Fearsome twosomes: MLB's top tandems
Baseball is more team sport than tandem sport. But the game has a rich history of dynamic duos. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell. Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker. Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell.
So what are baseball’s best duos today? Let’s focus here on position player pairings. These are the top 10 going into 2021, based entirely on Steamer’s wins above replacement projections.
If you wanted to do this exercise completely subjectively, you might get some different results, but this is a pretty strong starting point for any debate of dynamic duos.
1. Angels: Mike Trout (7.1) and Anthony Rendon (5.3)
Combined projected WAR: 12.4
The Halos are obviously still working on the pitching side of things, but they were able to get Trout a fellow peak-level performer in the lineup last year with the signing of Rendon. He delivered a .286/.418/.497 slash. Trout, of course, was Trout, winning his eighth Silver Slugger honor in the outfield with a .281/.390/.603 slash. With the A’s and Astros both losing some key players this offseason, it seems to be now or never for the Angels to get Trout his first ever postseason victory.
2. Dodgers: Mookie Betts (5.7) and Cody Bellinger (5.6)
Combined projected WAR: 11.3
No surprise to find the Dodgers here. The only “controversy” is the absence of reigning World Series MVP Corey Seager, whose 5.3 WAR projection is just barely beaten by Bellinger, whose numbers regressed in the 2020 regular season after his 2019 MVP campaign. Seager’s 152 OPS+ was the best of any Dodger with at least 200 plate appearances last year. The Dodgers are deep, is the point.
3. Padres: Fernando Tatis Jr. (5.9) and Manny Machado (4.6)
Combined projected WAR: 10.5
Machado and Tatis finished third and fourth, respectively, in the NL MVP vote last year. It was the realization of the Friars’ dreams when they inked Machado to a gargantuan contract with Tatis on the cusp of the big leagues. Now, the left-hand side of the Padres’ infield is nothing short of extraordinary, with Tatis only beginning to scratch his Major League ceiling.
4. (tie) Astros: Alex Bregman (5.9) and Carlos Correa (4.0)
Nationals: Juan Soto (5.9) and Trea Turner (4.0)
Combined projected WAR: 9.9
Speaking of the left-hand side of the infield, the Astros are still rolling out a pretty good one, too. Under enormous scrutiny, both Bregman and Correa saw a regression in their offensive numbers in the strange, shortened 2020 season. Then came October, and things looked a bit more familiar (Correa had a 1.221 OPS in 13 games, while Bregman had a 1.167 OPS in the Division Series). Correa’s looming free agency is a major point of intrigue here.
Correa is actually the most recent player to have a WAR as high as Soto’s projected mark in a season in which he was 22 or younger. That the ordinarily conservative projections are forecasting such a mark for Soto speaks well of his incredible offensive output, as does the Baseball Reference similarity score that lists Frank Robinson as his nearest comp at this age. But let’s not undersell Turner, who tends to get overshadowed on this star-laden squad but who had a sensational .335/.394/.588 slash last season.
6. Braves: Ronald Acuña Jr. (5.3) and Freddie Freeman (4.4)
Combined projected WAR: 9.7
When the reigning NL MVP doesn’t even have the highest projected WAR on your team, you’re doing something right. Acuña hasn’t quite reached MVP level yet, but a .281/.371/.538 slash with 81 homers, 59 doubles and 61 steals through his age-22 season ain’t a shabby start to a career. Freeman, meanwhile, had the best season of his fantastic career in 2020, with a 1.102 OPS and 186 OPS+.
7. Blue Jays: George Springer (4.5) and Bo Bichette (4.1)
Combined projected WAR: 8.6
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. came up as the face of the Blue Jays’ new wave, but it’s Bichette (.307/.347/.549 slash in 75 games) who has really ignited Toronto thus far on the big league stage and who, ergo, has the higher projection here (Guerrero is at 3.4). The Blue Jays’ addition of Springer is one of the biggest moves of the winter, further legitimizing a young and upside-heavy lineup with a guy who has a 131 OPS+ and 174 home runs (not to mention 19 postseason home runs) over the past seven years.
8. Red Sox: Rafael Devers (4.3) and Xander Bogaerts (4.2)
Combined projected WAR: 8.5
Yet another supreme setup at shortstop/third base. Not a lot has gone right for the Red Sox since their 2018 World Series title, but Bogaerts (.307/.379/.542 slash in 2019-20) and Devers (.298/.348/.536) have ensured that even a Betts-less lineup remains compelling.
9. Yankees: Aaron Judge (4.3) and DJ LeMahieu (3.8)
Combined projected WAR: 8.1
Judge and Giancarlo Stanton were supposed to be the Yankees’ second coming of Ruth and Gehrig, but injuries have intervened. Turns out, it’s LeMahieu who has truly lifted this lineup the last two seasons, including a 2020 in which he led the league with a .364 average, .421 on-base percentage and 1.011 OPS. The Yanks wisely did not let him get away. And if they can keep Judge (.891 OPS, nine homers in the shortened season) on the field, that’s a lot of lumber.
10. A’s: Matt Chapman (4.9) and Matt Olson (3.1)
Combined projected WAR: 8.0
The Matts are the golden boys in an impenetrable A’s infield. Third baseman Chapman and first baseman Olson won the Gold Glove at their respective positions in both 2018 and ’19 (Chapman’s hip injury prevented him from winning the honor again in ’20, and Olson was, frankly, snubbed). This is in addition to what they can provide offensively. Chapman has an .851 OPS over the past three seasons, and Olson has 103 homers in 419 games in the bigs.
Honorable mentions: The Mets’ Francisco Lindor and Michael Conforto (7.6 combined projected WAR), Yasmani Grandal and Eloy Jiménez (7.6) of the White Sox, and the Phillies’ J.T. Realmuto and Bryce Harper (7.3) were the only others with a projection of 7.0 WAR or more.