ARod, Jeter, Cano, Tex, and Other Four-Year Infields

September 30, 2012

The New York Yankees have had a "dream infield" since they signed free agent first baseman Mark Teixeira to join second baseman Robinson Cano, shortstop Derek Jeter, and third baseman Alex Rodriguez before the 2009 season. All four Yankee infielders received some MVP votes in their first year together, when Teixeira was the runner-up MVP. Cano, Rodriguez, and Teixeira continued receiving MVP support in the two years that followed with Cano finishing third in 2010 and sixth in 2011. Jeter and Cano are likely to pick up some votes this year. 

The quartet has so far tallied a total WAR over those four seasons of 64.3. I’m using Baseball-Reference’s WAR, because of its ease of access. I certainly welcome any refinements to this method that anyone wishes to share. What I’m looking for is the current Yankee infield’s place in history. To do that, I look at all the infields that lasted at least four years intact and measured them at their four-year peak. 

It terms of years playing together as an infield unit, the present Yankee infield must double their years together before they can match the eight years of togetherness enjoyed by the ’74-’81 Dodgers infield of Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell, and Ron Cey. The National League has had three other five-year infields: another Dodgers team (1948-1952) and two Cubs teams (1906-1910 and 1965-1969), but no four-year infields. (I’m not considering teams that played before 1900)

The American League has had two five-year infields: the 1933-1937 Detroit Tigers and the 1968-1972 Baltimore Orioles. The American League also had 4 four-year infields before the Yankees’ current quartet. 

Let’s compare all the "modern" four-year infields at their peak starting with the most recent foursomes.  I’ll be tackling these two at a time. <​/span>

Peak Years

Team

WAR

Third baseman

Shortstop

Second baseman

First baseman

2009-2012

Yankees

64.3

Alex Rodriguez

Derek Jeter

Robinson Cano

Mark Teixeira

2001-2004

Twins

28.9

Corey Koskie

Cristian Guzman

Luis Rivas 

Doug Mientkiewicz

 

These infields do not compare. It is the Empire State payroll budget vs. garbage bin pickers. In fact, these Twins were the weakest of all the four-year infields in this study. Corey Koskie provided more than half of their total WAR (55%) while Luis Rivas was a negative in each of his first three years with this infield. Rivas kept getting chances because he was a top prospect who broke into the majors at a young age. Rivas was a top 100 prospect (per Baseball America) from the age of 17 until he became the Twins starting second baseman in 2001 at age 21.

These Twins did manage to win their division three of these years 2002-2004. Just to remind you, these Yankees won the World Series their first year together, the Division Series in their second year, finished in first place in their third year, and are currently in first place by a game and a half with a week to go.

Peak Years

Team

WAR

Third baseman

Shortstop

Second baseman

First baseman

1980-1983

Royals

43.3

George Brett

U.L. Washington

Frank White

Willie Mays Aikens

1976-1979

Dodgers

59.3

Ron Cey

Bill Russell

Davey Lopes

Steve Garvey

 

This Royals infield overlapped with the Dodgers’ eight year infield. The Royals made it all the way to the World Series in 1980. The Dodgers won the World Series the next year – their final year with their famous infield quartet – after losing the World Series in three earlier tries. When this Dodgers infield was at its peak, they lost back-to-back World Series against the Yankees. Those same two years and the year before, the Royals, featuring infielders George Brett and Frank White, lost to the Yankees in the ALCS.

Picking the best four consecutive years over the eight-year stretch, the Dodgers infielders still don’t quite match what the current Yankees did in their only four years together. Steve Garvey did win an MVP award and they all received some MVP votes and attended several all-star games, although Russell received significantly less recognition his three infield mates. Their peaks did not coincide, but neither has the Yankees’. Rodriguez and Jeter’s best years occurred before Rodriguez became a Yankee.

 

Peak Years

Team

WAR

Third baseman

Shortstop

Second baseman

First baseman

1968-1971

Orioles

62.0

Brooks Robinson

Mark Belanger

Davey Johnson

Boog Powell

1966-1968

Cubs

52.8

Ron Santo

Don Kessinger

Glen Beckert

Ernie Banks

 

These two infields overlapped slightly and, like the Dodgers and Royals above, they shared a New York nemesis.

