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  • Lincoln Mitchell

The Greatest Infield Ever-Part One

by Lincoln Mitchell

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NOTE - This article comes from Lincoln Mitchell's Substack page, Kibitzing with Lincoln . Please click HERE to follow Lincoln on Substack. (This was originally published in January 2024.)

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It is late in the off-season and other than waiting to see where the remaining big name free agents, Clay Bellinger and Blake Snell, sign there is not a lot of baseball news, so naturally, the baseball part of my mind wanders back through baseball history. Recently, after exploring the question of what was the greatest Yankees infield ever, I began thinking about what the greatest infield for any team was. For me, a great infield has to be good both with the bat and in the field while getting contributions from all four infielders.


Answering this question is more difficult than it seems for several reasons. First, there are many excellent players including Mike Schmidt, Rogers Hornsby, Ernie Banks and others who were never part of a quartet of infielders who were truly elite. Additionally, I defined an infield unit as one where the same set of four players were starters for at least two years. That happens less frequently than one might assume. For example, from 1982-1988 Hall of Famers Cal Ripken Jr. and Eddie Murray played together in the Orioles infield, but only once, in 1985-1986, were they joined by the same second baseman and third baseman for two years in a row. However, Alan Wiggins and Floyd Rayford did not catapult that quartet into being one of the greatest ever.


A related point is that for an infield to be considered to be one of the greatest ever, all four players have to be good. To ensure that I borrowed a methodology that Bill James used many years ago to, I believe, discuss the greatest outfields ever. Instead of simply adding up the WAR for each player for each of the seasons, I ranked the infielders from least to most WAR and the multiplied the least WAR by four, the second least by three, the third least by two and the first by one. I then repeated that for each of the two best consecutive seasons

for each infield and added up the two season scores and create a two-year WAR score.


I applied that methodology to dozens of infield groups and narrowed my search down to nine possibilities. The table below lists the nine infields that are in contention for greatest ever in chronological order. The two-year WAR data is not included, but will be shown in Part II of this series. For now, I provide an overview that includes the collective slash line and estimated OPS+ over the two year period as well as two surrogate measures of defense, total Gold Gloves over the two best years for the modern infields and dWAR. Neither of these are perfect measures, but they give a decent sense of the relative defensive ability of each group.


These nine infields span a period of just over a century making comparisons difficult. The Cubs and Athletics infields are from the Deadball Era when home runs were rare, batting averages were high, stolen bases were a big part of the game and, because the ball was in play so often, defense was extremely important. Additionally, because there is less data and very little video from that era, it is not easy to determine the defensive skills of any player, or group of players, from those years.


The Brooklyn Dodgers infield is the first to include a non-white player. The Cleveland group from a few years earlier was all white, but played alongside African American stars Satchel Paige and Larry Doby because Cleveland was the first American League team to integrate.


Because the numbers cannot tell the entire story, some background on each of these groups is essential.


Cubs 1906-1910 This group became famous because of the Franklin P. Adams poem “Tinkers to Evers to Chance.” However, they were also quite good, winning four pennants and two World Series in the years they were together. Evers and Tinker were best known for their glove work but Frank Chance was one of the best hitters in the National League during the first decade of the twentieth century. Additionally, Harry Steinfeldt is the forgotten third baseman of that team, but he was a very good player in his own right. Overall, this infield is not as good as some of the others and most of their value rests on defensive metrics that may not be accurate, but they were the first great infield group and one that is still remembered today.


Philadelphia Athletics 1910-1914 This group was known at the time as the “$100,000 Infield” because they were considered the best anybody had ever seen. That dollar figure pales in comparison to modern salaries, but was meant to suggest excellence. Eddie Collins was one of the best players ever and was still in his prime during these years. Stuffy McInnis and Jack Barry were also very solid players. Frank Baker was known as Home Run Baker, which now seems a little absurd because he only hit 96 home runs over his 13 year big league career, but he was perhaps the best third baseman in the history of the American League until Brooks Robinson came along in the 1950s. Baker led the American League in home runs in 1912 and 1913, albeit for a combined total of only 22. That was the Deadball Era, but this quartet could hit. They could get on base, hit enough doubles and triples to have a respectable collective slugging percentage and, could run. In 1912 and 1913, these four players combined to swipe 272 bases.


Giants 1922-1923 The Giants were the best team in baseball during the first quarter of the twentieth century and their run from 1921-1924, when they won four pennants and two World Series, was the best four year stretch in the long history of that franchise. This quartet was more solid then spectacular as other than Frisch none of these players were truly great, but for the two years they were together they were a very productive group, fielding their positions well, getting on base a lot and showing some power at the dawn of the home run revolution.


Tigers 1933-1935 Hall of Famers Charlie Gehringer and Hank Greenberg anchored the right side of Detroit’s infield for nine years. Marv Owen, the third baseman in this group was about a league average player, but had a career year in 1934 hitting .317 with eight home runs. Billy Rogell, a solid defender with good on base skills, rounded out this infield, but it was Gehringer who had a 144 OPS+ during 1934 and 1935 and Greenberg, with a 163 OPS+ over that same two-year period that puts this group in contention.

There is no Yankees group discusssed in this section primarily because I explored great Yankees infield in a previous post. However, the 1935-1936 infield was the best the Yankees had before World War II. They were led, like the Tigers, by two Hall of Famers on the right side, but were not quite as good as the infields in this group.

14 comments

14件のコメント


Mike Whiteman
1月30日

Those 1920s Giants are among the best teams we hear little about. Four pennants in a row, two World Series winners. Rarely are they mentioned among the great teams of all time. Great article!

いいね!
Robert Malchman
Robert Malchman
1月30日
返信先

It's worth stopping a moment to reflect about John McGraw's 30 years of managing the Giants (1903-32). They finished out of the first division three times (including 1932, when McGraw retired after 40 games). They finished first or second 21 times, including 10 pennants and 4 World Series championships. During the 4-pennant stretch that Mike points out, they finished first or second every year from 1917 through 1925.

いいね!

Paul Semendinger
Paul Semendinger
1月29日

This article it titled Part 1. There might be some Yankees coming!

いいね!
Robert Malchman
Robert Malchman
1月30日
返信先

Made the chart, not "discussed in this section." There was no discussion, exactly as stated by the author.

いいね!

Jeff Korell
Jeff Korell
1月29日

ALSO.....What about TMartinez/Knoblauch/Jeter/Brosius? The Yankees won 3 World Series in a row with that specific infield quartet intact for those 3 years.

いいね!
Lincoln Mitchell
Lincoln Mitchell
1月30日
返信先

I wrote about the greatest Yankees infields ever in a seperate article that was posted here a few weeks ago. The greatest Yankees infield of the pre-war era was the 1935-36 Gehrig-Lazzeri-Crosetti-Rolfe group. There were three from the post-war era 1977-8, 1998-9 and 2009-10.

いいね!

Robert Malchman
Robert Malchman
1月29日

Even if you accounted for inflation, the $100,000 infield from 1914 still wouldn't be much of a sobriquet today -- it's about $3.2 million, or basically four guys earning about the MLB minimum. If you wanted a $120 million infield today (four guys making $30 million seems impressive), you would have had to pay the A's guys a million each -- a $4 million infield.


Great work, Lincoln, really interesting!

いいね!

Jeff Korell
Jeff Korell
1月29日

What about Chambliss/Randolph/Dent/Nettles?

いいね!
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