Saturday, August 27, 2011

Best Tigers Infields Ever

In an earlier post, I presented the best infields of all time according to Baseball-Reference WAR.  Here I will do the same thing just for the Detroit Tigers infields.

First, remember that WAR is an estimate of the number of wins a player contributed to his team's win total above what you would expect from a replacement level player - a player who could be acquired for league minimum salary.  An example of a replacement player would be a player in Triple-A, who is good enough to get some time in the majors, but is not regarded as a top prospect.  WAR takes into consideration everything a player does on the field, including hitting, fielding and base running.

I use the WAR system developed by Sean Smith, now a statistician for a major league team.  Most of my analysis uses a database purchased from Sean a couple of years ago.  The data are now housed at Baseball-Reference.  There may be a few small discrepancies between the old database numbers I'm using and Baseball-Reference due to recent upgrades of the system, but nothing that should significantly change the conclusions.  A very accessible explanation of the system can be found at Beyond The Boxscore.

Basically, what I did was sum the WARs for the four most commonly used infielders for each team each year (one each at first base, second base, third base and shortstop).  I required that each infielder had 400 or more plate appearances and had played at least half of his games at his primary position.  This guaranteed that each qualifying infield would have four regulars. For example, an infield with a star first baseman, second baseman and shortstop and group of part-time players sharing the third base spot would not qualify.

The 15 top single season WAR totals in the history of the Tigers are shown in Table 1 below.  The table is dominated by two groups.  The first group is the Tigers infield of the 1930s featuring Hall of Famers Hank Greenberg and Charlie Gehringer at first and second, Marv Owen at third and Billy Rogell at shortstop.  This "Battalion of Death", as dubbed by Free Press baseball writer Charles Ward,  took three of the top four spots on the list in 1934, 1935 and 1937.  The 25.0 WAR they produced in 1934 was the most ever by a Tigers infield and fifth highest in the history of baseball.   

The other main theme of the table is three decades of Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell at second and short.  As rookies in 1978, this duo combined with first baseman Jason Thompson and third baseman Aurelio Rodriguez to produce 11.3 WAR. In 1986, they teamed with first baseman Darrell Evans and third baseman Darnell Coles for 14.5 WAR.  The same group with Tom Brookens inserted for Darnell Coles finished with 16.7 WAR in 1987.  Finally, the historic keystone joined first baseman Cecil Fielder and third baseman Tony Phillips in 1990 to generate 21.4 WAR, the third highest Tigers total ever.

Younger fans will surely notice the fifth row of the table.  The infield of Chris Shelton, Placido Polanco, Brandon Inge and Carlos Guillen helped lead the Tigers to the American League pennant in 2006.

Table 1: Best Tigers Infields According to Baseball-Reference WAR

Year
Team
first baseman
WAR
second baseman
WAR
third baseman
WAR
shortstop
WAR
Total WAR
1934
DET
Hank Greenberg
6.7
Charlie Gehringer
9.5
Marv Owen
3.5
Billy Rogell
5.3
25.0
1935
DET
Hank Greenberg
8.3
Charlie Gehringer
8.4
Marv Owen
0.3
Billy Rogell
5.4
22.4
1990
DET
Cecil Fielder
6.7
Lou Whitaker
3.5
Tony Phillips
4.4
Alan Trammell
6.8
21.4
1937
DET
Hank Greenberg
7.8
Charlie Gehringer
7.6
Marv Owen
1.1
Billy Rogell
2.7
19.2
2006
DET
Chris Shelton
1.6
Placido Polanco
3.1
Brandon Inge
5.8
Carlos Guillen
6.7
17.2
1987
DET
Darrell Evans
4.9
Lou Whitaker
3.3
Tom Brookens
0.1
Alan Trammell
8.4
16.7
1991
DET
Cecil Fielder
3.4
Lou Whitaker
6.9
Travis Fryman
3.1
Alan Trammell
3.0
16.4
1986
DET
Darrell Evans
2.9
Lou Whitaker
3.9
Darnell Coles
1.8
Alan Trammell
5.9
14.5
1933
DET
Hank Greenberg
2.1
Charlie Gehringer
6.7
Marv Owen
-0.2
Billy Rogell
4.7
13.3
1965
DET
Norm Cash
5.3
Jerry Lumpe
1.6
Don Wert
2.9
Dick McAuliffe
2.7
12.5
1967
DET
Norm Cash
3.9
Dick McAuliffe
4.8
Don Wert
2.1
Ray Oyler
1.6
12.4
1961
DET
Norm Cash
10.0
Jake Wood
0.4
Steve Boros
1.7
Chico Fernandez
0.1
12.2
1978
DET
Jason Thompson
4.7
Lou Whitaker
3.1
Aurelio Rodriguez
1.3
Alan Trammell
2.2
11.3
1914
DET
George Burns
2.5
Marty Kavanagh
0.7
George Moriarty
3.4
Donie Bush
4.6
11.2
2007
DET
Sean Casey
0.5
Placido Polanco
5.0
Brandon Inge
2.5
Carlos Guillen
3.1
11.1