The Orioles infield led Baltimore to the best record in baseball and the World Series three years in a row. However, they only came away with one World Championship. In terms of individual honors, this Orioles infield came very close to what the current Yankee infield has achieved. Boog Powell won an MVP award and was runner-up another year during this era. B. Robby also received MVP voting each year. He was an all-star for 15 straight seasons. Belanger and Johnson each had a season in which they received MVP votes in this four year run.

Ron Santo provided 57% of this Cubs’ WAR value alone – the highest percentage of any player in this study. Ernie Banks – a well deserving Hall of Famer for his years as a shortstop from 1954 to 1961—had a negative WAR value in 1969, as did Don Kessinger in 1965 and 1966.

This Cubs team did not win a league or division title. They finished in 10th place in 1966. They were just above .500 in ’67 and ’68. They lost a commanding hold on first place in the newly formed National League East Division of 1969 to the same Mets team that shocked the F. Robby and B. Robby Orioles.

 

Peak Years

Team

WAR

Third baseman

Shortstop

Second baseman

First baseman

1949-1951

Dodgers

72.8

Billy Cox

Pee Wee Reese

Jackie Robinson

Gil Hodges

 

We have to go back to the newly integrated Brooklyn Dodgers to find a quartet of infielders that was more outstanding over a four-year run than the current Yankee infield. Indeed, Jackie Robinson, who contributed 33.8 WAR, was the single most outstanding infielder of any four-year run that made this study. Gil Hodges and Pee Wee Reese were formidable teammates, winning MVP votes each year. Robinson won the MVP award in 1949. Billy Cox added very little: 2.6 WAR. The peak stretch of this infield also lost two World Series to the Yankees, then lost another one in their fifth year together.

 

Here are the peak four-year infields since integration, as ranked by WAR:

Peak Years

Team

WAR

Third baseman

Shortstop

Second baseman

First baseman

1949-1951

Dodgers

72.8

Billy Cox

Pee Wee Reese

Jackie Robinson

Gil Hodges

2009-2012

Yankees

64.3

Alex Rodriguez

Derek Jeter

Robinson Cano

Mark Teixeira

1968-1971

Orioles

62.0

Brooks Robinson

Mark Belanger

Davey Johnson

Boog Powell

1976-1979

Dodgers

59.3

Ron Cey

Bill Russell

Davey Lopes

Steve Garvey

1966-1968

Cubs

52.8

Ron Santo

Don Kessinger

Glen Beckert

Ernie Banks

1980-1983

Royals

43.3

George Brett

U.L. Washington

Frank White

Willie Mays Aikens

2001-2004

Twins

28.9

Corey Koskie

Cristian Guzman

Luis Rivas

Doug Mientkiewicz

 

 

Peak Years

Team

WAR

Third baseman

Shortstop

Second baseman

First baseman

1934-1937

Tigers

53.4

Marv Owen

Billy Rogell

Charlie Gehringer

Hank Greenberg

 

On April 29, 1936, famed Jewish star Hank Greenberg broke his wrist in a collision with Washington’s Jake Powell – who has gone down in history as a bigot for a remark he made during an interview that makes John Rocker sound saintly. Some thought Powell tried to injure Greenberg on purpose. Greenberg had a .348/.455/.630 BA/OBP/Slugging line at the time. He missed the rest of the season – and some feared his career was over. He came back with an OPS over 1.000 in each of the next four seasons.

That level of production might have continued for years, but he spent the following three-and-a-half seasons in the War effort. Just looking at Greenberg’s average WAR during the two years before 1936 and the two years after (6.9) and applying the difference (6.9 – 0.6 =  6.3) to Detroit’s ’34-’37 greatness as measured in WAR, their four-year infield peak would have been 61.6. That would move their infield up a couple of notches—almost even with the ’68-’71 Orioles. If you count the five-year totals of those two infields with Greenberg’s lost year, Detroit would be ahead of Baltimore, but still behind the ’48-’52 Dodgers.

 

Peak Years

Team

WAR

Third baseman

Shortstop

Second baseman

First baseman

1912-1915

Senators

39.2

George McBride

Eddie Foster

Ray Morgan

Chick Gandil

 

This franchise—which moved from Washington to Minnesota in 1961—has the two worse infields that make this list. Chick Gandil – coincidently born in St. Paul, Minnesota—was probably the best player of this group and certainly the most famous – albeit for a bad reason. He was the player who led the 1919 Black Sox World Series fixing. Every picture I’ve seen of him - young or old - shows the same frown.

