Power Ranking Every Starting Infield in MLB
Although great starting pitching is considered essential for MLB contenders, these power rankings suggest that there's also a strong correlation between starting infield performance and overall success.
The marathon-like design of the regular season leads to frequent lineup changes, so pay close attention to how we determined each franchise's representatives.
In most cases, players who have started the largest number of their teams' games at first base, second base, shortstop and third base were deemed starting infielders. For certain scenarios, however, this wasn't a logical approach.
Jhonny Peralta and Everth Cabrera, for example, would be included under that simple definition. Both accepted suspensions for their involvement with Biogenesis, and we cannot be sure if either of them will play next summer with their 2013 employers. Anybody who has suffered a season-ending injury was also omitted, and any two players consistently used in a platoon were used to represent a single starting infield spot.
Now that you've been prepped, continue clicking and offer whatever encouragement/criticism you deem appropriate.
*Stats provided by FanGraphs unless otherwise noted. Accurate through the games of August 26.
30. Miami Marlins
Starting Infield: 1B Logan Morrison, 2B Donovan Solano, SS Adeiny Hechavarria, 3B Placido Polanco
This infield has combined for nine home runs all season. To put that futility in perspective, Philadelphia Phillies rookie Darin Ruf has single-handedly launched that many in August.
Twitter legend Logan Morrison converted to first base after a few years of struggling to cover enough ground in left field. He missed the first several months of 2013 following knee surgery and swung a red-hot bat upon returning to the lineup. Embarrassingly, Morrison has not homered since July 6 despite regular playing time.
Hechavarria arrived from the Toronto Blue Jays in the 12-player offseason blockbuster. He posted an underwhelming .645 OPS in his first taste of the majors and has only regressed this year, but he inexplicably continues to play constantly. The former Cuban pro doesn't yet take advantage of his speed on defense or the basepaths.
After flirting with a .300 batting average as an MLB rookie, Solano has been much less effective (.254/.308/.308 in 2013). He's a respectable fielder with negligible power.
Polanco's steady decline continues at age 37. The former batting title contender is performing below replacement level for the first time this millennium. He contributes an occasional seeing-eye single, but not much else.
29. Houston Astros
Starting Infield: 1B Brett Wallace, 2B Jose Altuve, SS Marwin Gonzalez, 3B Matt Dominguez
Coming out of spring training, Wallace was expected to stick with the Houston Astros as an everyday player. The team scratched that plan and demoted him to the minors after 17 strikeouts in only 26 plate appearances.
Making contact is an ongoing concern for the first baseman, but at least he's been demonstrating legitimate power since being recalled in late June (11 HR in 50 G).
The Astros also sent down Gonzalez for a significant chunk of the summer so that he could emerge from an offensive rut. The 24-year-old excited the organization in April before slumping his way to Oklahoma City with a .433 OPS in May and June. Gonzalez has horrible plate discipline, but at least he bolsters Houston's up-the-middle defense.
Jockey-sized Jose Altuve is a long-term building block. The front office confirmed that by finalizing a $12.5 million contract extension to buy out his arbitration years.
He's arguably more of an asset to the marketing department than the Astros themselves. The second baseman provides a solid batting average and several dozen stolen bases per season, but being vertically challenged severely limits his range.
Like the rest of them, Dominguez cannot distinguish balls and strikes. Still, his combination of flashy fielding and extra-base potential spares baseball's weakest team from the bottom spot in these rankings.
28. San Diego Padres
Starting Infield: 1B Yonder Alonso, 2B Jedd Gyorko, SS Ronny Cedeno, 3B Chase Headley
Although Everth Cabrera issued a sincere apology for his association with Biogenesis, the San Diego Padres won't necessarily tender him a contract for 2014. His solid offensive numbers—.283/.355/.381, 37 stolen bases—would require a pay raise over the $1.275 million he earned this past summer, and then there's the issue of his teammates and coaches forgiving him.
Current shortstop Ronny Cedeno obviously drags this infield down in these rankings. He held a prominent role with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2010-2011 and posted a solid .741 OPS as a reserve on the 2012 New York Mets, but he's showing signs of decline at age 30. The nine-year major league veteran has lately been helpless against right-handed pitching.
San Diego naively bought into the idea that Headley could continuing performing at a superstar level. He'll genuinely help a team with his defense at the hot corner, but he isn't actually a middle-of-the-order presence. Headley's tremendous 2012 run production had nothing in common with what he accomplished previously or in recent months.
Gyorko's rookie campaign has been full of inconsistency. He slumped to begin 2013 and again several months later upon returning from a groin injury, yet we've seen hot stretches that show exactly why he thrived in the minors. Considering his arm strength, he's a bit overqualified for second base.
At age 26, Alonso still hasn't provided prototypical first baseman power like the Padres envisioned he would. There's a lot to like about his glove skills and plate approach, but back-to-back seasons slugging below .400—even with home games at Petco Park—is disappointing.
