The best 3-4 combo in the game

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The Yankees made two key changes from 2008 to 2009. First, they upgraded the pitching staff, adding two strikeout guys to the rotation. Second, they upgraded the middle of their order from merely good to world-beating powerhouse. Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez ranked among the best 3-4 combinations in baseball last season, and with A-Rod back to full health they could be in for an even bigger season in 2010. Watching them come to the plate every two innings or so should be a joy.

Are A-Rod and Tex the best 3-4 combo in the game? The staff at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch try to answer the question. Their team has quite a combo itself in Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday. Most of them, however, concede the title to A-Rod and Tex — though as expected they emphasize RBI and power numbers. So, before we determine the best 3-4 hitters in the game, we should establish what makes a good 3-4 combo.

Power plays a large part in the middle of any order. The 3-4 hitters are expected to drive in runs, and doubles and home runs perform that task efficiently. They also need to possess on-base skills. Since even the best power guys hit for extra bases in fewer than 1/6 of their plate appearances, and since they also hit near the top of the order, they need to get on base to give the lower guys a chance to drive them in. Plus, more men on base means turning over the lineup more frequently, which means more plate appearances for the 3-4 hitters.

A note on the expectation of 3-4 hitters to drive in runs. This does not mean that RBI accurately measures a No. 3 or No. 4 hitter. In fact, it’s a pretty crappy measure. RBI for this hitters depend almost exclusively on production from the top of the lineup. For example, Skip Schumaker and Colby Rasmus most frequently hit ahead of Albert Pujols last season. Schumaker posted a solid .364 OBP, but Rasmus was well below average at .307. That combo wasn’t nearly on base as much as Jeter and Damon, with their .406 and .365 OBPs. Teixeira and A-Rod simply had more opportunities than Pujols and, later, Holliday.

(Though give Pujols credit here. Despite having a far inferior top of the order, he still drove in more runs than Teixeira. Such is the greatness of El Hombre.)

When measuring the value of a 3-4 combo, we should look for sheer offensive production. I’m not sure I’d even adjust any of the numbers for park, position, or anything else, though I’m open to arguments to the contrary. Again, we’re looking for the most productive, most dominant 3-4 combo. Position doesn’t much matter in this case. It might have effects on the rest of the line up — i.e., players at power positions can hit further down in the order and elongate the lineup — but we’re just concentrating on the 3-4 hitters.

As I work through this, I realize that we’re facing two questions right now. First is of the best 3-4 combination in 2009. The other is of the best 3-4 combination in theory. In other words, if everyone involved has a good year, which combination will produce at the highest level? Let’s take the first, easier question first. We can accomplish that by looking at the players’ times on base and extra base hits. Why counting stats? Because when you’re measuring the most productive players, time in the lineup counts. And, again, I don’t want to use WAR here, because it counts defense and makes positional adjustments.

On-Base XBH
Mark Teixeira 259 85
Alex Rodriguez 187 48
On-Base XBH Chase Utley 249 63 Ryan Howard 247 86

While this duo did outperform Tex and A-Rod during the 2009 regular season, I’m sure a healthy season from A-Rod would even them, and perhaps put the Yankees ahead. Extrapolating A-Rod’s numbers by 25 percent jibes with this. But, make no mistake, in 2009 the Philly duo was more productive.

On-Base XBH
Ryan Braun 260 77
Prince Fielder 287 84

Without a doubt, Braun and Fielder were the most productive 2009 3-4 combination. While Teixeira reigns as the best No. 3 hitter in this group — though Pujols as a No. 3 hitter is clearly superior — Fielder destroys the competition for the cleanup spot. Placed back to back in a batting order, they were unmatched in 2009.

Projecting the best 3-4 combination presents a bit more difficult task. Not only do we have to project numbers, but we also have to project health. It’s no simple task, and I see no easy way to accomplish it. We could average production over the past three years, or we could average together the available projection systems. If anyone wants to take on that task, be my guest. I’ll post it as an addendum to this post.

Using completely unscientific methods, I have a hard time seeing any combination dethroning Braun an Fielder. Not only were they the most productive 3-4 combination in 2009, but they did it at age 25. True, we can expect some fluctuation in their numbers this season, but the same is true of all players. Since they’re both in their physical peaks, however, we shouldn’t count on any significant downward trend.

That’s not to dismiss A-Rod/Tex, Pujols/Holliday, or Utley/Howard. All four combinations produce at an elite level, and a career year out of any one player could tip the balance in 2010. Again, based on my completely unscientific weighing of past numbers, here’s how I’d rank them.

