Appreciating the Chicago Cubs' Historic All-Star Infield
We can bicker all we want about the All-Star selections each and every year. There are going to be glaring omissions (waddup, Jake Lamb?), and there will be undeserving guys who only get the nod to be their team's mandatory representative.
But sometimes, it's okay to put the arguments aside and simply acknowledge a cool distinction.
Seven #Cubs make the @AllStarGame, with the entire infield starting for just the second time in @MLB history. pic.twitter.com/x7ytvRJ5c2
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) July 5, 2016
All four starting infielders for the National League's All-Star squad -- Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell -- hail from the same team, and three of them are yet to reach their 27th birthday. I don't know the exact parameters on "cool," but I'm pretty sure that qualifies.
As mentioned in that tweet above, the Chicago Cubs will be only the second team in Major League history to have four infielders start the All-Star game. The last time it happened, current-day manager Joe Maddon was a whopping nine years old.
The Cubs will become just the 2nd team in history ('63 Cardinals) to start all four infielders in the All-Star Game. pic.twitter.com/2b0SjQgABC
— ESPN (@espn) July 5, 2016
That was also a decade before the birth of Theo Epstein -- the team's mad scientist/president of baseball operations -- and 18 years before the eldest of the star infielders (Zobrist) was born. Basically, it's been a hot second since a single team mastered this level of dominance.
This isn't to say that the Cubs should have locked down all four spots, especially when you consider how good Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager has been, but it certainly isn't a travesty that this happened. And even if they didn't necessarily deserve it, that doesn't mean they haven't been silly good this year.
Excelling Across the Board
We can all agree that wins above replacement (WAR) is not a perfect stat by any means. However, it can provide a nice lens at the value at certain positions relative to that same spot on the diamond, making it a useful tool for discussions like this.
As such, let's see what fWAR (WAR based on FanGraphs' calculation of the stat) has to say about the Cubs' historic infield. The table below has their ranks among National League teams at each infield position in both fWAR and wRC+, a stat that quantifies an offense's ability to create runs while controlling for the park in which they play.
|Position||fWAR N.L. Rank||wRC+ N.L. Rank|
Even at their "weakest" position, the Cubs are still a top-six team in the National League in both fWAR and wRC+. At each of the other three positions, they are either first or second in wRC+. Whether or not they deserved to occupy all four starting spots is almost irrelevant because this team is loaded at every position.
If we sum up each team's fWAR at the four positions, the Cubs, again, stand alone. Only three teams -- the Cubs, Cardinals, and San Francisco Giants -- have produced more than 9.0 fWAR. The Cubs are all the way up at 13.7 with the Cardinals over a win behind at 12.5 and the Giants in third at 12.0.
Based on that, it's not a stretch to say that the Cubs have the best infield in the National League. They may not lead the league at each individual position, and there may have been better choices at some of the spots. That said, this team is completely legit, and it's all right just to sit back and appreciate greatness every now and then.
As for those 1963 Cardinals? Well, they didn't quite achieve the ultimate goal, finishing second in the National League pennant race that year with a record of 93-69.
Their wait wasn't long, though, as they won the World Series the following season, claiming their first championship since 1946. And while I'm sure the Cubs would love to end their 100-plus-year drought in 2016, I think they'd settle for hoisting the trophy in 2017, as well.