Do the Phillies’ really have the best infield of the modern era?


We get dozens of links through our tip box each day, but most of the time it’s something we’ve already found or a piece of minor news. However, this morning a reader sent in a link to this Bill Conlin column from today’s Philly Inquirer, claiming that the Phillies have “what is potentially the greatest all-around infield of a modern era that began in 1947 when Jack Roosevelt Robinson kicked down the door that had barred players of color from the major leagues.”

Now don’t get me wrong, the Phillies’ current infield alignment of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Placido Polanco is very, very good. It’s obviously a championship caliber quartet and one of the best in recent memory,  but is it the best infield of the modern era? No. It’s not even the best infield in the game today.

Conlin notes that the Yankees’ infield “slammed 112 homers [in 2009], three more than the Phillies with [Pedro] Feliz at third. But the Phils’ Fab Four won the RBI war, 393-373.” Of course, we all know counting stats – especially RBI – are stupid. They lack context for things like park effects, league difference, injuries, the whole nine. Just looking at raw triple-slash stats, the Phils’ four main infielders collectively hit .273-.344-.473 with a .358 wOBA in 2009. The Yanks, meanwhile, saw their four main infielders hit … wait for it … .310-.384-.519 with a .390 wOBP as a group. That’s a .903 OPS infield. It’s like having four Josh Hamilton’s circa 2008 on the diamond, but just a touch better. The Yanks infield had 44 more hits and 20 more walks than the Phillies’ infield last year despite coming to the plate 158 fewer times. Obviously, this is no contest offensively.

Conlin suggested the Phillies potentially have the best all-around infield, meaning things like defense and baserunning count too. And of course they do. We watched Jason Giambi negate much of his offense with his defense for the better part of a decade. The easiest way to examine this is to look at WAR, so let’s do that. Everything comes from Sean Smith’s database

I’m not sure if the 2010 projection has Polanco at second or third base, but it doesn’t matter since the move from a middle spot to a corner spot carries a negative positional adjustment. Either way, the Yankees were better last year, and project to be better this year. Unlike FanGraphs’ WAR, CHONE’s accounts for baserunning, so we don’t need to worry about adjusting anything. The 2010 projections for the two infields are pretty close, just about half a win apart, so it is possible the Phillies’ infield outperforms the Yanks’,. That would require a considerable fall from grace by Jeter and a major rebound from Rollins, though.

Also, just look at this subjectively. Howard can mash, but so can Tex, and the Yanks’ first baseman is one of the best defenders at his position in the game. Utley is clearly a better player Cano, and the same could be said about A-Rod and Polanco. Jeter’s not going to put up the same kind of homerun totals that Rollins will, but he’s a better offensive player because of a massive advantage in on-base percentage. Jeter closed the gap defensively the last two seasons, but Rollins has the better rep. Even if you feel like being extremely generous and consider Tex-Howard and Jeter-Rollins to be washes, the difference between A-Rod and Polanco is greater than the difference between Utley and Cano.

I can understand why fans and the media in Philadelphia are excited. They’ve got a great lineup, added Roy Halladay, and have won two straight pennants, but when it comes to infield might, they’re going to have to play second fiddle the Yankees. Again.

Photo Credit: Elise Amendola

Categories : Analysis


  1. bexarama says:

    But don’t you see, the Phillies’ infield is better NO MATTER WHAT because A-Rod is on the Yankees and that means all the Yankees’ numbers aren’t eligible!
    /that article’d

    • Mike HC says:

      I didn’t see any digs at A-Rod in that article. The only way he dismissed the Yanks was because they out RBI’d them last year.

    • But don’t you see, the Phillies’ infield is better NO MATTER WHAT because A-Rod is on the Yankees and that means all the Yankees’ numbers aren’t eligible!
      /that article’d

      “I’d welcome him if he got elected to the Hall of Fame,” Schmidt said of A-Rod. “I always seem to walk down the middle of the fence. I understand the old, hard-line guys that use the words, `he cheated, he cheated.’ And the other guys that go, `It was a culture thing back then.’ If you played then, you would have been tempted, too. People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. I don’t want to get that wrong. We’ve all got some things in our closet.”

      Schmidt once again indicated that he would have been tempted to use steroids if presented with the chance to take them when he was playing.

