The starting pitching staff of the Cleveland Indians may be its greatest strength, but the best players on the team fill out the left side of the infield.
There is no better combo in baseball right now at third and shortstop than Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor. For those of you who frequent the blog, this is obvious. What may be less clear is how unusually good the two have been in the first half of the season. If they continue on their current pace, they will have the best first half by any left side duo in the past 50 years.
As of right now, Jose Ramirez owns 4.4 fWAR and Francisco Lindor's total lands at 3.5 fWAR. This puts both of them on pace to finish the first half of the season with more than 4 fWAR. Only twice since 1970 have Indians teammates both played so well in the first half. In 1994, Kenny Lofton logged 5.9 fWAR, while Albert Belle added 4.0. Then, in 2006, Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner created 4.1 and 4.2 fWAR, respectively.
In fact, it’s not common for an Indians player to have such a hot start, period. The only other players to eclipse 4 fWAR before the break since 1970 are Roberto Alomar in 1999 and Toby Harrah in 1982. It then becomes a little more clear just how special the left side of the infield is for the Indians.
Even more important, I think, is how Lindor and Ramirez have created this value. Looking at this list we immediately recognize that Belle and Pronk did it entirely at the plate. Ramirez and Lindor are doing it the way Alomar did, with major contributions at the plate, in the field, and on the basepath. Like Lofton in 1994, however, they’re surpassing expectations at the plate and have become the unexpcted beat by which the rest of the offense marches.
They become even more unique when you consider the other players to accumulate 4 fWARby the break. Many are outfielders, DHs, or first basemen. It is rare to see other infielders crop up on the list, let alone teammates in the same season. The only other infielder teammates to do so, excluding first baseman* since 1970 are Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench in 1974 and 1975; Darrell Porter and George Brett in 1979; and Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa last season. That’s it. If Lindor and Ramirez both reach the milestone, they will be the only shortstop and third baseman teammates to do so in close to half a century. Robin Yount and Paul Molitor couldn’t do it; Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter never came particularly close.
I would love to go further back, but I’m having an impossible time pulling together first half/second half splits for anything earlier. If you have the ability to pull that up, please do; I want to see just how unique this situation is. I would expect Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, and Roy Campanella to have pulled it off at least once in some combination when they were all on the Dodgers, for example.
*Even if we include first baseman you‘re only adding a few more, and these combinations usually involve Hall-of-Fame caliber players at both positions. Rose, Bagwell, Biggio, and so on. The most interesting example comes from the 2011 Red Sox, who are the only team with three players meeting the mark: Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Adrian Gonzalez.