27. Minnesota Twins
Starting Infield: 1B Justin Morneau, 2B Brian Dozier, SS Pedro Florimon, 3B Trevor Plouffe
You can forget about Morneau as an American League MVP or even an All-Star-caliber player. At age 32, he isn't much more than an overpaid platoon player.
A second-half power surge has elevated his 2013 batting line to .263/.321/.424, essentially matching his .267/.333/.440 line from the previous season. On the other hand, he owns a sub-.600 OPS versus left-handers for the second straight year.
Dozier has quietly been vying with Morneau and Joe Mauer for the Minnesota Twins' lead in extra-base hits this season. He's remarkably sure-handed at second base and not as over-anxious at the plate as most other inexperienced players.
The switch-hitting Florimon is painfully unproductive when swinging from the right side (.392 OPS, 18 K in 83 PA). Manager Ron Gardenhire usually leaves him in the lineup anyway so that he can affect games with his glove (9.4 UZR).
Any slim chance the Twins had at being competitive in 2013 hinged on Plouffe replicating—if not improving on—his past season's production. Unfortunately, he's been pretty much an automatic out since the All-Star break (.158/.223/.258).
All in all, the former first-round pick is a respectable third baseman.
26. Philadelphia Phillies
Starting Infield: 1B Ryan Howard, 2B Chase Utley, SS Jimmy Rollins, 3B Michael Young
Marc Narducci of The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the Philadelphia Phillies aren't optimistic about Howard recovering from knee surgery before the season is through (not officially ruled out, however). That would end his 2013 season after 80 games and a modest .266/.319/.465 batting line.
It is not unusual for large sluggers to battle lower-body injuries during their 30s. With $85 million owed to him in 2014 and beyond, Howard's years as an everyday player seem to be behind him. Given his atrocious fielding and uselessness against southpaws, the Phillies probably planned to cut back his plate appearances, anyway.
Fortunately, Utley has aged gracefully. His platoon splits are much milder and the second baseman is more than capable of satisfying his defensive duties.
Howard's absence allowed the franchise to recall Cody Asche from the minors and shift Young across the diamond. For most of the summer, however, Young has occupied third base. It's been nauseating to observe him starting at a position that he's not athletic enough to handle while gradually contributing fewer and fewer extra-base hits.
The Phillies got ample production from Rollins in 2012, the first year of his new $33 million contract. The veteran shortstop absolutely justified his pay day with a .743 OPS, 30 stolen bases and solid fielding.
Totally different story this season. Only a great September can spare J-Roll from the worst statistical production of his career, and declining range has lessened his defensive impact.
25. Chicago White Sox
Starting Infield: 1B Adam Dunn, 2B Gordon Beckham, SS Alexei Ramirez, 3B Conor Gillaspie/Jeff Keppinger
Chicago White Sox fans and employees would have been ecstatic in spring training had you told them Gillaspie would put up better offensive numbers than Paul Konerko.
In reality, that's only true because the longtime captain has deteriorated into a mediocre designated hitter. This marks the only season of Konerko's White Sox career (since 1999) in which he hasn't been considered the primary first baseman.
Dunn has inherited that responsibility and basically replicated his powerful 2012 campaign, only with a few extra-base hits and fewer walks. The 33-year-old slugger tells Patrick Mooney of CSNChicago.com that abandoning his pull-first mentality is the reason for the rise in his batting average.
Alas, the elephant in the room is Dunn's awful fielding. A lack of instincts and reaction time reduce him to a replacement-level player.
Beckham and Ramirez quietly comprise one of baseball's best defensive double-play combinations. On the other hand, their impact at the plate has diminished.
Wrist issues explain why Beckham is headed toward a career-low total of extra-base hits, while Ramirez's drop-off is probably more age-related. The Cuban shortstop turns 32 in September.
24. Kansas City Royals
Starting Infield: 1B Eric Hosmer, 2B Chris Getz, SS Alcides Escobar, 3B Mike Moustakas
The Kansas City Royals' front office can take a big sigh of relief, as Hosmer's strong season—and more so, his dominance since June 1, per Michael Engel—suggest he'll solidify first base for them indefinitely.
Even through struggles, the former top prospect has always put balls in play. The biggest difference we've seen from him in 2013 is equally great production when at a platoon disadvantage.
Second base, unfortunately, has been a mess for most of the year. Emilio Bonifacio will probably overtake Getz at the position beginning next season, considering that the latter is a non-factor with the bat—.252/.311/.311 career batting line—and approaching his 30th birthday.
Escobar, meanwhile, might be the single biggest disappointment on the Royals roster. He flirted with a .300 batting average the previous summer, blossomed into a high-volume/high-efficiency base stealer and bolstered the infield defense.
A combination of low BABIP and decreased selectivity is largely responsible.
At the All-Star break, Moustakas began mending an otherwise ugly season. The one problem that persists is the trajectory of his swing. Until that changes, he'll continue wasting plate appearances with pop-ups and lazy fly balls.