These Senators never won their league despite having the league’s best pitcher each year: Walter Johnson. However, they did finish second twice.

They almost completely overlap with another four year infield, but they do not deserve a direct comparison.

 

Peak Years

Team

WAR

Third baseman

Shortstop

Second baseman

First baseman

1911-1914

Athletics

92.7

Home Run Baker

Jack Barry

Eddie Collins

Stuffy McInnis

 

It may surprise you this infield ranks way ahead of the Yankees as the most valuable four-year infield ever. Eddie Collins is generally cited as the most outstanding second baseman of all-time. Frank "Home Run" Baker is a Hall of Famer whose peak years coincided exactly with these four years. The other two members of this infield also had their four best seasons during this streak. In fact, this is the only four-year infield in which all four infielders earned some MVP votes each year. Collins won the MVP award in 1914. They won two World Series and three League pennants.

 

Peak Years

Team

WAR

Third baseman

Shortstop

Second baseman

First baseman

1906-1909

Cubs

69.4

Harry Steinfeldt

Joe Tinker

Johnny Evers

Frank Chance

 

Yet a third infield that tops the current Yankees. I don’t think the generous defensive Wins attributed to Tinker and Evers are unrealistic. Essentially, whoever pitched for them did extremely well no matter how few strikeouts they threw.

Before you read the following 1910 poem by Franklin Pierce Adams, let me point out to those unfamiliar with medieval Italian culture that a gonfalon is a type of flag or banner than hangs from a crossbar. I’m not sure when teams began to fly pennants instead of hanging gonfalons, if they ever did. Come to think of it, they often still do. The Giants and Pirates were the Cubs’ closest rivals during the eight years leading up to this poem, but the Giants hadn’t won the league since 1905.

Like the Athletics, in the four years tallied, these Cubs won two World Championships and three League gonfalons.

 

Baseball&rsquo​;s Sad Lexicon

These are the saddest of possible words:

"Tinker to Evers to Chance"

Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,

Tinker and Evers and Chance

Ruthlessly picking our gonfalon bubble

Making a Giant hit into a double

Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble

"Tinker to Evers to Chance"

 

 

 ​;

Finally, here is the complete list of 20th or 21st century infields that lasted at least four years together.

Peak Years

Team

WAR

Third baseman

Shortstop

Second baseman

First baseman

1911-1914

Athletics

92.7

Home Run Baker

Jack Barry

Eddie Collins

Stuffy McInnis

1949-1951

Dodgers

72.8

Billy Cox

Pee Wee Reese

Jackie Robinson

Gil Hodges

1906-1909

Cubs

69.4

Harry Steinfeldt

Joe Tinker

Johnny Evers

Frank Chance

2009-2012

Yankees

64.3

Alex Rodriguez

Derek Jeter

Robinson Cano

Mark Teixeira

1968-1971

Orioles

62.0

Brooks Robinson

Mark Belanger

Davey Johnson

Boog Powell

1976-1979

Dodgers

59.3

Ron Cey

Bill Russell

Davey Lopes

Steve Garvey

1934-1937

Tigers

53.4

Marv Owen

Billy Rogell

Charlie Gehringer

Hank Greenberg

1966-1968

Cubs

52.8

Ron Santo

Don Kessinger

Glen Beckert

Ernie Banks

1980-1983

Royals

43.3

George Brett

U.L. Washington

Frank White

Willie Mays Aikens

1912-1915

Senators

39.2

George McBride

Eddie Foster

Ray Morgan

Chick Gandil

2001-2004

Twins

28.9

Corey Koskie

Cristian Guzman

Luis Rivas

Doug Mientkiewicz

 

One final note: the data for the 19th century teams is too spotty to compare. The Cubs – then called the White Stockings - did have a four-year infield from 1886 to 1889 that was managed by their first baseman and "Cap"tain Adrian Anson. 1886 was the last year Anson’s White Stockings dominated the National League. 