      Mike Schmidt’s perspective >>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Bill Conlin’s conveniently self-righteous indignation

      • bexarama says:

        I’ve mentioned my Philly fan friend a few times, and said friend HATES A-Rod (for the steroid thing alone, nothing else) and WORSHIPS Schmidt (understandable). I showed her that quote. I think her brain exploded and she never mentioned it again.

  2. Maac says:

    Francesa has talked about this on the Fan a few times. If you include the catcher it makes the Yanks current configuration stand out even more. The only team that even approached them was supposedly the 1934 Tigers.

    • bexarama says:

      We were talking about this in an Open Thread a while ago, and I think the 1975 and 1976 Reds infield beats the 2009 Yankees infield if you’re using wRC+, but only by a couple of points, IIRC.

      2009 Yankees = good

      • Yup. Joe Morgan is AMAZING at baseball. (At other things, eh, not so much. But baseball? YES.)

        • bexarama says:

          the hilarious thing about Joe Morgan and his dismissal of sabermetrics is that it’s only through sabermetrics (or at least, more advanced stats. And by “more advanced” I mean like, OBP.) that people know how totally awesome he was at baseball.

          • JGS says:

            “You’re right about Joe Morgan being the ultimate Moneyball-style player, too. It wasn’t just his style of play, either; Joe Morgan quotes from 1975 sound like they could have gone into the book Moneyball, verbatim. He talked all the time about how batting average was overrated, and how you had to get on base, and how RBIs were just a context statistic, and how you had to steal bases at a high percentage, and so on and so on.”

            -Joe Posnanski, from an interview about his book about the Big Red Machine

  3. I’m going to piggyback off what Maac said above. Why isn’t catcher included in this? Seriously.

  4. Mike HC says:

    Give me the Yanks infield over the Phillies every day of the week. They only have three top dogs and the Yanks have 4. That is enough analysis right there.

  5. Factoring both offense and defense into the equation:

    TEX >>>> Howard
    Utley >>>> CANO
    JETER >> Rollins
    CentWAR Centaur™ >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Polanco

    Oh, and, for good measure:

    Posada >>>>>>>>> Ruiz

    Thanks for playing, fellas. We’ll see you ’round the bend… Number 2.

  6. JeffG says:

    Great infield or not I still think they are short pitching. Will be interesting to see if Hammels can regain form.

  7. Brian says:

    Phillies fans are delusional, the Yanks may have the best infield of all time, let alone the modern era.

    • Steve H says:

      If it was a fan it would be somewhat understandable (but not really). This clown gets paid to write about baseball for a living, and yet writes this garbage.

  8. JSquared says:

    Any infield consisting of Placido Polanco can not be the greatest infield in the game…

    Obviously, whoever thinks the Phillies have the greatest infield, are Phillies fans in a euphoric state due to the Phillies actually being a good team and not setting records for most losses ever!

    Was this guy watching the World Series??

  9. T-Dubs says:

    I find it interesting the the Phillies view the Yankees almost as the pre-2004 Red Sox did.

  10. Maac says:

    This isn’t even a contest with the Phillies. No disrespect to them bc they have a great infield too but even if you give them an advantage after 1st, 2nd, and SS (which is a stretch) A-rod just blows Polanco out of the water and ends the conversation. Throw in Posada and it’s the best ever. That’s nice to think about : )

  11. And maybe somebody can come up with an eight-line poem that begins:

    “These are the saddest of possible words:
    “J-Roll to Chase to Ryno.

    Wait, when did Ryne Sandberg become the Phillies first baseman? Isn’t he retired?

    • Thomas says:

      The 2010 Yankees do.

    • Chip says:

      They might have the best but it’s almost all on Morgan. I mean those are two of the best seasons a second baseman has ever had. That’s like saying the 1923 Yankees had one of the best outfields ever when it’s only that way because Babe Ruth put up a WAR of 14 (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) which is by the way, insane.

      • Jose says:

        That is an argument over balance. If an infield has one player who has a 25 WAR and 3 others who a replacement level, you could still argue that to be one of the greatest infields. It would be unbalanced in talent, but the sum of all the parts is an unreal level of production from an infield.

    • Bo says:

      Concepcion at SS doesnt compare offensively to Jeter.

      Not even in the same league.

      • pete says:

        similarly, cano doesn’t compare to morgan offensively at 2B, and in all likelihood is nowhere near the defender that morgan was (much like 2010 Jeter probably won’t be the defender that ’75 Concepcion was.