23. Chicago Cubs
Starting Infield: 1B Anthony Rizzo, 2B Darwin Barney, SS Starlin Castro, 3B Luis Valbuena
There were sky-high expectations for Castro entering 2013. Critics still took exception to his occasional "mental lapses" that led to defensive errors and embarrassing outs on the basepaths, but batting .297/.336/.425 at shortstop from ages 20-22 was nothing short of terrific.
Given that context, his season-long funk at the plate has been inexplicable. Castro isn't injured or poorly conditioned; he's just out of sync...and perhaps not as motivated to work through it after signing a contract extension for $60 million guaranteed.
Five mediocre months do not erase the three years of success he has had at the major league level, but they certainly knocked this starting unit down a few spots.
Albeit to a lesser extent, Rizzo's season irks the Chicago Cubs. He's been unproductive in "clutch" situations, such as with runners in scoring position or when stepping to the plate in the ninth inning or later.
On the bright side, he works the count well for a 24-year-old and goes deep rather frequently.
Positioned in between Castro and Rizzo, Barney is a genuine guru with the glove. Too bad the same cannot be said of his hitting (career 75 OPS+). The rapid ascent of Javier Baez through the farm system might make him expendable.
Valbuena posted a .225/.330/.372 batting line through 89 contests before suffering an oblique injury. Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times tweets that his rehab is underway. Valbuena making slight improvements in his second summer with the Cubs allowed them to cut ties with Ian Stewart.
22. New York Yankees
Starting Infield: 1B Lyle Overbay, 2B Robinson Cano, SS Eduardo Nunez, 3B Jayson Nix
With the weakest supporting cast of his career, Cano is seeing fewer strikes than ever. The coveted free-agent-to-be has adjusted to keep his career batting average and slugging percentage at Hall of Fame-caliber levels. He's on the brink of a fifth consecutive season with 25-plus home runs.
Spending most of 2013 with an entirely unfamiliar infield has affected his defensive efficiency. Even so, the Home Run Derby captain makes enough of those across-the-body throws to grade as above-average overall.
Overbay's signing is a cute story. The rival Boston Red Sox cut him with only a few days remaining in spring training, and he impressed the New York Yankees enough to join their roster as the interim everyday first baseman with Mark Teixeira on the disabled list.
Little did the club know that Teixeira would aggravate his wrist injury and require season-ending surgery. As a result, Overbay has spent more than 100 games at the position, doing just enough damage against right-handed pitching to deter the front office from finding a replacement on the trade market.
With Derek Jeter finally healthy again, Nunez figures to have his playing time reduced. The 26-year-old is fairly athletic but notoriously sloppy with the glove.
The Yankees have had a revolving door at third base this summer because of Kevin Youkilis' fragility. Scrap-heap acquisitions like Luis Cruz, Brent Lillibridge and Chris Nelson all received opportunities at one point.
Nix received more playing time than any of the other backup plans, though his season could be over due to a broken hand. He batted .236/.308/.311 in 303 plate appearances prior to the injury.
21. Pittsburgh Pirates
Starting Infield: 1B Garrett Jones/Gaby Sanchez, 2B Neil Walker, SS Clint Barmes, 3B Pedro Alvarez
Alvarez gets a bit overrated because of all the long balls he launches. A corner infielder with shaky defensive skills, big platoon splits and a sub-.300 on-base percentage overall doesn't merit All-Star recognition.
Nonetheless, he stands out in a relatively weak crop of National League third basemen.
Both halves of the first base platoon help the Pittsburgh Pirates in different ways. Jones, the left-handed-swinging complement, has the power to deposit pitches into the Allegheny River, while Sanchez works the count and makes productive outs.
It's been a down year for Walker, who's slugging below .400 and relying on being hit by pitches to bring the rest of his triple-slash line up to respectability. Nonetheless, the Bucs benefit from his smooth glove work (.988 lifetime fielding percentage) and consistency at the plate.
Pittsburgh hoped for more offense from Barmes when committing $10.5 million to him two winters ago, but stashing him at the bottom of the lineup and letting him save runs at shortstop isn't the worst thing in the world. FanGraphs pegs his value at 1.8 WAR in 765 plate appearances since 2012.
20. Washington Nationals
Starting Infield: 1B Adam LaRoche, 2B Anthony Rendon, SS Ian Desmond, 3B Ryan Zimmerman
The principal reason that the Washington Nationals were widely dubbed World Series favorites entering 2013 was because they'd be returning nearly every impact player from the previous summer's division winner.
That included second baseman Danny Espinosa, whose gap power and defensive excellence led the team to tolerate his hideous strikeout rate. However, he became too much of a liability when a wrist injury and over-anxious approach further limited his productivity.
Enter Anthony Rendon, a lesser fielder with greater upside at the plate. Like a typical rookie, he's battling streakiness from week to week and not intimidating anybody with his .712 OPS.
Zimmerman's tenure as a third baseman is nearing an end. His mechanics have been compromised by shoulder surgery, hence the 15 throwing errors this summer. Maybe he'll occasionally platoon with LaRoche, who lost his hero status from last year because of an unacceptable .191/.248/.313 batting line versus left-handers. Both still possess decent power but contribute nothing as baserunners.
