October 1, 2012

This is not a real article, exactly; it’s more of an addendum to John Carter’s article (A-Rod, Jeter, Cano, Tex and other four-year infields.)    (For some reason, John Carter reminds me of Bob Dole’s crack on seeing a picture of the three then-living ex-Presidents, Jimmy Carter, Jerry Ford, and Richard Nixon.   Dole pointed to them in order and said "See No Evil, Speak No Evil, and. . .Evil.")   Anyway, Carter’s article is about infields that remained intact for four years.   My addendum is about great infields that did not remain intact for four years, but performed at a high level over the four seasons with some changes in personnel.

An average infield earns 237 Win Shares over a four-year period, a number that has not changed significantly since 1900.  All of these infields exceeded that by at least 37%.  My list:

Brooklyn Dodgers, 1889-1892 (326 Win Shares over the four seasons).     This team won the American Association in 1889 with an infield of Dave Foutz, Hub Collins, George Pinckney and Germany Smith, then moved to the National League in 1890, during the chaos of the Player’s League, and won the National League with the same infield.   In 1891 Monte Ward replaced Germany Smith at shortstop, and in 1892 the infield was re-shuffled (Dan Brouthers, Monte Ward at second, Bill Joyce at third and Tommy Corcoran at shortstop.)    The team was more often known as the Brooklyn Bridegrooms in this era, after a bunch of the players on the team all got married about the same time.

Baltimore Orioles, 1896 to 1899 (341).    In 1896 this infield was Jack Doyle, Heine Reitz, Jim Donnelly and Hughie Jennings—unimpressive names, other than Jennings, but they finished 90-39.  John McGraw, who had been their third baseman for several years, was injured in 1896, returned to his position in 1897, replacing Donnelly.    In 1898 Dan McGann took over at first base, and Gene DeMontreville at second (hey, what’s that French guy doing in there with all those Irishmen?)    In 1899 Candy LaChance replaced McGann at first, and Bill Keister, due to an injury, replaced Hughie Jennings at short.    McGraw hit .391 with more than one walk a game in 1899, giving him a .547 on base percentage, but the rest of the team was unimpressive.      

Pittsburgh Pirates, 1905-1908 (400 Win Shares).    This unit had the most unstable personnel of any infield on our list, but impressive results because Wagner was the best player in baseball in this era, apologies to Ty Cobb.   (No apologies to Cobb; screw him.)   In 1905 the Pirate infield was Del Howard, Claude (Little Alright) Ritchey, Dave Brain and Honus Wagner.   In 1906 Jim Nealon took over at first base and, aged 21, tied for the National League lead in RBI; I think Nealon died of TB a few years later, not sure.   (Wikipedia says he retired from baseball because of tuberculosis, but died at the age of 25 from typhoid pneumonia.)  Anyway, Tommy Sheehan also played third that year (1906).  In 1907 Ed Abbaticchio played second base and Alan Storke played third, and in 1908 Harry Swancina replaced the ailing Nealon at first base, while Tommy Leach moved from the outfield to play third base.

New York Giants, 1909-1912 (329).    In 1909 the Giants’ infield was Fred Tenney, Larry Doyle, Art Devlin and Al Bridwell.    In 1910 Fred Merkle took over at first base; Merkle actually had played first almost as much as Tenney did in 1909.    The Giants won 90+ games but finished 10+ games out in 1909-1910; in 1911, with the same infield, they won the league with a 103-48 record, and in 1913 repeated as league champions although Buck Herzog took over at third base and Art Fletcher at short. 

St.  Louis Cardinals, 1920-1923 (352).   Managed all four years by Branch Rickey, this team had an infield in 1920 and 1921 of Jack Fournier, Rogers Hornsby, Milt Stock and Doc Lavan.  In 1922 Lavan was replaced at shortstop by Specs Torporcer.   In 1924 Fournier was replaced by Jim Bottomley and Torporcer by Howard Freigau.  