  12. All Praise Be To Mo says:

    The Phiilies IF is better since the Yankees don’t care about defense.


  13. Jose says:

    “That’s a .903 OPS infield.”

    The tears of other teams taste soooo good.

  14. Steve H says:

    Nice writeup Mike, and damn that was quick. I hope Conlin gets blasted for this nonsense.

  15. steve (different one) says:

    you guys didn’t even mention the craziest line from Conlin’s article:

    Has any non-expansion team ever had the three best players in franchise history at the same time?

    errr, you’re forgetting someone. played 3B. kindof looked like Chuck Norris (ok, not really).

    now, i’m going to guess that this is just a poorly worded attempt to say “the three best players at their respective positions in franchise history”, in which case you can call it bad writing instead of sheer lunacy.

    • T-Dubs says:

      John Kruk must be rolling in his grave.

    • Grover Cleveland Alexander, Robin Roberts, and Steve Carlton would also all like a word with Mr. Conlin.

    • bexarama says:

      Has any non-expansion team ever had the three best players in franchise history at the same time?
      Maybe that says more about the perennial crappiness prior to 2005 or so of the Phillies than anything else? (And, yeah. Michael “Jack” Schmidt sheds a single tear)

    • Thomas says:

      Even if it was the “three best at their position” other teams have had that. The 1975-6 Reds had Morgan, Bench, and Rose all who were the best at their positions in the franchise history plus Tony Perez who is probably the best 1st baseman in Reds history (off the top of my head).

      Heck, the 1927 Yankees had Ruth, Gehrig, and Lazzeri (who is probably the best 2B in Yankee history).

      • The 1993 Mets had Bobby Bonilla, Vince Coleman, Jeromy Burnitz, Butch Huskey, and Tim Bogar, who I’m pretty sure were the 5 best players in that club’s entire history.

      • Don W says:

        Jeter – best SS in Yankee History
        A-Rod – best 3B in Yankee History
        Cano – has a chance to be the best 2B in Yankee History, we won’t no for another 10 years.

        Sorry Tex & Jorge 1st place is taken.

        • Thomas says:

          Yeah, I thought about mentioning the 2010 Yankees, but obviously we do know how good Cano will be and it would seem pretty desperate to toss in Mariano when we are talking about position players (though he obviously is the best closer ever).

        • steve (different one) says:

          caugh, best reliever, cough.

          yeah, i know. not really a “position”.

          but in the same vein, when all is said and done, CC might have a claim for best pitcher

          /WAAAY ahead of ourselves

          • ROBTEN says:

            CC might have a claim for best pitcher

            It’s very, very unlikely. There’s too many good pitchers who will have pitched longer with the team than CC probably will. This doesn’t mean it’s not possible–he could, for example, stay significantly longer than the (theoretical) 7 years of his current contract–just extremely improbable.

            In fact, and this is nothing against CC, but he probably won’t even end up as the best left-hander in team history. Whitey Ford, for instance, had 17 year career with the team with an ERA+ of 133.

    • JGS says:

      the 2010 Red Sox

      Kelly (SS), Bard, Kelly (P)

  16. pete says:

    This was a very patient post Mike. If I had written it, it probably would have been:

    Title: Do the Phillies really have the best infield int he modern era?

    Article: no.

    • pete says:

      emphaisis on the lack of capitalization throughout the entire article

    • Steve H says:

      Of all the people in world who would actually write a one word post, you are certainly the last person I would expect. You would try to write just “no”, but you’d end up at 5000 (very well thought out) words.

      • pete says:

        hehe i actually thought about making not of that, but then figured the ambiguity of the handle “pete” may not register with anyone besides you, so i let it alone. But yes I would likely have written 7 paragraphs on the subject. In fact, if it weren’t such a batshit insane suggestion to begin with, I would probably have written 7 paragraphs worth of concurring argument in response to mike A’s post. I’m weird like that.

  17. Dan Novick says:

    second and third base have the same positional adjustment

  18. thurdonpaul says:

    I also find that odd, I guess they are still sorting out season ticket & premium seating. Little guys like me that go to only a handful of games a year will be lucky to get any seats through Yankees dot com. I guess I’ll be looking to stubhub again.

  19. Andy_C_23 says:

    The most frustrating part about Phillies fans is that prior to 2007 they didn’t exist (or at least since I lived down here — from 2002 on). The whole city was all about the Eagles and everyone “bled green.” You never/rarely saw anyone with Phils gear, but now that the team is winning all these “diehard fans” come out of the word work.