A former Montreal Expos draft pick, Desmond is the lone difference-maker in this quartet. He has batted .276/.330/.472 at the most challenging defensive position while adding 19 home runs and 16 stolen bases. He'll need to cut down on the swings-and-misses to prove himself worthy of a spot atop the lineup.
19. New York Mets
Starting Infield: 1B Ike Davis/Josh Satin, 2B Daniel Murphy, SS Omar Quintanilla, 3B David Wright
Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com was the first to report Wright's progress in his rehab from a hamstring strain. He'll soon head south to the New York Mets' training complex to "ramp up baseball activities" and work toward a September return.
It isn't farfetched to imagine the Mets captain finishing among the top 10 in NL MVP voting despite his injury. He's been maintaining a career-best 154 OPS+ through 105 games with the flashy defense we've grown so accustomed to seeing from him.
The 28-year-old Murphy has seemingly plateaued as an above-average second baseman. You can live with his awkward fielding because he's a reputable presence near the top of the lineup. This season, Murphy has compensated for a less-than-stellar on-base percentage by behaving more aggressively on the basepaths.
Although Davis' demotion clearly had the desired effect, the coaching staff isn't in a hurry to return him to everyday duty yet. Satin continues to face lefties and thrive against them as he makes his case for inclusion in New York's future plans. Both guys provide decent defense at first base.
The Mets re-signed Quintanilla as a free agent less than six months after trading him away. For whatever reason, they insist on giving the journeyman opportunities while Ruben Tejada melts away at Triple-A Las Vegas.
18. Los Angeles Angels
Starting Infield: 1B Mark Trumbo, 2B Howie Kendrick, SS Erick Aybar, 3B Chris Nelson
Coming up through the Los Angeles Angels' farm system, scouts singled out Kendrick as a future batting champion. He never quite realized that potential, but with more than 1,000 hits at age 30 and great fielding skills, there aren't many second basemen providing more value to their clubs.
Aybar shares lots of similarities with Kendrick in terms of professional experience, sabermetric value and salary, although his future holds more question marks.
The Gold Glove shortstop generates more value with his legs than his bat. This is Aybar's fifth season as a full-time starter but worst in terms of stolen bases and Defensive Runs Saved. An optimist calls this an "off year"; an honest analyst sees it as the beginning of his decline.
L.A. found a role for Nelson following the Alberto Callaspo trade. The fact that this free-swinging, non-tender candidate has played every August inning for the Angels sums up how non-competitive they are.
Trumbo has been a solid power hitter for three straight summers. He even handles first base effectively for someone with such limited athleticism.
However, the Anaheim native fails to elevate his hometown Halos into the top half of this list with his ordinary on-base skills.
17. Oakland Athletics
Starting Infield: 1B Brandon Moss/Nate Freiman, 2B Eric Sogard, SS Jed Lowrie, 3B Josh Donaldson
Donaldson wasn't on anyone's radar last summer. He blew a golden opportunity to claim the everyday third baseman's job in April, performing so poorly at the plate that the Oakland Athletics acquired Brandon Inge and immediately inserted him into the lineup. The art of hitting finally clicked for the former first-round draft pick during his third attempt at the Triple-A level.
He has stretched his success from last August and September across the entirety of the 2013 season, with a .291/.370/.476 batting line. Donaldson leads the contending A's in OPS, runs batted in and a host of other offensive categories.
Lowrie is neck-and-neck with him in plate appearances and batting average, but we cannot be quite as complimentary about his defense.
The 27-year-old Sogard was far from Oakland's top option at second base entering spring training. His .692 OPS has been a pleasant surprise for a team that needed to fill a gaping hole.
Nothing particularly effective or derogatory to add about the first basemen. Only that Moss has predictably descended back to reality after a breakout in 2012.
16. San Francisco Giants
Starting Infield: 1B Brandon Belt, 2B Marco Scutaro, SS Brandon Crawford, 3B Pablo Sandoval
If you live outside the Bay Area, it's difficult to keep track of Sandoval's ongoing weight-scapades. Last we heard, according to Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com, he's been paying his older brother to design a healthy, reasonably portioned diet.
A slimmed down Panda might regain the defensive value he had back in 2011 (15 DRS, 13.2 UZR), but that concern is secondary to his alarming loss of power. Sandoval has experienced huge dips in his percentage of extra-base hits in each of the past two years, reducing him to a league-average hitter.
Crawford, thankfully, is trending in the opposite direction and enjoying a breakout season with the bat. Moreover, he consistently receives praise for his glove work, and the 26-year-old won't need to worry about a physical breakdown anytime soon.
Until Belt fills out more of his 6'5" frame, his power hitting will continue to lag behind what we generally demand from first basemen. In the meantime, his strike-zone judgement and glove work still eke him in front of peers like Mark Trumbo.
