Don't worry, I'll get back to the series on best bullpens of each decade. Continuing our theme of the week, Buster Olney wrote today on his 10 best infields in the game. I agree with him on the Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants ranking No. 1 and 2. I disagree with the Kansas City Royals at No. 3. They have a big hole at second base and even if Omar Infante bounces back to his 2014 level, well, he wasn't very good in 2014. Alcides Escobar had a terrific postseason but hit a terrible .257/.293/.320 in the regular season. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are very good players but not impact hitters on the level of Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant.
Anyway, let's look at some of the greatest infields of all-time. We're focusing on a one-year standard, not during a span of time. For example, the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1970s had the longest-running infield ever with Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell and Ron Cey. All were All-Stars at some point and they were together from 1973 to 1981. Their best year may have been 1974, when Garvey won the National League MVP Award and all four infielders were worth at least 3.0 WAR. But Garvey was a weak MVP selection -- teammate Jim Wynn had a better season -- and none of the four were really superstar-level players. To be one of the best infields ever you need a superstar anchor.
A quick search on Baseball-Reference reveals four teams that had all four infielders worth at least 4 WAR:
1912 Philadelphia Athletics (Stuffy McInnis, Eddie Collins, Jack Barry, Home Run Baker)
1913 Philadelphia Athletics (same group)
1977 Texas Rangers (Mike Hargrove, Bump Wills, Bert Campaneris, Toby Harrah)
Let's examine these clubs. Those A's teams may be the best infield of all-time. They were nicknamed the $100,000 infield for good reason. I guess today we'd have to call them the $100 million infield. Collins is arguably the greatest second baseman ever, a clear inner-circle Hall of Famer. Home Run Baker, another Hall of Famer, was one of the premiere sluggers of his era and led the American League in RBIs in 1912 and 1913. McInnis was just 21 in 1912 but hit .327, drove in 101 runs and was regarded as a good defensive first baseman. Barry was a superb defender at shortstop who later coached the Holy Cross baseball team for 40 years. The A's won four AL pennants from 1910 to 1914 and World Series titles in 1910, 1911 and 1913. Their year-by-year combined WAR:
Interestingly, when Bill James wrote about the greatest infields in "The New Bill James Historical Abstract," the 1914 team ranked No. 1 all-time by his Win Shares method. I'm inclined to go with the 1912 or '13 team.
The '77 Rangers are one of the more fascinating clubs in major league history. Lenny Randle beat up manager Frank Lucchesi in spring training. They ran through four managers while winning 94 games (after going 76-86 the year before and having just two winning seasons since the franchise was born in 1961). And they were first on Aug. 18 and went 26-18 the rest of the way -- and still finished eight games out of first place because the Royals went 24-1 down the stretch.
It was a good infield. First baseman Hargrove hit .305/.420/.476. Rookie Wills posted a .361 OBP. Veteran shortstop Campaneris signed as a free agent and played good defense. Third baseman Harrah had a .393 OBP, hit 27 home runs and stole 27 bases. All four played 150-plus games. Their collective WAR: 20.8. (And if you want to include catcher as part of the infield, Jim Sundberg was worth 5.0 WAR.)
Excellent, but not all-time great.
The 2009 Yankees won the World Series behind their powerful infield that combined for 112 home runs. Their numbers:
Teixeira: .292/.383/.565, 39 HR, 122 RBI, 5.3 WAR
Cano: .320/.352/.520, 25 HR, 85 RBI, 4.5 WAR
Jeter: .334/.406/.465, 18 HR, 66 RBI, 6.5 WAR
Rodriguez: .286/.402/.532, 30 HR, 100 RBI, 4.1 WAR
Teixeira and Jeter finished 2-3 in the MVP vote and the infield's combined WAR was 20.4. All four were great, although all four had better seasons. If A-Rod had had one of his MVP seasons this year, maybe they get the nod, but he played just 124 games and was merely very good.
In 1927, the New York Giants had an infield with four Hall of Famers: Billy Terry, Rogers Hornsby, Travis Jackson and Freddie Lindstrom. OK, Lindstrom is one of the worst Hall of Famers and Jackson was a poor selection. This group was only together one year as Hornsby was traded. Combined WAR: 23.3. Even with Hornsby hitting .361/.448/.586, their WAR doesn't top those A's teams. Plus, the Giants finished in just third place.
The 1934 Detroit Tigers had a great infield anchored by Hall of Famers Hank Greenberg and Charlie Gehringer, with Billy Rogell at shortstop and Marv Owen at third. They won the AL pennant. Combined WAR: 22.7.
The 1963 St. Louis Cardinals had Bill White, Julian Javier, Dick Groat and Ken Boyer all start the All-Star Game. By the way, only four future Hall of Famers started that game. The AL lineup had to be one of the weakest starting nine ever in an All-Star Game. The '63 Cards' infield was worth 20.5 WAR.
Before digging into the numbers, I thought the 1975-76 Reds may get the nod, with Tony Perez, Joe Morgan, Dave Concepcion and Pete Rose. Morgan was the best player in baseball those two years, Perez is a Hall of Famer, Rose would be one and Concepcion has had his supporters. They're close, but Perez, while an All-Star both years, was past his prime by this time and valued at only 3.1 WAR in 1975 and 2.6 in 1976. Combined WAR:
1975: 22.0 WAR
1976: 23.5 WAR
There have been other great infields and maybe I missed one. Here's a sleeper team: The 2009 Tampa Bay Rays with Carlos Pena, Ben Zobrist, Jason Bartlett and Evan Longoria. Combined WAR: 24.9. Pena hit 39 home runs and slugged .537; Zobrist hit .297/.405/.543; Bartlett hit .320/.389/.490; Longoria hit .281/.364/.526. All four were plus defenders. The only hitch is that Zobrist played all over and started just 81 games at second base.
So, to my great single-season infield ever. It's not one of the 1950s Brooklyn Dodgers or the early '70s Orioles or the Cubs of Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance fame. I'm going with ... the 1982 Milwaukee Brewers.
Check out the numbers:
Cecil Cooper: .313/.342/.528, 32 HR, 121 RBI, 5.6 WAR
Jim Gantner: .295/.335/.369, 4 HR, 43 RBI, 2.6 WAR
Robin Yount: .331/.379/.578, 29 HR, 114 RBI, 10.5 WAR
Paul Molitor: .302/.366/.450, 19 HR, 71 RBI, 6.2 WAR
You have two Hall of Famers, with Yount the league MVP with one of the best seasons of the past few decades. Molitor scored 136 runs and stole 41 bases. Cooper was in the midst of his run of seven consecutive .300 seasons and he hit a career-high in home runs. Gantner was the weak link but still a solid player. The Brewers won 95 games and their only pennant. Their combined WAR was 24.9. Not quite at the level of the 1912-13 A's, but in a more difficult era.
Plus, any time you can mention Harvey's Wallbangers, you have to do it.