New York Giants, 1924-1927 (353).    In 1924 the Giants won the National League with an infield of George Kelly (first base), Frankie Frisch (second), Heine Groh (third) and Travis Jackson (whatever that leaves).   In 1925 Bill Terry played first, Kelly moved to second, Freddie Lindstrom played third and Travis Jackson short, with Frankie Frisch playing essentially 40 games each at second base, third, and short (he still finished 9th in the MVP voting.   See Billy Goodman, 1950.)   In 1926 Kelly moved back to first, Frisch to second (Kelly-Frisch-Lindstrom-Jackson), putting Bill Terry back on the bench; the team finished under .500 although Kelly, Frisch, Lindstrom, Jackson and Terry are all in the Hall of Fame—probably the only team ever to finish under .500 with five Hall of Fame infielders all in their prime.    After the 1926 season Kelly was traded to Cincinnati for Edd Roush, getting Terry off the pine, and Frisch was traded to St. Louis for Rogers Hornsby, making the infield Terry, Hornsby, Lindstrom and Jackson.     The 1927 infield earned 111 Win Shares, a mammoth total, but the team finished third as the outfield was weak and the pitching staff not first rate.

Washington Senators 1930-1933 (339).     In 1930 it was 1B—Joe Judge, 2B—Buddy Myer, 3B—Ossie Bluege, and SS—Joe Cronin.     In 1931 Joe Kuhel replaced Joe Judge at first base, and that infield stayed together through 1933.

New York Yankees, same years (365).    In 1930 the Yankee infield was Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, Ben Chapman and Lyn Lary.     Chapman, though a tremendous offensive player, was not really a third baseman, so in 1931 was replaced at third base by Joe Sewell, an aging Hall of Fame shortstop.     In 1932 Frankie Crosetti replaced Lyn Lary at shortstop; Lary was a better hitter, but Crosetti was a better shortstop. 

In the four years these two infields went head to head the Senators won exactly the same number of games the Yankees did, 378 each, and the same number of pennants, one each.     The Yankees, though, had a long run with a tremendous infield, continuing to get 80 Win Shares a year (or more) out of their four regular infielders through 1939, although all of these players except Crosetti were gone by that time.  

Philadelphia Athletics, 1930-1933 (336).   The third great infield in the same league in the same seasons.   In 1930 the elephant infield was Foxx, Maxie Bishop, Jimmy Dykes and Joe Boley.    In 1931 Dib Williams replaced Joe Boley at short, and in 1932 Williams was replaced at short by Eric (Boob) McNair.   In 1933 McNair was injured, Williams played short again (and has his best season), and Pinky Higgins replaced Dykes at third base.   Over the four years the A’s won 382 games, four more than the Yankees or Senators, and the A’s won two pennants while the other teams won one each.  

Boston Red Sox, 1937-1940 (338) and 1948-1951 (331).    That infield started out as Foxx, Boob McNair, Mike Higgins and Joe Cronin.   In 1938 Bobby Doerr replaced McNair, giving them three Hall of Famers in the infield.   In 1939 Jim Tabor replaced Pinky Higgins as the third baseman/red ass.

In 1948 Bobby Doerr was still there, but was surrounded by Billy Goodman, Johnny Pesky (3B) and Vern Stephens (SS).   In 1950 Walt Dropo replaced Billy Goodman at first. …Goodman was never EXACTLY a regular, but in 1950 finished second in the MVP voting although he played only 110 games and no more than 45 at any position. 

Cincinnati Reds, 1939-1942 (332).   I wrote about this group in the Historical Abstract; this was the group that gave themselves "Big Cat" nicknames like Lion, Tiger, Lynx and Panther or something, and liked to really put on a show during infield practice.    1B—Frank McCormick, 2B—Lonny Frey, 3B—Billy Werber, SS—Billy Myers.     In 1941 Eddie Joost replaced Billy Myers, and in 1942 Bert Haas replaced Billy Werber at third. 

St. Louis Cardinals, 1944 to 1947 (340).    In 1944, with an infield of Ray Sanders, Emil Verban, Whitey Kurowski and Marty Marion, the Cardinals won 105 games and the World Championship.   Marion was the MVP although he hit just .267 with 6 homers; his defensive reputation was "awesome".   Deferred from military service due to severe osteomyelitis, Kurowski was a perennial All-Star who would drive in about a hundred runs a year.    The infield returned intact in 1945; many people suspected that the St. Louis draft board was stacked with baseball fans who granted exemptions to keep their teams together.   In 1946 Stan Musial replaced Sanders at first base and Red Schoendienst replaced Verban at second; Musial and Schoendienst, both Hall of Famers, were both converted outfielders.   That team won the World Championship again in 1946, and the infield stayed together in 1947.