With only a couple months to go until his 38th birthday, Scutaro serves as one of the graybeards of this entire article. Even with a diminished first step at second base, he makes jaws drop with an inhuman contact rate. Per FanGraphs, he perennially swings and misses less frequently than anybody else (min. 400 PA).
15. Cleveland Indians
Starting Infield: 1B Nick Swisher, 2B Jason Kipnis, SS Asdrubal Cabrera, 3B Lonnie Chisenhall
Kipnis' strikeouts have risen, but the second baseman is otherwise taking positive strides in most facets of his game. At 4.25 pitches per plate appearance, he's among the most patient players in the big leagues this season.
You'll be hard-pressed to find another starting infielder across baseball who matches Kipnis as a power-speed threat while also effectively fielding his position.
Cabrera and Chisenhall both ought to be considered disappointments.
The former obviously entered 2013 with a great track record: consecutive seasons as a .270 hitter and All-Star selection. A stint on the disabled list affected his timing—.221/.272/.363 since late-June return—and per FanGraphs, Cabrera has seldom ventured outside his fielding zone to make defensive plays.
Meanwhile, Chisenhall's latest slump could force the Cleveland Indians to scramble for another option. He destroyed Triple-A pitching earlier this year with a 1.132 OPS, but it's been a struggle for the 24-year-old to contribute even a fraction of that the past several weeks in the majors.
Cleveland certainly isn't getting what it hoped out of Swisher. Thankfully, his health has gradually improved this season, so his .750 OPS is more likely than not to inch upward in September.
14. Milwaukee Brewers
Starting Infield: 1B Juan Francisco, 2B Scooter Gennett, SS Jean Segura, 3B Aramis Ramirez
It has barely been a year since Segura made his MLB debut, and he already finds himself in the "Best All-Around Shortstop in the National League" discussion. Not too shabby.
With that said, let's hold off on the Hall of Fame induction. These monthly splits, provided by Baseball-Reference.com, suggest that Segura is fading back to reality:
On the opposite end of the age spectrum, the 35-year-old Ramirez has clearly passed his prime. He was legitimately solid at the hot corner last summer, but that was an anomaly for the historically mediocre defender. Chronic knee issues likely mean that his days as an everyday infielder have passed.
The .757 OPS Ramirez has this season is far more indicative of his remaining ability than his stellar .901 OPS from 2012.
The Milwaukee Brewers basically snatched Juan Francisco from the Atlanta Braves for nothing. His tenure with the franchise is off the a promising start: 13 home runs in 64 games. He'll always have difficulty putting balls in play and making athletic stretches at first base, but Francisco is infinitely better than any combination of Alex Gonzalez and Yuniesky Betancourt.
With Rickie Weeks undergoing surgery to repair a torn hamstring string, Gennett gets the chance to start regularly. Although he boasts a 1.118 OPS this August, there's still the question of whether or not he can master left-handed pitching.
13. Seattle Mariners
Starting Infield: 1B Justin Smoak, 2B Nick Franklin, SS Brendan Ryan, 3B Kyle Seager
It has taken many years for the Seattle Mariners to once again draft and develop impact position players. Franklin and Seager lead the new wave.
The switch-hitting second baseman still needs to refine his right-handed swinging. It has resulted in a .610 OPS and only one home run so far through 100 plate appearances. Even with that flaw, Franklin's approach from the other side of the plate and his advanced glove work give the M's a boost.
Amassing 50 extra-base hits in 128 games won't necessarily capture your attention, but a 131 OPS+ should. Safeco Field dilutes Seager's offensive greatness. When taking its dimensions and conditions into account, it's clear that Seattle's third baseman isn't far behind Evan Longoria and Josh Donaldson at his deep position.
Rookie Brad Miller has made an immediate impact in the Pacific Northwest with a .748 OPS and solid contact skills. However, Ryan has seen a much larger share of the playing time at shortstop this summer. The 31-year-old is no longer the magical defender we've grown accustomed to, and his ineptitude at the plate has become inexcusable.
With the baseball world preoccupied by meaningful storylines late in 2012, Smoak evolved into a competent hitter. Although this follow-up campaign was interrupted by injury, a .352 on-base percentage suggests that we can officially elevate him from "bust" status to MLB regular.
12. Colorado Rockies
Starting Infield: 1B Todd Helton, 2B DJ LeMahieu, SS Troy Tulowitzki, 3B Nolan Arenado
The Colorado Rockies find themselves stacked at two infield positions and desperate for long-term answers at the others.
Durability issues and altitude-related offensive inflation aside, Tulo is an absolute phenom, and perhaps the best is yet to come. He's posting a career-best batting average and OPS in 2013 while homering more frequently than ever.
Between he and Arenado, Colorado's left-side defense is extraordinary.
The rookie third baseman understandably needed to persevere through a brief adjustment period. From late June to late July, he went a full calendar month without tallying an extra-base hit. Even so, the Rockies can't help but feel encouraged about the comfort zone he was in before that dry spell and has been in since it ended. He's batting .269/.305/.414 overall.
