Recently, on Twitter, I wondered if the Giants’ upcoming middle infield combination might be one of the weakest in recent memory.
If you’re just waking up from a year long nap, the Giants’ middle infield was a big problem for the team in 2011, and it looks like things could stay the same this season. I really wish I could stop having to type that sentence. I think it’s anyone’s guess as to how well Brandon Crawford will hit, and if his defense will be enough to offset his bat, which by all accounts borders on sub-replacement level. On the second base side of things, to the surprise of no one, Freddy Sanchez is almost certainly a lock to start the season on the disabled list. God love ‘em, but Freddy’s parts have the durability of Pringles chips these days. That leaves us with Manny Burriss as the “assumed” starting second basemen.
A Crawford/Burriss combo is definitely weak, but how weak is it?
In an effort to find out, here’s what I did: I took team WAR figures from FanGraphs from 2007-2011 by position (second base and shortstop) and added them up. This should give us an idea of some of the worst middle infields in recent memory.
Here are the bottom 10 teams since 2007 with the worst total WAR scores:
|Team||Year||Starters||2B WAR||SS WAR||Total|
|Royals||2009||Alberto Callaspo, Willie Bloomquist||1.9||-3.7||-1.8|
|White Sox||2007||Tadahito Iguchi, Juan Uribe||-0.6||-0.7||-1.3|
|Padres||2009||David Eckstein, Evereth Cabrera||0.1||-0.6||-0.5|
|Indians||2010||Luis Valbuena, Asdrubal Cabrera||-0.9||0.7||-0.2|
|Mariners||2007||Jose Lopez, Yuniesky Betancourt||-1.1||0.9||-0.2|
|Padres||2008||Edgar Gonzalez, Khalil Greene||0.5||-0.6||-0.1|
|Astros||2010||Jeff Keppinger, Tommy Manzella||1.2||-1.2||0|
|Pirates||2008||Freddy Sanchez, Jack Wilson||0.3||-0.1||0.2|
|Twins||2011||Alexi Casilla, Tsuyoshi Nishioka||1.4||-1.1||0.3|
|Nationals||2009||Alberto Gonzalez, Cristian Guzman||-0.2||0.6||0.4|
(Note: “starters” means whoever got the most plate appearances.)
That’s a lot of losing teams over the past five years; and, holy crap the 2009 Royals.
Fun fact: In 2009, Royals’ shortstops were worth a combined -3.7 wins above replacement (WAR). As a group, they were worth -19.2 runs on defense. They posted a 53 Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+). The best player of that group was arguably Willie Bloomquist. The best player was Willie Bloomquist. No, really. The best player was Willie Bloomquist. I’ll stop now.
(Also, it’s kind of cool to know that Tony Pena chipped in for -1.1 WAR in just 40 games.)
The 2007 White Sox had all sorts of problems up the middle. They are the only team to post negative WAR figures at both positions. In that year, the White Sox gave Juan Uribe — a time when his career looked like it was over — 563 plate appearances while penciling him in as the starting shortstop. He would go on to post a 65 wRC+. Second base was manned primarily by Tadahito Iguchi (not overly terrible) and Danny Richar (pretty terrible).
The Freddy Sanchez and Jack Wilson super-friends duo was remarkably bad for the 2008 Pirates. Sanchez, coming off a pretty respectable 2007, batted a measly .271/.298/.371 (73 wRC+). Jack Wilson, never an asset with the bat, hit .272/.312/.348 (73 wRC+). Both were pretty good defenders by UZR — Sanchez +3.4 runs, Wilson +7.9 runs — but their overall weak offenses were too much to overcome. The moral of this story: Even if you field like an Ozzie Smith on acid, it’s pretty hard to overcome a ~70 wRC+.
Lots of troubled teams. The Padres make the list twice. I’m not sure I can remember the last time the Padres had a good shortstop. The Astros make the list for their 2010 team. Yuniesky Betancourt was on both the 2009 Royals and the 2007 Mariners. And the Twins had serious problems at shortstop last season. But no worries, Jamey Carroll should fix what ails ya.
If you were wondering, in 2011, Giants’ second basemen and shortstops accumulated 1.4 WAR. That figure includes the decaying careers of Miguel Tejada and Orlando Cabrera. It includes the rotating cast at second base of Freddy Sanchez, Bill Hall, Manny Burriss, Mike Fontenot, and Jeff Keppinger. It includes a lot of bad stuff. So, in my estimation, that’s the bar to clear: 1.4 wins. In all honesty, it’s hard to imagine a SS/2B tandem being worse than the 2011 permutation, but when you’re hitching your wagon to Brandon Crawford and Manny Burriss, there’s plenty lot of places you can go. Mostly downward.
I should really stop writing about the middle infield.