In 1882, the current Atlanta Braves franchise was known as the Boston Red Stockings; the next year they would be more commonly referred to as the Boston Beaneaters. Boston had two four-year infields – one from 1882 to 1885 and the next from 1897 to 1900. The first four-year infield won one League title and the next one earned two.

The Reds or Red Stockings of Cincinnati had a four-year infield from 1885 to 1888 that included Bid McPhee.  McPhee’s record of having the longest tenure as the starting second baseman with one club—18 years—was tied by the Tigers’ Lou Whitaker 100 years later. Cincinnati at that time was playing in the American Association. They had a strong team, but St. Louis finished in first place each year of that four-year run. Cincinnati moved to the National League in 1890 and St. Louis followed in 1892.

 
 

COMMENTS (10 Comments, most recent shown first)

hotstatrat
oops: . . . deserves more props. . .
11:27 PM Oct 28th
 
hotstatrat
One of those 19th century infields more props. During a decade - the 1880s - when the popularity of baseball was exploding, the Chicago White Stockings (now Cubs) were dominating the National League as no team ever would. They won three-quarters of their games in 1885 and 1886 out of 236 games - which would be 121 wins of a 162 game schedule. Their infield which began as first-baseman Cap Anson, second-baseman Fred Pfeffer, shortstop Tommy Burns, and third-baseman Ned Williamson was so outstanding they earned the nickname: the “Stone Wall” infield. They played together for 7 seasons (1883-1889) which, of course, places them ahead of everyone in longevity except the 1974-1981 Dodgers. In the article above, I unfairly counted them only as a four year infield, because Burns and Williamson switched positions in the middle of their (1886) of their reign.
11:26 PM Oct 28th
 
hotstatrat
Owen, hopefully you've read Bill's follow-up which addresses the Big Red Machine infield. They had more win shares at their four year peak. than any infield ever. However, they were a unit of the same four guys just two of those years: '75 and '76 - the two years they completely dominated the Majors. Pete Rose played left-field in '73 and '74 before moving to third-base joining Dave Concepcion at shortstop, Joe Morgan at second-base, and Tony Perez at first-base. After '76 Perez was traded to the Expos along with a worn out reliever Will McEnaney for a then solid starter Woodie Fryman and workhorse reliever Dale Murray. This made way for their top bench player 24 year old Dan Driessen to play first-base. He had hit .301 as their 21 year old third-baseman. Perez was 34. Morgan and Rose were slightly older than Perez, but amazingly would go on to play in another World Series together in 1983 with the Philadelphia "Wheeze Kids" Phillies.

P.S. Thanks, tigerlily, for the win shares data on these four year four man infields.
7:49 PM Oct 4th
 
hotstatrat
Owen, hopefully you've read Bill's follow-up which addresses the Big Red Machine infield. They had more win shares at their four year peak. than any infield ever. However, they were a unit of the same four guys just two of those years: '75 and '76 - the two years they completely dominated the Majors. Pete Rose played left-field in '73 and '74 before moving to third-base joining Dave Concepcion at shortstop, Joe Morgan at second-base, and Tony Perez at first-base. After '76 Perez was traded to the Expos along with a worn out reliever Will McEnaney for a then solid starter Woodie Fryman and workhorse reliever Dale Murray. This made way for their top bench player 24 year old Dan Driessen to play first-base. He had hit .301 as their 21 year old third-baseman. Perez was 34. Morgan and Rose were slightly older than Perez, but amazingly would go on to play in another World Series together in 1983 with the Philadelphia "Wheeze Kids" Phillies.
7:47 PM Oct 4th
 
OwenH
Kind of surprised the Big Red Machine doesn't get in here ...
10:04 PM Oct 2nd
 
ajmilner
It may surprise you this infield ranks way ahead of the Yankees as the most valuable four-year infield ever.

Not that surprising; the 1910-14 A's were a legitimate dynasty and McInnis/Collins/Barry/Baker were famous as "The $100,000 Infield."
8:03 PM Oct 1st
 
hotstatrat
re: ins & outs of the Twins' '01-'04 infield:

Mientkiewicz was traded at the waiver trade deadline of 2004 - remember he was part of that shocking Nomar Garciaparra / Orlando Cabrera trade that ironically boosted Boston all the way to their first championship since the Curse of the Bambino. I wonder if the history of that trade helped justify the Youkilis and Adrian Gonzalez deals this year? Anyway, Mienkie averaged 145 games per year in the preceding three years. Justin Morneau took over first-base after the trade.