Helton's production is eerily similar, but with a smaller sample size (and obviously, a different context). It's been assumed that he'll retire after this season at age 40 now that his contract is expiring and his value has dipped below replacement level.
The light-hitting LeMahieu has excellent hands, with only five errors made in more than 1,100 innings as the franchise's second baseman the past couple years.
11. St. Louis Cardinals
Starting Infield: 1B Allen Craig, 2B Matt Carpenter, SS Pete Kozma, 3B David Freese
Kozma is the misfit of this group given his history as a former first-round draft pick and development into a genuine offensive liability. It's difficult to see the St. Louis Cardinals allowing the .218/.275/.275 hitter to retain the starting shortstop's job beyond 2013.
The National League MVP talk rightfully surrounds catcher Yadier Molina, but Carpenter and Craig continue to quietly pursue him for the NL batting title. They each flaunt a slightly higher on-base percentage than Molina this season.
The discrepancy between Craig's production with runners in scoring position compared to all other situations is one of the craziest stats you'll see. He came through in the clutch once again on Monday night (courtesy of MLB.com).
Freese's inconsistency this season has gone relatively unnoticed, but he has taken a significant step back since 2012. Aside from solid performances in May and June, the 30-year-old has basically been going through the motions (one home run since Jun. 26).
The imbalance between the left side and right side of this infield prevents it from top-10 inclusion.
10. Boston Red Sox
Starting Infield: 1B Mike Napoli, 2B Dustin Pedroia, SS Stephen Drew, 3B Will Middlebrooks
Courageous as it's been to see Pedroia play through injuries, we cannot ignore the fact that the bumps and bruises have taken a toll on his production. The second half of 2013 has been a struggle for him at the plate, and his .415 overall slugging percentage would represent the worst mark from any of his full seasons. In 2012, Pedroia reached base less than 35 percent of the time.
Taking that into consideration, however, the Boston Red Sox centerpiece isn't far behind Robinson Cano or any other second baseman in terms of indispensability. His knack for putting the bat on the ball is outstanding, as is his defensive effort.
The $9.5 million Stephen Drew signing raised some eyebrows, but only a minority of shortstops can combine a 103 OPS+ with solid glove work like he has this summer.
Napoli is whiffing once every three plate appearances, which is awful even by his standards. On the bright side, abandoning his catcher past for the simplicity of first base makes him an adequate fielder. Only David Ortiz has more extra-base hits and runs batted in for the Red Sox in 2013.
Trading Jose Iglesias opened the door for Middlebrooks to redeem himself after a frustrating first few months. There's still plenty of swing-and-miss to his game, but his August contributions remind us why Boston fell in love with him as a rookie.
9. Cincinnati Reds
Starting Infield: 1B Joey Votto, 2B Brandon Phillips, SS Zack Cozart, 3B Todd Frazier
Phillips' it-looks-better-than-it-is fielding and bloated RBI total have made him one of the most overrated players in baseball. In this golden age of second basemen, the 32-year-old is merely in the middle of the pack.
Hilarious Twitter account, though.
Votto, on the other hand—that guy who's leading the Senior Circuit in on-base percentage for a fourth consecutive season? He's special.
The former NL MVP doesn't drive in runs anymore because, since earning that distinction in 2010, everybody has been too frightened to pitch to him. Votto has drawn more intentional walks than any other NL hitter in that span and seen only 56.1 percent of pitches thrown for strikes.
Cozart and Frazier have each taken tiny steps back in their second full major league campaigns. Frazier, in particular, is suffering from some tough luck on balls in play.
8. Texas Rangers
Starting Infield: 1B Mitch Moreland, 2B Ian Kinsler, SS Elvis Andrus, 3B Adrian Beltre
Beltre already had a terrific career before joining the Texas Rangers, but the past three years have really bolstered his Hall of Fame case. At age 34, he still combines power and defensive prowess to be one of the very best players in the entire sport. It's never too late to develop a patient approach, and he has needed to do so in the weeks since Nelson Cruz disappeared from the lineup.
Ever since debuting in the majors in 2006, Kinsler has provided incomparable stability for Texas and the peace of mind that second base is going to be a team strength.
He committed to an interesting trade-off in 2013: less big swings and more contact. The effectiveness of this new strategy is debatable, and his sudden inability to steal bases efficiently cannot be ignored.
Unlike Starlin Castro, Andrus has steadily restored his season stats to respectability down the stretch. Then again, he wasn't bestowed with the same physical gifts to make as much of an offensive impact, even when everything is going right.
The 25-year-old possesses terrific range at shortstop, and his familiarity with Kinsler better enables the duo to turn double plays. That intangible propped this infield above the Cincinnati Reds.
Moreland's worst attribute is his tendency to drift into extended slumps. His .244/.305/.458 batting line this summer resembles his 2011-2012 production, but the first baseman has already set a new career high with 19 bombs.