Cleveland Indians 1951-1954 (342).  1B—Luke Easter, 2B—Bobby Avila, 3B—Al Rosen, SS—Ray Boone.    In 1953 Easter was hurt, and Bill Glynn played first, and also George Strickland replaced Ray Boone.   In 1954 Vic Wertz took over at first base. 

The 1953-1956 Milwaukee Braves (354).   This infield was basically 1B—Joe Adcock, 2B—Danny O’Connell, 3B—Eddie Mathews, SS—Johnny Logan, except that in 1953 Jack Dittmer was the second baseman and in 1955 Joe Adcock was hurt half the year and George Crowe played first while he was out.   This team probably should have won a couple of pennants in here, but didn’t because the Dodgers were a fantastic team and the Braves were managed by morons.

Cincinnati Reds 1973-1976 (415 Win Shares!).   1B—Tony Perez, 2B—Joe Morgan, 3B—Denis Menke, SS—Dave Concepcion.   In 1974 Dan Driessen replaced Denis Menke at third base; Driessen was a better hitter but not really a third basemans, so in 1975 Pete Rose moved to third and Driessen became a bench player for a couple of years.   With Perez, Morgan, Rose and Concepcion the Reds had four infielders of Hall of Fame quality.

Philadelphia Phillies, 1974-1977 (331).    Bowa and Schmidt were there throughout, shortstop and third base.   In 1974 Willie Montanez played first base, Dave Cash second; they both hit .300 but never walked and had no power.    In 1975-1976 Dick Allen played first base, and in 1977 Richie Hebner played first base and Ted Sizemore played second.

Milwaukee Brewers 1980-1983 (359, despite the strike in 1981).   1B—Cecil Cooper, 2B—Jim Gantner, 3B—Paul Molitor, SS—Robin Yount.     In 1980 this team was still feeling its way; Molitor played 91 games at second, and Gantner played more at third base.   In 1981 Molitor was injured and in the outfield, and Don Money played third, so it didn’t actually become Cooper-Gantner-Molitor-Yount in that order until 1982.

San Francisco Giants, 1988-1991 (327).     Will Clark was the first baseman over the four-year run, Robby Thompson the second baseman, Jose Uribe the shortstop.    In 1988 Kevin Mitchell played third base; he was a good hitter but, like Dan Driessen, Paul Molitor, Ben Chapman and all of those guys the Pirates had playing third beside Honus Wagner, not really a third baseman.    In 1989 Ernest Riles played third base for them until Matt Williams came up in mid-season.    Will Middlebrooks, by the way, is the new Matt Williams.

Detroit Tigers 1990-1993 (331).    Cecil Fielder, Lou Whitaker, Travis Fryman and Alan Trammell.   In 1990 Tony Phillips played third until Fryman arrived in mid-season, and in 1993 Trammell was hurt and Scott Livingstone played short. 

Houston Astros, 1996-1999 (371).     It started out as Bagwell, Biggio, Sean Berry and Orlando Miller.    Tim Bogar replaced Orlando Miller in 1997.   In 1998 Bogie was replaced by Ricky Gutierrez, and Bill Spiers split third base with Sean Berry, although Berry had almost a .900 OPS.   In 1999 Bogar took over at short again, and Ken Caminiti returned from San Diego to play third.  

Cleveland Indians 1999-2002 (328).      Jim Thome, Roberto Alomar, Travis Fryman and Omar Vizquel.     Alomar left in 2002, and was replaced at second by the ubiquitous Ricky Gutierrez, but not really.  

New York Yankees, 1999-2002 (333).     This infield was Tino Martinez, Chuck Knoblauch, Scott Brosius and Jeter, except that in 2002 Alfonso Soriano replaced Knoblauch at second base. 

