The Rays’ historic infield

After noticing Jason Bartlett’s ridiculous .327 batting average, I got to thinking whether he and Ben Zobrist were having the best season ever for any two middle infielders on the same team. According to Fangraphs, Zobrist has been worth 7.2 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), while Bartlett has been worth 4.6. Those numbers rank them No. 2 and 13 in the American League.

I went into Rally’s historical WAR database to get a feel of just how impressive these numbers are. Rally’s database unfortunately doesn’t include position played, but it does include a positional adjustment. I sorted through the database to find any seasons where two teammates had at least five WAR as well as a neutral or positive positional adjustments. These might seem like arbitrary cutoffs, but I think it is meaningful for a team to have two players at premium defensive positions who are either All Stars or MVP candidates.

In the Retrosheet Era, Mark Belanger and Bobby Grich of the 1976 Orioles were the only pair of middle infielders to fulfill my query. Both O’s accumulated five and a half WAR. Bellanger was an enormously valuable fielding shortstop, while Bobby Grich is one of the best hitting second basemen of all time with a career .371 OBP and 125 OPS+. Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano of this year’s Yankees might also come close to matching Bartlett and Zobrist. But what makes this year’s Rays’ infield truly stand out is that I didn’t even mention that Evan Longoria has been worth over six WAR.

I did find 19 other pairs of teammates who primarily played primarily primary defensive positions while amassing five WAR apiece. Bret Boone and Mike Cameron were an underappreciated historic pairing. They are one of two pairs of players to appear on my list twice. In 2001, they added 15.7 WAR for the Mariners, which is one win greater than the next closest matching. Cameron will likely pass Bernie Williams this year on the WAR career leaderboard, and he could end up as one of the most underappreciated players of my lifetime.

Andre Dawson and Gary Carter make up the other pair who show up on this list multiple times. Dawson and Carter in 1980, 1982, and 1983 had greater than six WAR each year. 1983 was also the first of Tim Raines’ five consecutive years where he totaled five or more WAR as a left fielder, broken up by a stint in center in 1984.

The two grittiest players to ever eat grits, Darin Erstad and David Eckstein make the list from 2002, with 6 and 5.5 WAR respectively according to Rally. Erstad was truly a remarkable player, as he managed to somehow be 11 runs worse than average with the bat, but through sensational fielding and baserunning, he was the most valuable player on a World Series Champion. However, Fangraphs’ WAR has Erstad and Eckstein at only 4.0 WAR apiece that year. Of course, Fangraphs’ WAR doesn’t measure heart.

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  1. Pat Andriola said...

    Longoria, Bartlett, Zorilla, Iwamura, Pena, Aybar, Brignac, Sean Rodriguez. That’s a whole lotta talent in the infield.

    I’d say they should trade Bartlett while his value is at its peak, but he’s probably still undervalues in the mainstream open market.

  2. Gerry said...

    It goes back before Retrosheet, but Joe Gordon and Lou Boudreau made a pretty good middle infield for the 1948 Indians. If you’re counting CF as a premium defensive position, you may want to consider Mantle and Berra, and Snider/Robinson/Campanella.

  3. Jeremy Greenhouse said...

    Pat, I think Bartlett is on a one-year deal.

    Nick, I have access to both retro/BDB databases, but I didn’t feel like spending more than a half hour on this.

    Gerry, those are good spots. I hear Tinkers Evers and Chance were solid too. Seems like most of the teams that control these guys have been pretty successful

  4. Nick Steiner said...

    Jeremy – if you have a Baseball Databank database, you can join Rally’s WAR database with that find each player’s position that year.  Rally uses RetroID to mark players, and BDB has each player’s RetroID in the “Master” table.

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