7. Toronto Blue Jays
Starting Infield: 1B Edwin Encarnacion, 2B Munenori Kawasaki, SS Jose Reyes, 3B Brett Lawrie
Reyes has zero triples this season and the lowest stolen-base percentage of his career despite a general reluctance to attempt thefts. You can twist the numbers any way you like, but the takeaway is clear: The former All-Star is losing his athleticism with four expensive years remaining on his contract.
It's not a terrible situation. Reyes is arguably the best hitting shortstop in the American League, and his fielding is subpar yet tolerable.
The true MVP of the Toronto Blue Jays, who has once again been carrying them during a Jose Bautista injury, is Edwin Encarnacion. Going back to his breakout campaign in 2012, he has drawn more walks than strikeouts while mashing the third-most home runs in the league (trailing only Miguel Cabrera and Chris Davis).
With better health, this could've been a huge bounce-back year for Lawrie. His potential is showing down the stretch, as the 23-year-old has batted .319 since the All-Star break with 15 extra-base hits. Lawrie's terrific range at the hot corner will cover up Reyes' defensive limitations.
Toronto has used much more of Emilio Bonifacio and Maicer Izturis at second base than Kawasaki. However, the former now plays for the Kansas City Royals, and Izturis' ankle injury will cost him the rest of the season.
You'll find superior players on other teams who man the position, but none with more enthusiasm (via MLB.com).
6. Los Angeles Dodgers
Starting Infield: 1B Adrian Gonzalez, 2B Mark Ellis, SS Hanley Ramirez, 3B Juan Uribe
Aside from their rival Colorado Rockies, the Los Angeles Dodgers might have baseball's best shortstop in their possession. Ironically, L.A. has only one year and $16 million committed to its guy in 2014 and beyond, while the Rockies remain on the hook for Troy Tulowitzki's lifetime contract as he battles through injury after injury.
Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times does his best Capt. Obvious impression by reporting that the Dodgers want to extend Ramirez's contract and that the feeling is mutual. He's the only NL hitter with a 1.000 OPS this season (min. 250 PA).
A transition to second or third base will be inevitable sometime later this decade, although there's been little to criticize about his glove work in 2013.
A-Gon already has a deal in place through his remaining productive years. His Isolated Power is down for a fourth straight summer (.274 to .213 to .210 to .164 to .162 from 2009-2013), so it's clear that he won't challenge for league home run titles anymore.
Nonetheless, his picking skills at first base and use-all-fields approach to hitting still make him a great overall player.
The Dodgers might as well exercise Ellis' 2014 club option ($5.75 million) in case they can't wrestle Robinson Cano away from the New York Yankees. The veteran's influence at the plate is less than ideal, but this is shaping up to be his 10th season of at least seven Defensive Runs Saved.
Uribe solidifies this as a top-10 infield. He essentially stole money from L.A. during the first two years of a $21 million contract, but at age 34, he has reverted back to the form that led to that type of investment in the first place.
5. Tampa Bay Rays
Starting Infield: 1B James Loney, 2B Ben Zobrist, SS Yunel Escobar, 3B Evan Longoria
Unlikely WAR lord Ben Zobrist hasn't quite built up enough value this season through fielding and plate discipline to renew his title as baseball's most underrated individual. Nonetheless, a .271/.350/.408 batting line at second base is nothing to scoff at, especially when he's making more contact than ever.
The collective heart of the Tampa Bay Rays surely skipped a beat when Longoria aggravated the plantar fasciitis in his right foot. The injury relegated him to designated hitter duty for several series.
Fortunately, the 27-year-old has since returned to the hot corner on a regular basis and provided his typically superb defensive services. This is his sixth straight summer with an OPS of .850 or better.
Neither Escobar nor Loney were viewed as everyday players considering their modest production in previous years and Joe Maddon's managerial style.
Unlike at his previous stops, Loney has produced against southpaws, and Escobar's behavior hasn't sparked any major issues with the clubhouse or media. Spending the previous several seasons at the Rogers Centre undoubtedly helped the shortstop adjust to Tropicana Field's similar artificial surface and emerge as a great defender.
4. Atlanta Braves
Starting Infield: 1B Freddie Freeman, 2B Dan Uggla, SS Andrelton Simmons, 3B Chris Johnson
The Atlanta Braves' front office could take credit for seeing what others couldn't in Johnson, but the third baseman himself certainly deserves a big pat on the back. He has annihilated left-handed pitchers with a .367/.398/.495 batting line during a season in which he was initially platooned to avoid them!
Flaws still exist in his game, particularly his ultra-aggressive plate approach and defensive mediocrity. In that sense, he's an anti-Chipper Jones.
Nonetheless, most other teams pray that their third-best infielder could perform up to Johnson's level.
All-Star Freddie Freeman defies the three outcomes prototype—home runs, walks and strikeouts—that the majority of first baseman fit in. The Braves prefer him that way.
If not for a brief stint on the disabled list, he would already be closing in on 100 runs batted in.
