Which Team Has MLB’s Best Double-Play Combo?

These days, we’re blessed with a number of amazing young shortstops. Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, and Corey Seager, for example, are already among baseball’s top players. Manny Machado is a shortstop who just accidentally plays third base. All of them are younger than 25.

Second base isn’t as notable for its youth. Last year, however, second basemen recorded one of the top collective offensive lines at the position in the history of the game. Good job, second basemen.

So both positions are experiencing a bit of a renaissance at the moment. This led me to wonder which teams might be benefiting most from that renaissance. It’s rare that teams can keep a second baseman and shortstop together long enough to form a lasting and effective double-play combo. Right now, MLB has some pretty great ones. But which is the greatest — particularly, on the defensive side of thing? Let’s explore.

First, we want to know who has played together for awhile. Since the start of the 2015 season, 21 players have played at least 200 games as a shortstop, and 23 have done the same at second base. Cross-referencing them and weeding out the players who have played for multiple teams, we get the following list:

Teams with 2B & SS with 200+ G, 2015-2017
Team Second Baseman G Shortstop G
BAL Jonathan Schoop 281 J.J. Hardy 264
BOS Dustin Pedroia 279 Xander Bogaerts 346
CLE Jason Kipnis 297 Francisco Lindor 290
DET Ian Kinsler 335 Jose Iglesias 279
HOU Jose Altuve 338 Carlos Correa 288
MIA Dee Gordon 257 Adeiny Hechavarria 288
PHI Cesar Hernandez 270 Freddy Galvis 339
SF Joe Panik 257 Brandon Crawford 315
TEX Rougned Odor 300 Elvis Andrus 347

That’s a pretty good list. There are some tough omissions here. The most notable is the Angels, as Andrelton Simmons hasn’t been with them long enough to meet our bar here. Given Johnny Giavotella’s defensive contributions, however, we can guess that the combo here would be quite one-sided. Also excluded are teams with new double-play combos, like the Dodgers and Mariners. Not only are the Logan Forsythe-Corey Seager and Robinson CanoJean Segura combos new this season, but thanks to injuries they haven’t even played together much this season. Cano-Segura has only happened 22 times this season, and Forsythe-Seager only 10 times.

Another team this excludes is the Cubs, who would have a decent shot at the crown given Addison Russell’s play at shortstop. But since Javier Baez and Ben Zobrist split time there, neither of them have played even 150 games in this timeframe. I could combine them, but then that would be grading double play trios and not double play combos. Sorry, Cubs fans.

Let’s press on with these nine squads. How do they stack up defensively?

Defensive Comparison of Selected DB Combos, 2015-2017
Team 2B/SS Innings rGDP DRS FSR DPR RngR ErrR UZR UZR/150 Def
BAL Schoop/Hardy 4,788.0 10.0 4.0 16.0 5.5 -12.7 15.7 8.5 2.4 24.7
BOS Pedroia/Bogaerts 5,467.0 -6.0 -9.0 19.0 -1.8 3.2 13.0 14.4 3.6 34.3
CLE Kipnis/Lindor 5,152.9 -5.0 31.0 20.0 -0.9 40.5 2.9 42.5 11.1 60.2
DET Kinsler/Iglesias 5,363.7 9.0 42.0 36.0 6.2 17.4 10.8 34.3 8.6 51.9
HOU Altuve/Correa 5,535.0 2.0 -4.0 16.0 -4.2 -2.7 -4.6 -11.4 -2.8 6.8
MIA Gordon/Hech. 4,735.7 -1.0 31.0 28.0 3.4 18.2 13.7 35.2 10.0 51.8
PHI Hern./Galvis 5,199.7 3.0 1.0 -7.0 1.0 22.4 6.8 30.2 7.8 49.1
SF Panik/Crawford 5,000.3 2.0 49.0 51.0 3.8 32.5 13.0 49.2 13.3 67.2
TEX Odor/Andrus 5,716.3 3.0 -17.0 5.0 3.7 -19.9 -13.0 -29.3 -6.9 -8.9
First Place in Yellow, Second Place in Blue

I put this table in alphabetical order so as to not bias the table with the rankings of any one particular stat. The reason is that this is open to debate. Should we judge the best double play combo literally — i.e. how they actually turn the double play? If so, then rGDP and DPR are the stats you want to use. There’s a positive consensus coalescing around Baltimore and Detroit there, and a negative consensus around Boston and Cleveland.

But perhaps you don’t think of it like that. Perhaps you think of an effective double-play combo simply as the middle infielders who play the best overall defense. I think this is a reasonable position, as well. On that score, there are plenty of strong contenders, led by San Francisco and Cleveland. On a rate basis, Miami deserves to be in the conversation, though they have played the fewest total innings the past two years.

Something else to consider is whether you think it’s more important to have two strong defenders or are comfortable with one really great defender and one mediocre defender. I didn’t break this out for readers because I think the stats of the duo combined are more telling here, but if you want to single them out, I couldn’t tell you that you were wrong.

Perhaps you don’t even think defense should be the driver, and you prefer to look at WAR. If that’s your thought process, it’s a two-team race between Cleveland and Houston — both of their combos have been worth 22 WAR and change since the start of 2015. By WAR, Houston could have the best DP combo in history if they play together for long enough, but I’m not sure WAR is how this should be measured.

Six years ago, when I conducted this exercise, I gave you a definitive answer. Today, I am more in touch with the democratic values of our society, so I put it to you: who do you think is the league’s best double-play combo?

You don’t have to choose. But if you do choose, please choose wisely.





Paul Swydan used to be the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for Boston.com and The Boston Globe. Now, he owns The Silver Unicorn Bookstore, an independent bookstore in Acton, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan. Follow the store @SilUnicornActon.

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dtpollitt
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dtpollitt

Cubs fan; Baez (11 DRS in 2016 across 59 games) & Russell (19 DRS). Since they didn’t fit your criteria, though, I voted for Panik & Crawford. Not especially flashy, but very solid and glove-sured.

channelclemente
Member

They make the difficult look easy. Crawford’s arm is phenomenal.

OzzyCub888
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OzzyCub888

Even more impressive, Russell/Baez have a combined 50 DRS since 2015 despite Russell with only 244 games at SS and Baez with only 108.