Chicago Cubs: Middle infielder dynamic duos throughout the years
By Paul Seifert
The Chicago Cubs have had some great middle-infield combinations. The style of play has changed, but the core of every great defense is still in the middle of the diamond.
We’ll examine three Chicago Cubs middle infield combinations, looking primarily at their defense but with an eye towards their offensive production as well. Fielding percentage, defensive runs saved, WAR, UZR-150, and the new Outs Above Average (OAA) metrics will be the guide when possible. But I can’t rule out a little nostalgia creeping in either.
Chicago Cubs: Tinker to Evers to Chance
Not many infield combinations have opposing team’s fans writing poems about them. However, the combination of shortstop Joe Tinker, second baseman Johnny Evers, and first baseman Frank Chance was so overwhelmingly good they inspired a forlorn New York Giants fan and columnist Franklin Pierce Adams to pen Baseball’s Sad Lexicon.
The middle infield of Tinker and Evers led the Cubs from 1902 until 1912. In that time, the Cubs won the National League Pennant four times from1906 to1910 and back to back World Series in 1907 and 1908. Ironically they never had the opportunity to turn a double play in any of their World Series appearances.
Before we talk about metrics, it is essential to note that equipment and other anomalies like scoring practices will seem to diminish their performance. Also, they played during the dead-ball era, so hitting metrics won’t seem outstanding compared to hitters in later years.
Shortstop Joe Tinker posted a career .938 fielding percentage, twelve points higher than league average. His best season was 1908 with a .958 fielding percentage against a .930 league average. He did play three seasons with Cincinnatti Reds and Chicago Whales from 1913 to 1915.
The1908 season was Tinker’s best in his career. He posted a 14.3 offensive runs above average, a 32.7 defensive runs above average, and 7.5 WAR. Offensively his slash in 1908 seems pedestrian by today’s standards, .266/.307/.391, but it produced a wRC+ of 119. He drove in 68 runs and stole 30 bases.
Holding down the other side of the bag was second baseman, Johnny Evers. Tinker wasn’t a big guy at 5’9″, 175 pounds, but Evers was more slight at the same height and 50 pounds lighter. Nonetheless, he was a better hitter, slashing a career .276/.354/.345 and .700 OPS with the Cubs. (Hey, we’d take that slash from a second baseman today, but I digress).
In the field, Evers was one of the best, and like Tinker posted his best overall numbers in the World Series-winning 1908 season. Evers slashed .300/.402/.375 with a .777 OPS in that championship season, and though his fielding was uncharacteristically off, it was still good enough for a 6.0 dWAR.
Throughout their years together, they broke many opposing team fans’ hearts even as the two middle infielders grew to dislike each other intensely.