Friday, August 12, 2011

Best Royals Infields

I was writing my weekly column for the St. Joseph News Press when I realized that due to a lack of real estate I was running the risk of not properly explaining my point. After all, I'm pretty certain the sports editor wouldn't have appreciated an article that tripled my allotted word count and came with all sorts of charts (though I would have liked to seen his reaction had I gone that route). So after first editing the article and changing it from a mess to a readable mess I then decided to expand on it here.

As you are no doubt excitedly aware, the infield of the future is the infield of the present, and their upside got me thinking about infields of the past. So I posed this question on twitter - the current Royals infield has the highest upside since.....? I received feedback that ranged from the great infields of the 70's to a few in the 80's to some in the 90's. Of course any answer that included David Howard was obviously snark laden, at least I hope so.

I also received this:










From a certain viewpoint Brian may be right. Before last season Baseball America had Alcides Escobar ranked as the #12 prospect in all of baseball, and before this one, they had Eric Hosmer at #8 and Mike Moustakas at #9. They didn't have Johnny Giavotella ranked in the top 100 but with a career minor league line of .305/.375/.437 we know he can hit, now how much he'll hit at this level is of course still to be determined but he's off to a fantastic start. So yeah, upside is in abundance in Kansas City's infield right now.

But from another viewpoint, well, we have the gift of hindsight, so we can look at past infields and know which of those actually produced the highest upside. Now your method may vary (and probably will) but I decided to use baseball-reference.com's wins above replacement and OPS+ to come up with not only the most talented infield but also the best statistically. Spoiler alert, they're not the same. I couldn't just use combined WAR to determine either, because the force of nature that is George Brett would heavily skew any results, remember the point is to come up with best overall infield.

The most talented based on overall career numbers, without a doubt, is the infield of the 1976 and 1977 teams - John Mayberry, Frank White, Freddie Patek and Brett. All four were eventually inducted into the Royals Hall of Fame and all four were multiple All Star selections (now the same could be said for the 1974 and 1975 infields but let's not pretend Cookie Rojas was on White's level). 

Mayberry - Played six season for KC and produced a 132 OPS+ in that time. A 2 time All Star, he finished 2nd in MVP voting in 1975.

White -  Then, a 5 time All Star who won 8 Gold Gloves in 18 seasons. Now, a Kansas City icon who feverishly preaches the virtues of the sacrifice bunt. 

Patek - Selected to 3 All Star games and led the American League in stolen bases from 1971 to 1979 (led AL in 1977 with 53). Considered by many to be your typical light hitting shortstop but because of his size he drew quite a few walks. In fact he finished his career with larger difference between on-base percentage and batting average than Brett, 67 points to 64.

Brett - You know all about him. 3154 hits. Cooperstown. Arguably the second best third baseman in major league history.

So yeah, they easily constituted the most talented infield in Royals history. Statistically though they didn't quite mesh during their time together. Though Brett and Patek were fine Mayberry and White had two of their worst seasons offensively. 

Here are their WAR, OPS+ numbers those two seasons.
Player 1976 1977
Mayberry 1.1,  94 0.5,  99
White 1.8,  66 1.6,  69
Patek 3.1,  83 2.3,  86
Brett 8.0, 144 7.6, 142

Again, I think these are the most talented based on their careers but there were more productive infields. What I was looking for specifically were infields that had the most players worth 3+ WAR and/or had the most with an OPS+ above 100 (minimum 400 PA's). 1976 and 1977 fails on both counts (I blame Mayberry).

So moving on to the best I found three infields that produced players with the required OPS+  while just two matched the WAR requirement. There was only one crossover between the two but more on that infield later, who I'm sure you just guessed will be the one I deem the best in team history (and you're right).

But before we get to them here are the runner-ups.

1971
Pos WAR OPS+
1B Gail Hopkins 1.9 126
2B Cookie Rojas 3.5 117
SS Freddie Patek 3.8 97
3B Paul Schaal 4.7 128
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table

Very productive but Hopkins only had 339 plate appearances so this fails as a crossover, but only because of my arbitrary requirements.

1984
Pos WAR OPS+
1B Steve Balboni 1.8 123
2B Frank White 3.5 107
SS Onix Concepcion 1.7 83
3B George Brett 2.7 121
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table

Definitely not one of Brett's finer seasons but for mere mortals it can be considered good. White and Balboni had two of their best years while Onix was what so many shortstops have been in team history - good glove, no bat.

1988
Pos WAR OPS+
1B George Brett 5.2 149
2B Frank White 0.0 66
SS Kurt Stillwell 2.6 101
3B Kevin Seitzer 4.0 122
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table

This is actually one of my favorite infields in team history mainly because I was such huge Stillwell fan. After tolerating what was left of UL Washington as well as Onix, Buddy Biancalana and Angel Salazar I found Stillwell to be a breath of fresh air. He pretty much was Alan Trammell compared to those four.

1992
Pos WAR OPS+
1B Wally Joyner 0.7 101
2B Keith Miller 2.3 107
SS David Howard 0.0 55
3B Gregg Jefferies 1.5 103
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table

At 72-90 this is the only infield on the list that had a losing record. Howard and Rico Rossy were the shortstops. Draw your own conclusions.

So with the runner-ups out of the way we come to the best infield in Royals history. In 1982 all four had OPS+'s over 100 and three of them were worth 3+ WAR.

Pos WAR OPS+
1B Willie Aikens 1.3 119
2B Frank White 3.5 114
SS U L Washington 3.0 105
3B George Brett 5.8 141
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table

This was White and Washington's best season while Brett was Brett. It was a bit of a down year for Aikens who had a 142 OPS+ in 1981 and a 149 OPS+ in 1983. Now again I'm sure there will be disagreements as others may prefer different metrics, such as fWAR or wOBA, and that's fine. I'd actually be interested in seeing a list using different metrics and requirements.

It'll be intriguing to see where the current infield will rank in future years, the talent is definitely there to be among the best in franchise history.

**********
The 1982 team is one of the more underrated in KC history. Besides having a great infield Willie Wilson led the league in batting average and Hal McRae led the league RBI's. They almost overcame a lackluster pitching pitching staff (10th in ERA) to win the AL West but ended up finishing three games behind the California Angels. The '82 Angels are one of my favorite non-Royals teams. They were an offensive juggernaut finishing first in OBP but they also led the AL in ERA. Finishing 2nd in walks and 11th in stolen bases I think they were a team Billy Beane could likely appreciate, that's to say they were Moneyball before Moneyball was cool. I mean if OBP was undervalued in 2002 just imagine how little it was valued 20 years before.
Moneyball in action. Presumably.


3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well researched. Any infield that didn't include Brett and White would have been dismissed as ridiculous. Glad the numbers backed up my memory.

lcfeyh said...

I think this current team has a good chance of being the best defensive infield (going forward) in Royals history, in large part due to Escobar, Hosmer, and Sal. In fact, I'd bet on it.

Jeff Parker said...

The 1993,94 infield of Wally Joyner, Jose Lind, Greg Gagne and Gary Gaetti may the best defensive unit. I haven't looked at numbers but this unit was fantastic across the board.