Anthony McCarron of the New York Daily News writes that the New York Yankees infield may be one of the greatest of all time.

The infield of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira is one of the vital cogs in the Yankees’ great season so far, but their impact may be much deeper, in terms of baseball history. Some believe, with apologies to the immortal Tinker to Evers to Chance, or to Connie Mack and his “$100,000 Infield” of the 1910s, that the Yankees’ “$78 Million Infield” – their combined salaries – could one day be the finest all-around group ever.

Let us call your hyperbole and raise you with actual, you know, facts.

For the 2009 season, one can make a strong case that the Yankees infield is not even the best in their own division.

As you can see, the Rays quartet compares quite nicely to the Yankees. In fact, where the Rays separate themselves is defensively. Evan Longoria, Jason Bartlett, Ben Zobrist and Carlos Pena dwarf the Yankees in Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR). So while the key offense indices (OPS and wOBA*) are very similar, the Rays defense gives them 2 more wins above replacement (WAR) than the Yankees.

For fun, let’s compare the Return on Investment for each infield. We can take the dollar value of the WAR figures (via Fangraphs) and compare those values to each player’s actual salary.

OK. That really isn’t fair, but it sure is funny to see it in print.

The Yankees infield is great. No doubt about it. And we don’t want to downplay the context of having that collection of talent in the same infield from a historical perspective. Two of the four are first-ballot Hall of Famers. The other two have played in three all-star games. But let’s ease up on the gas pedal when comparing them to the greatest infields ever. Especially when the Yankees can’t even get out of their own garage.

*the combined wOBA values for each infield are estimations based on the wOBA of each player. The exact values may be off a point or two, but it does show that each team is still in the same neighborhood.

A-Rod, Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano & Mark Teixeira making strong case as greatest quartet of all time [New York Daily News]

 
 

19 Comments

  1. rayhawk says:

    Oh come on, A rod still cant catch a fly ball……

  2. Scot says:

    Using Baseball Prospectus WARP3 which includes batting, fielding and running into the calculation of wins above replacement player over the entire season
    NYY
    Tex 8.2
    Cano 7
    Jeter 7.8
    Arod 7
    total= 30

    TB
    Pena 4.4
    Zorby 7.7
    Bartlett 5.6
    Longo 10
    total = 27.7

    NYY is better, but not by much…

    • rz says:

      I wouldn’t think the metric would be as telling as the return investment Cork wonderfully demonstrated. The Yankees are paying over 7 times has much as the Rays are for roughly the same excellent performances.

      I would imagine the 2009 Yankee infield would rank high offensively all time, but the 2009 Rays aren’t too far behind (or ahead depending on what stats are used). We might get those rankings this off season somewhere: http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/blog_article/the-rays-historic-infield/

      • Scot says:

        WARP3 is simply another well respected metric on performance that combines all aspects of play.

        I agree about return on investment… it ain’t close.

        I read somewhere that a agents were uniformly upset about Longo’s deal with the Rays. The claim was that Longo left 40 million on the table. As I remember, if Longo were not to play another game, but still collect the pay for the entire contract, that the Rays would still have come out ahead compared to today’s market.

  3. Joel says:

    A-Rod’s ROI is beautiful – just beautiful.

    On a vaguely related note: all that Jeter for MVP talk is over, right? All I could think of when I heard that is all the criticism the Florida baseball writers got (however deserved it probably was) for naming Bartlett the Rays’ MVP last year.

  4. Great blog post, Cork. It looks like Yankee fan and Yankee writer all finally done with their inferiority complex after last year’s humbling experience. It looks like for at least another year we’ll be exposed to the nasty Yankee fan who thinks everything begins and ends in the Bronx.

  5. Will Moller says:

    One quick issue with this analysis–

    The question isn’t who has the best season out of their infield, it’s who has the best infield.

    A-Rod missed the first month of the season rehabbing his injured hip, and without a doubt, this skews your finding. The trouble, of course, is that to fix that you’d have to decide to take a smaller sample instead of a bigger sample, so instead I’ll put it to you this way:

    If you had to choose one or the other infield to play 6 months of baseball starting right now, which would you choose (with the specific caveat that we’re not taking money into account, nor how they’ll be playing in 2 years.)

    I’d say that very few would go with the Rays quartet. And let’s not even worry about it if you include the 5th infielder (catcher).

    • Beth says:

      1. Yeah, and Barlett, Longoria and Pena have all spent several weeks on the DL — and the Rays real starting 2nd baseman spent virtually the whole season on the DL — he was hitting .300 when he got injured. So if we’d need to correct this analysis to account for time missed due to injuries, I’d say the bigger correction would be in favor of the Rays.
      2. The fact that “very few” observers would choose the Rays infield over the Yankees may mean that the Yankees are better, or that too many national baseball observers seldom look beyond big market teams when assessing talent.
      3. No question Rays are weak at catcher. No argument there.

