MLB's Best Infields Are Coming From Unlikely Places
Every once in a while, it's fun heading over to FanGraphs or Baseball Reference to take a gander at the WAR leaders. As the season rolls along, you think you know all the players who are doing well, but invariably, when you come to the WAR leaderboard, there are always a couple of names hanging out near the top that surprise you.
After my latest pilgrimage there, I noticed a couple of names residing around the periphery of the top-10 fWAR leaders in Major League Baseball that required some more examination because they are not players you would think are "Top-10" caliber. And yet, there they are.
The left side of the Cincinnati Reds' infield, which includes shortstop Zack Cozart and third baseman Eugenio Suarez, both have a 2.0 fWAR so far in 2017, putting them in a tie for 10th highest in baseball. Their combination of solid defense and better-than-expected offense has helped the Reds be just a little bit better than anyone thought they'd be at this point in the season, evidenced by their current 22-24 record.
Yes, that's only good for fourth place in the crowded National League Central, but it's still far better than the rebuilding Red Legs were expected to do. When you group Joey Votto's 1.8 fWAR and Jose Peraza's 0.3, you get a collective fWAR of 6.1 for the Cincinnati infield this year.
So does the best infield in baseball currently reside in Cincinnati? Not quite, but it's extremely close. And the team with the best numbers is probably not what you would expect, either.
|Los Angeles Dodgers||3.4||.824||121|
As of right now, the Arizona Diamondbacks, the team with the second-best record in the National League (30-19), have the best collection of infielders, with an fWAR of 6.3. With an fWAR of 2.7, Paul Goldschmidt is having another MVP-caliber season, while Jake Lamb (1.6), Chris Owings (1.3) and Brandon Drury (0.8) have all been productive. Their four infielders take up the team's top five spots.
Arizona also leads all MLB infields in OPS (.846) and is tied with the Reds in OPS+ at 124.
Of course, there are infields in baseball with better pedigrees and, by the end of the season, could surpass these two. The Washington Nationals boast potential All-Stars throughout the diamond, with Ryan Zimmerman (1.8), Trea Turner (0.3), Anthony Rendon (1.6) and Daniel Murphy (1.5) all doing their thing. Turner's slow start has dragged their collective numbers down.
And then there are the defending world champion Chicago Cubs, who feature two perennial MVP candidates of their own in Kris Bryant (1.8) and Anthony Rizzo (1.0), along with the versatile Ben Zobrist (0.8) and Addison Russell (0.1). Rizzo and Russell have both gotten off to slow starts offensively, but on paper, this is one of the most dangerous groups in the game.
The D-Backs' ascension to the top of the list isn't totally surprising. Goldschmidt is routinely one of the game's best players, while Lamb has 13 bombs and a wRC+ of 137 this season. These are two known quantities, but Owings' .320/.352/.491 slash line is a surprise. Drury is also having an unexpectedly solid season and is currently slashing .295/.337/.468.
As for the Reds, some of their top guys are overachieving, too. Cozart's career high in fWAR was 2.5 last year, and he's already almost there. He has seen a huge spike in his walk rate this season (13.0% in '17, up from 7.3% in '16), which is a shocking improvement for a player in his seventh big-league season. However, his walk rate has steadily increased each season since 2013.
Suarez has already passed his career high of 1.7 fWAR, which was accomplished last year. He's also done so by walking more -- his walk rate has gone from 4.3% in 2015 to 8.1% last year before his current 10.3% mark. His isolated power (ISO) is also a slugger-ish .259, compared to .163 last season. And as a whole, the Reds have improved their team walk rate from 7.4% to 8.1%, which is just part of the reason for their improvement offensively in 2017.
Of course, no general manager would probably want to trade the Reds' or D-Backs' infields for those of the Dodgers, Cubs, Astros or Nationals. Nevertheless, for now, Arizona and Cincinnati are currently the two best infields in baseball.