Tom Kelly gave 21 year old Louis Rivas 153 games in 2001. Ron Gardenshire used him less religiously, but he was still clearly the regular (excluding two months on the D.L. in '02) until Michael Cuddyer was phased in at the end of 2004.

Koskie and Guzman were every day regulars throughout the four years when healthy. Koskie did have a few injuries. Guzman missed a month in '01.

The problem was that Rivas was so tantalizingly young, the Twins didn’t have obviously better options. Denny Hocking was the Twins 5th infielder those first three years. Sure, he may have been a little better than sub-replacement level Rivas, but Rivas was 10 years younger (if Rivas’s age is to be believed). For 2004, they traded for Nick Punto, who at that time was even less of a Major League hitter than Rivas. Cuddyer was a thirdbaseman. As Bill James once said regarding one team’s building strategies: they would put wings on a bus and call it an airplane. Cuddyer could hit, though, and his bat appeared ready for the Majors by the start of 2003. In retrospect, they might have dealt Mienktiewicz at that time for a decent second-baseman and called up Cuddyer to play first. They could have moved Cuddyer somewhere else when Morneau was ready near the end of ’04. Like Mientkiewicz, Guzman was a slightly better than average regular (if an average regular is a 2.0) – not so easy to replace, especially when your team is winning division titles.

Minnesota’s biggest mistake (and Boston’s biggest gain) was releasing David Ortiz in favour of keeping Bobby Kielty and Dustin Mohr. That happened during the winter of ‘02/’03.

By the way, outfielders Torii Hunter and Jacque Jones as well as starters Brad Radke and Kyle Loshe were regulars during those four years. Jones was another just-average player, while Loshe was barely above replacement level until he came into the care of Dave Duncan.

11:09 AM Oct 1st
 
Robinsong
That these are better than average infields (except the Twins) is also apparent from the Wins Above Replacement metric. An average regular player has a WAR of about 2.0 (put another way Wins Above Average = WAR - 2), so an average infield would have a WAR of 8.0 or a 4-year WAR of 32. The $100K infield sustained an average WAR/player of 5.8 for four years, equivalent to All-Star performance from every position every year. I looked at the Big Red Machine of 1973-1976, which would have given the $100K infield a run for their money if they had moved Rose to 3rd in 1973 instead of 1975. The 4-year total for Perez-Morgan-Concepcion-Rose was 91.6 WAR. Their best year as an infield was 1976 when they scored 23.1 WAR, just below the 4-year average of the $100K, but their best total was 1973, when they earned 25.1 with Rose playing left.
9:07 AM Oct 1st
 
bjames
I was wondering what the average is for the four regular infielders, before it occured to me that I should know. The average for the four regular infielders on a team is 59.4, a figure that includes strike years and such. . ..59.7 from 1900-1909, 58.6 from 1910-1919, 58.95 from 1920-1929, 61.25 from 1930-1939, 59.9 from 1940-1949, 59.0 from 1950-1959, 61.1 from 1960-1969, 59.4 from 1970-1979, 58.4 from 1980-1989, 58.2 from 1990-1999, 60.4 from 2000-2003. I don't know what it has been since 2003, but obviously it wouldn't have changed very much.

If the one-year average is 59.4, the four-year average would be 238. So all of these infields were above average except the Twinkies infield, which I think may have had some in-and-out playing time.
7:28 AM Oct 1st
 
tigerlily
Surprising that there are only 11 infields that stayed together for four years. I took a look at these eleven using win shares.

1. 1911-14 A's - - 459
2. 1934-37 Tigers - 373
3. 1949-52 Dodgers - 369
4. 1906-09 Cubs - - 367
5. 2009-12 Yanks - 354
6. 1976-79 Dodgers - 343
7. 1968-71 Orioles - 327
8. 1966-69 Cubs - - 297
9. 1980-83 Royals - 269
10. 1912-15 Senators - 257
11. 2001-04 Twins - - 228

The $100,000 infield is miles ahead of the competition regardless of the metric. The 2001-04 Twins are not a good infield - it is amazing that anyone would have kept this group together for four years.
11:48 PM Sep 30th
 
 
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