  20. Andy_C_23 says:

    No real point, just throwing that out there.

  21. Riddering says:

    This is why I love RAB: I see this article posted elsewhere by a Phillies fan and think about tweeting at the RAB guys about it but I decided to refresh the site first. And behold: factual dismissal and instant gratification.

    It tastes so sweet.

  22. The 2009 Yankee IF was historically good, as you’ve shown. The 2010 one could be even better.

    • WIlliam says:

      With a full healthy season from Arod, a Cano going into his peak, no adjustment time for tex, and a year without Jose Molina playing any significant amount of time, I predict we top last year.

  23. r.w.g. says:

    Jeter won’t hit for the same power as Jimmy Rollins? Not really true at all.

    Through his first 9 full seasons J-Roll has 146 homers. Jeter during the first 9 full seasons of his career hit 150. Same 9 seasons Rollins carries a .439 SLG, Jeter .463. Rollins has an advantage in doubles and triples, but it is really only a significant difference in the triples area – 41 to 94.

    Rollins through 9 full seasons and his age 30 season has 3 years where he topped 20 home runs. Jeter through the same 9 seasons and age 30 season has 3 years where he topped 20 home runs.

    Aside from one 30 home run season, three years ago, they seem to have almost identical power.

    • pete says:

      very true

    • K.B.D. says:

      Jeter’s first nine years were over in 2004. Using those seasons as a reason why he and Jimmy Rollins will hit for similar power in 2010 is not really appropriate.

      Rollins’ 30 HR year was only three years ago, meanwhile in the past 10 seasons Jeter’s highest total has been 23 and that came more than half a decade ago. The reason their slugging is so similar is because Rollins isn’t as good an average hitter as DJ. The last three years Rollins has an isoP roughly 65 points better than Derek.

      While Derek Jeter is clearly the better overall hitter, recent history tells us that he currently doesn’t hit for the same power that Jimmy Rollins does. It’s not a crazy statement.

      • r.w.g. says:

        I still think I’m right.

        And I like my comparison just fine. Jeter is 5 or 6 years older than Jimmy, so they won’t line up perfectly. But through the same age seasons (both guys had first full season at 22, I stopped the comparison after age 30 season) they have extremely similar numbers.

        Except for the fact that Jimmy Rollins is much faster, doesn’t hit for as high an average, and has anywhere from below average to just a bit above average on-base ability. I think Jimmy is probably a better bet to have a better season next year, but I wouldn’t put my money on it.

        I think when Jimmy Rollins catches up to Jeter in terms of seasons played, barring any kind of injury, he is going to have pretty similar power numbers to the Captain.

        • K.B.D. says:

          “And I like my comparison just fine. Jeter is 5 or 6 years older than Jimmy, so they won’t line up perfectly. But through the same age seasons (both guys had first full season at 22, I stopped the comparison after age 30 season) they have extremely similar numbers.”

          Your comparison is fine. But back to the original point: Jeter won’t hit for as much power as Rollins NEXT SEASON.

          Is it fine for evaluating next seasons performance? No. You’re basing next years production off of some seasons a decade plus old. It doesn’t make sense.

          “I think when Jimmy Rollins catches up to Jeter in terms of seasons played, barring any kind of injury, he is going to have pretty similar power numbers to the Captain.”

          Okay. But we’re talking about 2010. And the past 3 or 4 years of performance tells us Derek Jeter is an inferior power hitter.

  24. Gardimentary says:

    They have a revolving door at 3B.
    We don’t even know if Polanco can play it anymore.

  25. Bo says:

    Any infield with Polanco in it cannot be the greatest of all time.

    Maybe if they had Longoria playing 3b it would be an actual good discussion.

    And people complain about the writers in NY.

  26. pat says:

    A Phillies blog, The Good Phight, did a writeup about this as well. Not even they think Conlin is right.

  27. Bo says:

    And Rollins is all based on rep. He had an awful season last yr.

  28. YankeeScribe says:

    2009 Yankees Infield = Underrated

  29. Aaron says:

    There are plenty of bad writers from New York already, no need for more. I’m a Yankees fan too but you can’t really knock the Phillies infield because they are far superior, at least for the time being. So stop being an idiot and stick to scrubbing McDonald’s floor.

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