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These are baseball's most dynamic duos

August 21, 2018

The Red Sox and Indians are in the middle of a four-game series in Boston this week -- you can watch the clubs square off Wednesday in the MLB.TV Free Game of the Day -- giving us the luxury of seeing two of baseball's most successful recent teams on the same field

The Red Sox and Indians are in the middle of a four-game series in Boston this week -- you can watch the clubs square off Wednesday in the MLB.TV Free Game of the Day -- giving us the luxury of seeing two of baseball's most successful recent teams on the same field at the same time. (Both teams are two-time defending division champions, and they're all-but-certain locks to make it three in a row this year.)  
As you'd expect, both rosters are stacked with talent, loaded with Cy Young Award winners, celebrated relievers and, this year, American League Most Valuable Player candidates. When you look at the quartet of Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez, Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor, you see four players who could potentially win the award this year. It's such a good group, in fact, that it made us start to think: Since there's two on each side, are these the best position player duos in the game?
There's not a perfect way to do this, so let's use the best way we have, which is to go with Wins Above Replacement, since that accounts for park-adjusted hitting, defensive and baserunning value. We can't just look at the current leaders, because there's still about three dozen games left in the season, and some of the game's biggest stars are dealing with injuries. So what we'll do is to use the respected Steamer projection system to help us project out the remainder of the year, looking at the top two batters from each team.
There's more to a winning season than duos, of course. We're looking only at hitters, and some team's third- or fourth-best player (say, Andrew Benintendi and Xander Bogaerts, each projected to end up with 5.1 WAR) might be far better than another team's best player (Adam Jones, projected to finish with 1.4 WAR). You might even have some disagreements with the players listed below.
That's the point, though. This is the kind of list meant to generate fun discussion, not to award pennant races. Here are 2018's best dozen position player duos, with stats through the start of Tuesday's action.
1. Indians (Jose Ramirez 9.6, Francisco Lindor, 8.2): 17.8 WAR
The perpetually underrated Ramirez is having his third straight elite-level season, but even that undersells what's happening here. Ramirez is projected to finish the year with 9.6 WAR, which would be: a. the second-best Cleveland season ever; and b. essentially tied for the best season by a third baseman all time. He's not only second in home runs (37), he's fourth in stolen bases (27) and fourth in on-base percentage (.430), and he's doing it with a strong glove.

By that comparison, Lindor putting up a Top-12 slugging season with very good shortstop defense almost seems pedestrian. (It's not. He's baseball's best shortstop on track to have one of the best shortstop seasons in Cleveland history. These are two of baseball's five best players.)
As impressive as combining for nearly 18 Wins Above Replacement would be, however, it still wouldn't crack the all-time leaderboard. As it turns out, catching Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig is just as difficult as you'd think.

2. Red Sox (Mookie Betts 9.4, J.D. Martinez 6.3): 15.7 WAR
Speaking of baseball's brightest stars, Martinez (.662) and Betts (.652) are first and second on the slugging percentage leaderboards. Betts (.344/.430/.651) is actually having a better offensive season than Ramirez (.298/.409/.627), and offers similar defensive and baserunning value, but he lags behind in WAR slightly because he's played in 16 fewer games due to a short disabled list stint earlier this year.

Martinez actually has an outside shot at the Triple Crown, if he can overtake Betts' 12-point lead in average, but the reason his WAR total isn't quite as elevated as the rest of the Boston/Cleveland "Big Four" is that while the other three add considerable defensive value, Martinez doesn't, spending most of his time at designated hitter. If this was hitting only, the two Red Sox would be in first place. Defense matters, of course.

3. Angels (Michael Trout 9.6, Andrelton Simmons 5.2): 14.8 WAR
Before we get to Trout, let's point out that this is not entirely about Trout for once, because Simmons is having himself a season so good that it's been one of the 20 best in baseball this year. While he's long been a spectacular defender, he's added value with the bat over the past two seasons, to the point that since the start of 2017, Simmons has been the 12th-most valuable position player in the Majors.
Of course, this is still mostly about Trout, who was having what looked like it would be the best season of a historic career before a wrist injury sidelined him earlier this month. Despite the missed time, his improved defense and career-best batting line (.309/.459/.624) still have him projected to tie Ramirez as 2018's most valuable player.

