SEA   23   SS    502   25    0   42  134  .301  .167  1.80
1918 Rogers Hornsby    STL   22   SS    416   19   11    5  136  .135  .075  1.80
2003 Alex Rodriguez    TEX   27   SS    607   30    6   47  147  .302  .169  1.79
1979 Bobby Grich       CAL   30   2B    534   30    5   30  145  .243  .136  1.79
1899 Bobby Wallace     STL   25   SS    577   28   14   12  120  .159  .089  1.79
1910 Nap Lajoie        CLE   35   2B    591   51    7    4  199  .130  .073  1.78
1898 Nap Lajoie        PHI   23   2B    608   43   11    6  137  .137  .077  1.78

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