1. Braun – Fielder

Tremendous hitters, and only 26 years old in 2010. Could easily produce another monster year.

2. Pujols – Holliday

Pujols is the best hitter in baseball, and Holliday has posted some excellent seasons (and also killed the ball upon arrival in St. Louis). Even if he falls back to his 2008 numbers, Pujols should be enough to carry the group.

3. Teixeira – Rodriguez

A healthy season from A-Rod could put him in Pujols territory. Combine that with the beast that is Teixeira, and you have a powerhouse that rivals Ortiz-Ramirez of the mid-00s.

4. Utley – Howard

The lowest of this crew is still among the best in baseball. Teixeira has outproduced Utley, and a healthy A-Rod can go toe to toe with Howard.

Another group of not-too-shabby 3-4 combinations: Mauer/Morneau, Beltran/Wright, Kemp/Ramirez, Martinez/Youkilis.

Photo credits: Braun (AP Photo/Jeff Curry), Fielder (AP Photo/Michael Conroy), Pujols (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File), Holliday (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson), Teixeira (AP Photo/Henny Ray Abrams), Rodriguez (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi), Utley (AP Photo/Eric Gay), Howard (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Who wants a fringy starter?
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  • Joe R

    Nice read. Thoughts on possible top 3/4 ever?

    • Jamal G.

      Ruth and Gehrig, I would assume.

      • Jamal G.

        Yeah, I am going to assume that no other 3-4 combination put up wOBA’s of .566 and .550, respectively, in one season (1923).

        • Chris

          True, but Gehrig only had 29 PA in 1923.

          I think Gehrig/Ruth would still win, but an interesting dark horse would be Bonds/Kent in 2002. Bonds’ OPS+ was 268 and Kent’s was 147.

          • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

            What a clubhouse cancer Bonds was. He fought with Jeff Kent so much, it threw Kent off his game and he couldn’t produce.

            Wait, what?

            • Jordan – Cashman Has No Equal

              It’s true. I saw the fight with my own eyes on ESPN.

          • JGS

            1927 by OPS+

            Ruth: 226
            Gehrig: 221

            • Klemy

              It’s just silly to look at.

              • Klemy

                …because of awesomeness that is.

          • Jamal G.

            Haha, what a brain fart on my part.

            • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

              Yesterday, I said that the Twins lost to the Cardinals in the 1987 World Series.

              Tommie: idiot

          • vin

            Bonds and Kent in ’02 combined for a 0.944 wOBA. Which is tremendous.

            What’s interesting is 2001:
            #2 Rich Aurilia – 0.395
            #3 Barry Bonds – 0.539
            #4 Jeff Kent – 0.369

            That’s a meat-grinder right there. Problem is they had league average hitters hitting 1st and 5th (Benard and Snow).

            • Steve H

              Should have put Benard and Snow on the juice with the rest of em.

              • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada


                I’m still pissed at Don Mattingly for not injecting himself with steroids, HgH, and pulverized monkey testicles in a concerted effort to fix his injury woes and prolong his dominance into a Hallworthy career. What a selfish jerkface he was.

      • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

        Honorable Mention: Eddie Matthews and Hank Aaron

  • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

    The Yankees made two key changes from 2008 to 2009. First, they upgraded the pitching staff, adding two strikeout guys to the rotation. Second, they upgraded the middle of their order from merely good to world-beating powerhouse.

    We also settled all the family business. Barzini, Phillip Tattaglia, Moe Greene, Strachi, Cuneo… all dead. Even Carlo.

    • Rose

      “Carlo eventually died of pepper-lung”

  • Reggie C.

    The NL apparently houses the majority of the potent 3-4 combos in baseball. Its a good thing veteran power pitchers call the AL their home.

    Kinda sad to think that 2010 could be the last season we see Braun-Fielder in the same lineup. I doubt Fielder takes a team bargain contract along the lines Braun signed a couple years back.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

      Perhaps the two phenomenon are related.

      Braun-Fielder, Pujols-Holliday, Utley-Howard, Beltran-Wright, Kemp-Ramirez, etc. outproduce most of the AL 3-4 combos because they get to feast on inferior pitching more frequently. And, the veteran power pitchers in the AL depress the numbers of Tex-ARod, Mauer-Morneau, Martinez-Youkilis, etc.

      Just a thought.

      • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

        phenomena, my bad.

      • Klemy

        Seems reasonable to me.

    • Rose

      That’s probably why the NL 3-4 combos also do better…because the AL has (for the most part) better pitching.

  • A.D.

    Hmm I wonder what would be the best 3-4 combo…Pujols & a healthy A-Rod?

    • Joseph Pawlikowski

      Hard to argue against Pujols and Fielder.

      • Reggie C.

        1B and 1B? Can’t work in the NL, so it can’t be said to be the best combo in the game.

        • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

          Fielder plays SS.

          • Reggie C.


            fielder off the meat = DJ.

            • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

              He’s gonna show up at spring training a svelte 175 lbs.

    • Tubby

      I’m gonna say Dawson and Parker. Maybe Parker and Dawson.

      • vin


      • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

        I laughed.

        Best 1-2 pitching punch of all time? Jack Morris and Frank Tanana.

  • Jake K.

    One thing the other 3-4 combos have over the Yanks is youth. On the other hand, the Yanks are more likely to keep theirs intact.

  • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

    The best 3-4 combo in the game?

    David Harris and Bart Scott.

    • Evilest Empire


  • JGS

    no Longoria/Pena?

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

      I’d say Peña is a good notch below most of the other names discussed here. Amazing power, but his BA/OBP skills aren’t on the level of the other hitters named.

      • Joseph Pawlikowski

        Exactly my line of thinking.

  • vin

    So that’s:

    1B (4)
    LF (2)
    2B (1)
    3B (1)

    Seems like there are a quite a few great 1B (especially when you throw in the two runner-ups – Youkilis and Morneau).

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

      I’d say the overwhelming majority of 3-4 combos throughout baseball probably include the team’s first baseman.

    • Am I the only Kevin?

      Not surprising regarding the 1B thing. It is the traditional place poor fielding sluggers go. NL teams in particular place a huge priority on wringing every possible bit of offensive production out of that position.

  • Jordan – Cashman Has No Equal

    Billy Butler + some bust/bad contract/terrible trade fodder

    Anyone? Anyone?

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

      5. Keep comments on topic. Every day during the regular season, we will host a Game Thread. In that thread, feel free to discuss the Yanks, the news of the day, what’s happening in the game, etc. For the rest of the posts, do your best to keep comments related to the topic at hand. News tips should be e-mailed to one of the writers. Contact information is available in the sidebar the right.

      • Joseph Pawlikowski


        • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

          I Bush Doctrine’d that shizz.

  • Jamal G.

    Going by batting runs above average and hitting WAR, let’s see how these guys rank:

    Ryan Braun: 50.4 bRAA; 7.1 hWAR
    Prince Fielder: 54.5 bRAA; 7.6 hWAR

    Albert Pujols: 73 bRAA; 9.8 hWAR
    Matt Holliday (as a Cardinal): 24.5 bRAA; 3.2 hWAR
    Matt Holliday’s complete 2009 campaign: 38.1 bRAA; 5.7 hWAR

    Mark Teixeira: 39.7 bRAA; 6 hWAR
    Alex Rodriguez: 29.3 bRAA; 4.5 hWAR

    Chase Utley: 38.5 bRAA; 5.9 hWAR
    Ryan Howard: 35.4 bRAA; 5.6 hWAR

    I actually wonder if Albert Pujos would be able to produce at a level comparable to his 2009 campaign (and seeing as how his 2009 was actually worse than his 2008 season, offensively), if a full season of Matt Holiday would trump the combined production of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder.

    *Using the CAIRO projection model, let’s see who comes out ahead for the upcoming 2010 campaign:

    Albert Pujos: 77 XBH; .441 wOBA; 50 BRAR/650
    Matt Holiday: 61 XBH; .371; 28 BRAR/650

    Ryan Braun: 78 XBH; .389 wOBA; 43 BRAR/650
    Prince Fielder: 80 XBH; .408 wOBA; 43 BRAR/650

    So, based on CAIRO, the Cards’ duo comes up ahead in wOBA (.406 > .398), but falls short in extra-base hits and batting runs above replacement per 650 plate appearances, the counting stats, 158 to 138 and 86 to 78, respectively.

    Seeing as how I don’t think a clear-cut winner can be established, let’s just call it a wash, shall we?

    * – I did not want to average multiple projection models because each model has its own environment in which it projects.