4. Yankees (Aaron Judge 5.8, Giancarlo Stanton 5.6): 11.4 WAR
Nothing should be surprising about these two showing up here, though obviously the Yankees are about a lot more than just their pair of huge sluggers. (Didi Gregorius and Aaron Hicks are both projected to near 5 WAR themselves.) Judge has more than answered any questions about a "sophomore slump," and Stanton's relatively slow start has been long forgotten as he's put up a .302/.366/.579 line since May 1.
If there's a problem here, it's one of uncertainty. Judge has still not started to swing a bat as he recovers from a broken wrist, and what he can offer for the rest of the year is anyone's guess. That explains his relatively conservative 5.8 WAR projection, since he'd already made it to 5.0 WAR before he was injured.

5 (tie). Astros (Alex Bregman 6.4, Jose Altuve 4.9): 11.3 WAR
Last year, Bregman was essentially tied with Josh Reddick as the fifth-most valuable Astro, behind the "big three" of Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer, as well as the breakout of Marwin Gonzalez. This year, it's a little different; Gonzalez and Springer haven't repeated great years, and Altuve and Correa have each missed time with injuries, while Bregman has been fantastic. That Altuve is projected for only 4.9 WAR rather than last year's 7.6 tells you a little about how hard it is to stay healthy and productive after a long postseason run. (4.9 WAR is still very good.) 
5 (tie). A's (Matt Chapman 6.5, Jed Lowrie 4.4): 11.3 WAR
In another year, Chapman, the breakout star of baseball's breakout team, might have a case for the AL Most Valuable Player Award. That's not going to happen with the collection of AL talent in 2018, but he's at least making a strong case that he's the best third baseman in the game. If Chapman does get to 6.5 WAR, it would be the third-most valuable season by an A's third baseman since the franchise moved to Oakland in 1968. Lowrie, for his part, is having his second consecutive strong season.
7. Rockies (Nolan Arenado 6.1, Trevor Story 4.5): 10.6 WAR
If there's a surprise here, it's that Arenado isn't paired with longtime running mate Charlie Blackmon. Unfortunately for Colorado, Blackmon has struggled on both sides of the ball this year, but they've been picked up by legitimate steps forward from shortstop Story, who has managed to add nearly 100 points of slugging from last year (.553, up from .457) while also making far more contact, dropping his strikeout rate from 34 percent to 25 percent. It's been one of the most impressive improvements in the game this year.
8. Braves (Freddie Freeman 6.3, Ozzie Albies 4.0): 10.3 WAR
You want this to be Ronald Acuna Jr., Braves fans, either alongside longtime star Freeman or fellow young building block Albies. We hear you. In the years to come, it probably will be. But for right now, Acuna has barely half the plate appearances as Freeman or Albies (or Nick Markakis, for that matter), making it impossible for him to make up the gap. He'll get there. In the meantime, Freeman is a legitimate National League MVP Award candidate, and Albies is more than backing up the promise of his impressive 2017 debut.

9 (tie). Brewers (Lorenzo Cain 5.4, Christian Yelich 4.7): 10.1 WAR
The Brewers made a pair of enormous bets when they acquired both Cain and Yelich last offseason, and so far it's paying off tremendously. Remember back in January when we said that Cain was a good bet to age gracefully, and should be a desired target on the free agent market? So far, so good, as he's pairing his usual strong defense with a career-best .396 OBP -- while Yelich has added a ton of power, showing a career-best .522 slugging.
9 (tie). D-backs (Paul Goldschmidt 5.8, David Peralta 4.3): 10.1 WAR
It's almost difficult to remember at this point that Goldschmidt got off to an ice-cold start this year, hitting a mere .209/.326/.393 through the end of May. He's hitting a massive .354/.451/.657 since, giving him an overall line that looks like pretty much every other Goldschmidt season does. Peralta is basically repeating his strong 2015, which is a big deal because he was unable to do that in either of the past two seasons.

9 (tie). Dodgers (Manny Machado 6, Player Page for Max Muncy 4.1): 10.1 WAR
Obviously, Machado accumulated most of his value with the Orioles, but we're talking about duos right now, and isn't this just the weirdest and most unexpected pairing? It's not just that neither player began the season on the Dodgers' roster, it's that to have a Dodgers duo that doesn't include Corey SeagerorJustin TurnerorCody Bellinger is stunning. It's been that kind of season in Los Angeles.
12. Nationals (Anthony Rendon 4.8, Trea Turner 4.4): 9.2 WAR
It's clear to say that Washington's season hasn't lived up to anyone's expectations; after all, Daniel Murphy is a Cub and the Nats are merely .500 after 126 games. There are a lot of reasons for the disappointing year, including the fact that Bryce Harper's up-and-down year means he's actually not one of the Nationals' top two projected position players. (He's just behind Turner, at 4.2.) That said, none of this should overshadow yet another strong year from the underrated Rendon, his fourth in the past five years.

Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast.