By Mark Simon
Talking with Matt Olson on the latest Sports Info Solutions Baseball Podcast got me thinking about great corner infield combos. And I figured there was a good chance that the A’s got more defensive value out of first and third base in 2019 (50 Defensive Runs Saved) than any team previously had from those two positions in the 17-year history of the stat.
It turned out that a couple of teams had them beat.
2003 Rangers (60 Runs Saved From 1B and 3B)
What a luxury the Rangers had at first base in 2003. They had a rookie, Mark Teixeira, who went on to win five Gold Gloves and a three-time Gold Glove winner at DH in Rafael Palmeiro.
Teixeira saved 19 runs in his debut season, living up to his status as one of the game’s top prospects with both the bat and the glove. Palmeiro gets knocked for winning a Gold Glove in a season in which he barely played (1999), but he was legit when he did take the field. He saved 11 runs in 55 games as Teixeira’s alternate. Add in a run saved each for Mike Lamb and Todd Greene and the Rangers got 32 Runs Saved from first base.
On top of that, they got 28 more out of second-year man Hank Blalock at third base. Blalock didn’t win a Gold Glove that year, but he probably should have. Between the two-headed monster at first base and Blalock’s work at third, the Rangers got 60 Runs Saved. Olson and Chapman couldn’t quite beat that.
2007 Cardinals (51 Runs Saved)
I can’t knock this one. This is a season in which Albert Pujols played the best first base that anyone has played in the DRS era (I wrote about it for The Athletic). Pujols saved 31 runs by playing well off the bag, and he was still able to recover to get back to catch throws without issue. On the opposite side of the diamond, perennial defensive star Scott Rolen saved 12 runs in 112 games and five backups showed they were in sync with “The Cardinal Way,” combining to save nine more runs.
In all, the Cardinals corner infielders combined for 51 Runs Saved, just edging out the A’s.
So about Olson and Chapman …
All right, so the A’s don’t come out on top here. Though Olson saved 18 runs, his backups cost the Athletics five runs. Combining their 13 with Chapman and company’s 37 gives the Athletics 50 runs, good for third best on this list. Oakland’s corner infielders also combined for 43 Runs Saved in 2018, which ranks tied for fourth with the 2005 Phillies (of Ryan Howard and Scott Rolen fame).
However, if we just look at combos and take the backups out of the mix, Olson and Chapman combined for 52 Runs Saved last season. No other third-first combination beats them out. They’re the best of the DRS era.