  • vin

    Too lazy to do too much research, but in terms of wOBA:

    ’09 Braun and Fielder = 0.825 combined
    ’09 Pujols and Holliday = 0.839
    ’09 Teixeira and ARod = 0.807
    ’09 Utley and Howard = 0.795

    for reference:

    ’06 Ortiz and Manny = 0.861 combined

    In their 5 full seasons together, their lowest wOBA was 0.821 – average was 0.831.

    Those dudes were good.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

      Sadly, the real killers have proven to be quite elusive. Fret not, though… my ambition to find them is unflagging. I’ll keep you posted.

      David Ortiz

    • jsbrendog

      Those dudes were good and juiced up

      • Jamal G.

        And for all we know, so was Alex Rodriguez. Let us not bring this into the discussion, and just appreciate the awesomeness that was David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez during the 2003-2007 period.

        • vin

          Exactly. The steroids era happened, the numbers aren’t going to be removed or asterisk’d… just take it for what it was.

          Is Barry Bonds the 2nd or 3rd greatest hitter of all time without ‘roids? Probably not. But he took them, and he is.

          It’s a part of life as we move forward. Which is why Palmeiro will eventually get into the hall. McGwire too, eventually.

        • Steve H

          And so were a lot of the pitchers they faced. Still, steroids clearly (overall) help offense a lot more than pitching, but they still help pitchers.

        • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

          To be fair, we can appreciate what they did and acknowledge the numbers without ‘appreciating the awesomeness’ of it. Those numbers happened and shouldn’t be taken out of the books or anything, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with people thinking they’re less awesome because they were put up by players who cheated.

    • JGS

      how do they stack up with mid-90s Griffey and Edgar?

      • A.D.

        96 those 2 were 876…so they were even better

    • A.D.


      Gherig + Ruth: 1076 wOBA


      • vin

        A player has topped the 220 OPS+ mark 15 times since 1901.

        Ruth and Gehrig both did it in ’27. That’s friggin deadly.

        No other teammates had done it in the same year. In fact only 6 players total have done it (Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, Williams, Bonds, Hornsby).

        • vin

          Another interesting fact about Murderer’s Row…

          They had the equivalent of the 2009 versions of:

          Alex Rios, Clint Barmes, and the Pitcher’s Spot in the lineup. Yet they still scored 976 runs in 155 games.

          They got nothing from SS and 3B (Koenig, and Dugan).

        • A.D.

          Hornsby and Bottomley put up a 989 combo in 1925…not too shabby, but still off from Ruth & Gherig

  • mryankee

    Someday might be Montero and Tex as your best three four combos and Alex might be batting fifth.

    • Mike Axisa

      I highly doubt it.

      • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

        Seconded. Montero is the balls, but Tex and ARod will still be proven vets and still be productive for quite some time.

        • Steve H

          Thirded. The only guy replacing one of those two is Melvin.

  • mryankee

    Watch out this year for Hamilton/Cruz from Texas

    • Steve H


    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

      Will do.

      Am I watching out for their regression to the mean, or am I watching out for their collision into a wall?

  • Jarvis Potter III


    1) Hanley Ramirez (ss)
    2) Chase Utley (2b)
    3) Pujols (1b)
    4) Prince Fielder (DH)
    5) A Rod (3b)
    6) Joe Mauer (C)
    7) Ryan Braun (LF)
    8) Jason Werth (RF)
    9) Matt Kemp (CF)


    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

      This has to be satire.

    • Steve H

      I just hope Aroldis Chapman is the starting pitcher.

    • Rose

      Markakis actually stunk this past year…

      Let me rephrase that…he stunk badly compared to this fake team you’re putting together…

  • Peter

    To change the subject briefly, who has the best 1-2 pitching punch? Beckett-Lester, Wainwright-Carps, Lee-Felix, CC-AJ, Lincecum-Cain?

    Personally, I’m taking the guys from St. Louis

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  • Dave

    The loss of A-Rod for a month hurt his numbers, and, as you said, a healthy season from him will put him up there with Pujols as the two best players in baseball (Pujols may have a small edge offensively, but Alex also can steal bases and has a cannon at third base). So, I just have to think, who is better? Holliday, or Teixeira? I’ll take Tex. Braun and Fielder I can’t argue with as being the top, but I think the Yankees 3-4 tops the Cards.

    1. Braun-Fielder
    2. Teixeira-Rodriguez
    3. Pujols-Holliday

    Thats the order I’d put it in. I love watching these great power hitters play. It’s a lot of fun.

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