One criticism of WAR is that the fielding portion of the system is not that reliable if we are only looking at one year of data.  It is even more shaky in very early years where less detailed data are available.  Thus, I also wanted to construct a list with fielding excluded.  The Offensive WAR (oWAR) results are shown in Table 2.  The same names dominate this list.

Table 2: Best Tigers Infields According to Baseball-Reference oWAR

Year
Team
first baseman
OWAR
second baseman
OWAR
third baseman
OWAR
shortstop
OWAR
Total OWAR
1934
DET
Hank Greenberg
6.4
Charlie Gehringer
8.4
Marv Owen
4.1
Billy Rogell
4.0
23.0
1935
DET
Hank Greenberg
7.8
Charlie Gehringer
7.0
Marv Owen
0.6
Billy Rogell
3.5
19.0
1937
DET
Hank Greenberg
7.6
Charlie Gehringer
7.0
Marv Owen
0.7
Billy Rogell
2.7
18.0
1990
DET
Cecil Fielder
6.6
Lou Whitaker
2.5
Tony Phillips
3.1
Alan Trammell
5.7
17.8
1987
DET
Darrell Evans
3.7
Lou Whitaker
3.4
Tom Brookens
0.0
Alan Trammell
8.4
15.5
1991
DET
Cecil Fielder
3.6
Lou Whitaker
5.8
Travis Fryman
2.7
Alan Trammell
2.1
14.2
1961
DET
Norm Cash
9.1
Jake Wood
1.2
Steve Boros
2.2
Chico Fernandez
-0.1
12.5
1986
DET
Darrell Evans
1.6
Lou Whitaker
2.9
Darnell Coles
2.3
Alan Trammell
5.1
11.9
1965
DET
Norm Cash
4.1
Jerry Lumpe
1.9
Don Wert
2.0
Dick McAuliffe
3.5
11.5
2006
DET
Chris Shelton
1.1
Placido Polanco
1.1
Brandon Inge
2.7
Carlos Guillen
6.4
11.3
1966
DET
Norm Cash
3.7
Jerry Lumpe
-0.1
Don Wert
2.0
Dick McAuliffe
5.6
11.1
1910
DET
Tom Jones
0.8
Jim Delahanty
3.5
George Moriarty
1.9
Donie Bush
4.7
10.8
1997
DET
Tony Clark
4.0
Damion Easley
4.2
Travis Fryman
2.9
Deivi Cruz
-0.3
10.8
2007
DET
Sean Casey
0.8
Placido Polanco
5.0
Brandon Inge
0.7
Carlos Guillen
4.1
10.6
2008
DET
Miguel Cabrera
3.3
Placido Polanco
2.7
Carlos Guillen
3.0
Edgar Renteria
1.5
10.5

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