    • it is definitely an imperfect analysis. Even though Pena has missed a significant portion of the end of the season, I would say A-Rod’s absence was more significant. Also, Teixeira is not a negative defender and while Zobrist is much improved, he is not as great a second baseman defensively as the UZR suggests.

      And yes, if money was not a factor, anybody would be foolish to take the Rays infield over the Yankees infield for 6 months. BUT, the production is similar enough and the Rays are young enough, that I would be willing to bet that 29 GMs would take the Rays infield. Even if a team could afford the Yankees group, taking the Rays infield, means more money that can be spent elsewhere.

  6. Will Moller says:

    And one other note: It’ll be very interesting to see how Alex’s defense responds, as the surgery is farther and farther in the rear view mirror. Very possibly he’ll simply get worse, trending with age. But I’d not be surprised to see him tic upwards as he gains lateral mobility.

    But it’s an interesting discussion either way, and a bit of egg on the face of the Daily News that they didn’t even think to mention the Rays, given that either way it’s darn close.

    • Gus, a casual fan says:

      Given the age and heavy miles on A-Rod and Jeter, I’m not so sure its an easy decision to go Yanks over Rays right there looking for the next 6 months. At the time of A-Rod’s surgery, I thought he was supposed to have another surgery after the season as well. Maybe that isn’t the current diagnosis, but I seem to recall that. Longo’s season numbers are probably as depressed by his lingering hamstring as A-Rod’s hip. In retrospect, it was a big mistake to rush him back from that. He wasn’t the same for 3 months.

      Cork should revisit this discussion at the All-Start break next season and see where they come out (of course by then, Bartlett could be plying his trade somewhere else).

      • Will Moller says:

        Gus,

        There’s no doubt Longoria will be better than A-Rod next year, the question is how big the difference will be. I’d suggest A-Rod will have a better year than 2009 as the surgery gets further behind him, and it’s already been confirmed by his surgeon that he won’t need the
        additional surgery this offseason.

        Carlos Pena is a great player. He’s just not Mark Teixeira. And to comment further, the difference between Tex and Pena will almost certainly be as great or greater than the difference between Longoria and A-Rod.

        Bartlett, again, is a good player. But if Jeter has truly improved his defense as much as the metrics suggest he has this year, he has a *long* ways to go before he drops to Bartlett’s level.

        So it comes down to Zobrist versus Robinson Cano, and before that, the difference is a bit in the Yankees’ favor. Zobrist’s performance this year is out of nowhere, and has been a joy for the statheads out there (myself included). There’s a reason, however, that we didn’t expect it.

        It could certainly be for real. In fact, if you want to argue the Rays side of this, it *must* be for real. And moreover, you’d have to expect Robinson Cano to put up a 2010 that is closer to his 2008 than his 2009. I won’t go nearly so far as to say that won’t happen. I would be surprised, however, if it did (on both sides).

        Either way, we’ll get to watch as it happens. Thank god for baseball.

  7. Don says:

    I got one stat. you forgot….the Yankee infield is 18 games in front of the Rays infield in the standings…so who is better?…stats or results?
    or maybe how coaching comes into play in results???

  8. Will Moller says:

    Don.

    Boring response. We’re talking about about the infield, not the team. The Yankees had the benefit of signing Sabathia, Burnett and Pettitte this offseason, while the Rays had to trade Kazmir during the season for payroll reasons.

    Come up with a reasonable argument if you want to take part in the discussion.

    • Don says:

      Dear Willie:
      The ONLY argument I have is…. which team (infield+) won the league and is going to the playoffs/series…
      and which team is going home….help me figure this out and I will tell you has the best infield(team)!!
      Also I’m tire of the money argument…guarantee if OUR PLAYERS would have played to their ability and our coaches were as sharp as the Yankees manager/coaches we would have been there right now….
      fighting for the championship …
      Money is the lame excuse for the losers! you qualify!

      • MetsKnicksRutgers says:

        Don thats a poor argument. They are talking about IF only not team in response to a daily news article. Also, are you really gonna use the lame excuse of coaches/managers being sharp? I thought Joe Girardi was the manager who nearly ruined the Marlins young arms a few years ago? The same Girardi that couldn’t get a 200 million payroll team to the playoffs last year with a monster season from Mussina? Sub-par years from Burrel and the BP is the reason why the Rays fell out of the race, not because Maddon didn’t “work hard.”

        • Don says:

          Ditch diggers “work hard”…baseball managers work “smart”…I am still looking for evidence of Maddon’s “smart” moves….
          I have evidence of the dumb ones!
          I’ll take Girardi any day compared to what we have…and the Mets would too!

      • Anon says:

        You realize there’s more to a baseball team than 4 infielders, right?

        No, of course not. The concepts of “pitching” and “payroll” are apparently beyond your limited mental capacity.

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