Oakland A’s, 2000-2003 (365).   In 2000 their infield was Jason Giambi, Randy Velarde, Eric Chavez and Miguel Tejada—a fairly impressive group, I think you might agree, or three-fourths of one.    In 2001 Frank Menechino played second base, and well.    In 2002-2003 Scott Hatteburg played first and Mark Ellis second; I gather they made a movie about that, I don’t know.   Mark Ellis is Captain of the all-underrated-players-who-didn’t-walk All Star team.

I don’t have Win Shares data organized by teams since 2003; I would guess there have been a couple of top-level infields in there (the 2009 Phillies?), but I don’t have the data. 


COMMENTS (8 Comments, most recent shown first)

plparshall – check out the article this was a follow-up to on ARod, Jeter, Cano, and Tex by John Carter (that’s me) and you’ll see that ’06-‘09 Cubs infield came out very high indeed. (1906-1910 inclusive is five years.) Measuring by WinShares they are bested only by the Home Run Baker – Eddie Collins infield which came shortly after those Cubs busted up, the Joe Morgan Big Red Machine infield, Honus Wagner’s best infield, the Greenberg-Gehringer Tigers infield, the killer Bs infield from Houston not long ago, and the peak Jackie Robinson infield. Combining the WinShares supplied by tigerlily in a comment at the end of my article with the numbers Bill James supplies here you get:

1. 1911-14 A's - - 459
2. 1973-76 Reds - 415
3. 1905-08 Pirates - 400
4. 1934-37 Tigers - 373
5. 1996-99 Astros - 371
6. 1949-52 Dodgers - 369
7. 1906-09 Cubs - - 367
8. 2000-03 A’s - - 365
9. 1930-33 Yanks - 365
10. 1980-83 Brewers - 359
11. 2009-12 Yanks - 354
12. 1953-56 Braves - 354
13. 1976-79 Dodgers - 343

Your Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance infield probably would come out a bit higher in WAR, but you can always add up these infield yourself using Baseball-Reference or your preferred source. If it is Wins you like, knock yourself out, although, we were trying to isolate the contributions of the infielders from the rest of the team here.

11:44 PM Oct 7th
I'm not sure what the 1906-1910 Cubs would total out at but, WinShares or not that team (with the exception of 1908 when they won 99 games with 3 ties?) won 100 games per season for 5 years.

Steinfeldt, Tinkers, Evers, Chance

They deserve to be listed - and I'll take the wins over the WinShares.

Ditto for Cabrera, I like sabermetrics but there is no way you can convince me that Trout had a better season than Cabrera.
2:52 PM Oct 5th
rgregory1956 - of course, everyone is welcome to glean whatever they can out of these articles, but I can tell you that my article was not intended as a study on how to build a good infield. You might notice the first words of Bill's article are "this is not a real article", so I think it is safe to say he wasn't trying to shake up the baseball world with a new theory on team building either. He was just building from what I started which was about placing the current Yankees infield in their proper place in baseball history.

8:04 PM Oct 4th
Jemanji, perhaps not useless, but pretty darn near useless. From John Carter we learned: find four good players, keep them healthy and don't let them go. From Bill James we learned: Find 4 players and keep the good ones. I didn't need studies to know that.
7:32 AM Oct 4th
The Phillies infield had 355 Win Shares between 2006 and 2009 (this website has win shares organized by team since 2002). 2b Chutley, ss J-Roll, and 1b Ryan Howard were mainstays. David Bell (2006), Abraham Nunez (2007), and Pedro Feliz (2008-2009) manned the hot corner.

It would be 359 win shares if you let them have Greg Dobbs (418 innings at 3b) instead of Nunez (593 innings at 3b) in 2007.

Also, that Yankee infield was 1998 to 2001. In 2002, Robin Ventura replaced Brosius and Jason Giambi replaced Tino.

Chris DeRosa
10:59 AM Oct 2nd
Useless?! :- ) If you want to construct an infield you can win a pennant with, is it more effective to do so via Stars & Scrubs (Honus Wagner) or via 25 Honda Civics? A list like this isn't a good place to start?
4:45 AM Oct 2nd
I'm afraid to ask what the worst ones were.
1:07 AM Oct 2nd
I love this kind of stuff. Totally pointless, totally useless. And totally fun.
10:51 PM Oct 1st
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