Contrary to popular belief, Simmons isn't a one-dimensional shortstop. A dozen home runs and .663 OPS is quite acceptable for players at his position, and his defense has been awesome enough to merit its own paragraph.
The soon-to-be 24-year-old already shattered the single-season record for most Defensive Runs Saved. Simmons' lanky 6'2" frame allows him to routinely grasp grounders that his peers can't, while his throwing arm is a sight to behold. In a future blowout, manager Fredi Gonzalez owes the world a glimpse of what damage his fastball could do from the mound.
Disabled Dan Uggla brings up the rear as he nears a returns from eye surgery. His plate discipline has gone under-appreciated in recent years because he constantly strikes out at inopportune times. Per FanGraphs, his .186 batting average in 2013 is easily the lowest among qualified players.
3. Arizona Diamondbacks
Starting Infield: 1B Paul Goldschmidt, 2B Aaron Hill, SS Didi Gregorius, 3B Martin Prado
If not the best position player in the National League, Goldschmidt has been pretty close to it. That statement has less to do with his gaudy totals of home runs and runs batted in and more to do with his steady plate discipline, defensive value and durability.
Don't ask whether or not his $32 million contract extension was worth it for the Arizona Diamondbacks; ask whether or not he has already justified the five-year pay day in the first five months since it was announced.
Prado caused a mini panic in the desert with three months of mediocrity at the plate following the Justin Upton blockbuster. Through it all, his smooth fielding and versatility to occupy multiple positions have been invaluable. Aside from Miguel Cabrera, very few players have produced more for their teams since the beginning of July.
Coming off a bi-cycle season—per MLB.com's Steve Gilbert—Hill quietly signed for big money last winter. He's been extremely effective for the D-Backs again in 2013, albeit in limited playing time. Hill suffered from a non-union fracture in hand earlier in the year, meaning that the injury initially healed incorrectly.
In 61 games, he boasts a Robinson Cano-esque .313/.375/.529 batting line. The change-of-scenery deal that sent him west in August 2011 truly revitalized his career.
Many analysts scratched their heads about Arizona's involvement in December's three-team exchange. The Cincinnati Reds got Shin-Soo Choo, the Cleveland Indians snagged Trevor Bauer, and Arizona settled for...Didi Gregorius?!
While his defense didn't quite come as advertised, he's shown enough ability at the plate to start on a daily basis. After all, his .266/.338/.373 bating line trumps those of Elvis Andrus, Starlin Castro and Andrelton Simmons.
2. Detroit Tigers
Starting Infield: 1B Prince Fielder, 2B Omar Infante, SS Jose Iglesias, 3B Miguel Cabrera
Miguel Cabrera has shown himself to be a demigod among mortals.
He's even better in the triple-slash categories than he was during last summer's American League Triple Crown/MVP campaign. The 30-year-old third baseman feasts on first pitches, though he'll happily draw walks if the opposition doesn't offer anything close to the strike zone.
Across the diamond from him, however, Fielder is quietly experiencing a mediocre season. He's whiffing against right-handed pitching at an uncharacteristically high rate, leaving the ballpark less consistently and posting the lowest OPS of his major league career.
Fielder will always be a defensive liability, but his performance with the glove has been particularly brutal in 2013. His lack of lateral movement continues to hinder the Detroit Tigers. On top of that, he has failed to match his own low standards in terms of fielding bunts, cutting down runners at home plate and initiating double plays.
Although Anibal Sanchez was clearly the centerpiece in last year's trade with the Miami Marlins, Infante has quietly been great for Detroit at second base. His biggest strengths include defensive range and contact skills (10.5 K% since 2011).
Nearly all of Iglesias' major league experience has come in 2013, so it's difficult to evaluate his hitting. The 23-year-old slashed .409/.455/.530 through the end of June, but only .242/.287/.281 since then (much closer to his Triple-A numbers). The Detroit News reports that he's suffering from a sore elbow.
However, Iglesias can be trusted to put balls in play, and at this early stage of his career, he has the athleticism to amaze in the field (courtesy of MLB.com).
1. Baltimore Orioles
Starting Infield: 1B Chris Davis, 2B Ryan Flaherty, SS J.J. Hardy, 3B Manny Machado
This quartet has combined for 88 home runs and 198 extra-base hits, with both those totals being the best of any starting infield in baseball.
Davis is the only weak defender, but he easily compensates with prolific power hitting. He's aiming to join Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard, Alex Rodriguez and Jim Thome as the only infielders with 50-homer seasons in the 21st century.
The Baltimore Orioles pitching staff boasts the third-lowest BABIP in the American League this season. That's largely attributable to the breathtaking performances of Hardy and Machado on the left side. Per FanGraphs, Machado's brilliant glove work in 2013 ranks him among the best ever in terms of single-season Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating (stats became official in 2003).
There's no doubt that the 27-year-old Flaherty is the weak link of this group, with a .218/.280/.364 batting line and fewer than 500 innings at his primary position. Even so, his contribution has been significantly above replacement level, just enough to keep Baltimore in the No. 1 spot.
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