The St. Louis Cardinals (and their eleven World Series titles) have a strong franchise history. Since 2000, the team has won 1,387 games (an average of 91.23 wins per season). For 11 years (from 2001 through 2011), the team had MLB's best first baseman in Albert Pujols, and since 2007, the team has had arguably baseball's best catcher in Yadier Molina (I chose 2007 because that is when Molina figured out how to hit MLB pitching). In the outfield, the two standouts have been Jim Edmonds and Matt Holliday. The pitching staff has had its fair share of top-notch performers as well in Matt Morris, Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, and now Lance Lynn.
At shortstop, the team had Edgar Renteria (who found his name on the Cardinals Hall of Fame ballot this year) for six years, but the position, especially when coupled with second base, has resembled a revolving door over the last 12+ seasons (you'll see why I chose to start with 2003 later). Prior to 2014 and 2015 (Jhonny Peralta-Kolten Wong), the shortstop-second baseman combination was the same for consecutive seasons just once, in 2009 and 2010 with Brendan Ryan at short and Skip Schumaker at second.
Over the last couple days, I have been talking with site manager Ben Humphrey about how I believed this year's (and last's) shortstop-second baseman combination has been the team's best in a very long time. He agreed but responded with two possible competitors: 1) David Eckstein-Mark Grudzielanek and 2) Edgar Renteria-Tony Womack. Upon further review, neither was able to top the Peralta-Wong combination in terms of fWAR (7.2 in 2014, projected [using ZiPS rest of season] 7.2 in 2015).
I had to go all the way back to 2003 before finding a combination with a higher single-season fWAR total than Peralta-Wong. Of course, the shortstop this season was Renteria, who had one of the best seasons as a shortstop in Cardinals history: .330/.394/.480 slash line, .375 wOBA, and 6.3 fWAR. The second baseman with the most playing time that year? Per Baseball-Reference, it was the "legendary" Bo Hart, who put up 1.1 fWAR in 77 games (321 plate appearances). Below, you will find an infogram showing the combinations' fWAR totals since the 2003 season:
Breaking each season down individually:
|Year||Shortstop||Second Base||Total PA|
|2015||Peralta: 4.0||Wong: 3.2||1,174|
|2014||Peralta: 5.3||Wong: 1.9||1,061|
|2013||Kozma: 0.0||Carpenter: 6.9||1,165|
|2012||Furcal: 0.6||Descalso: 0.1||957|
|2011||Theriot: 0.2||Schumaker: 0.3||883|
|2010||Ryan: 1.2||Schumaker: -0.6||1,015|
|2009||Ryan: 2.7||Schumaker: 1.6||1,015|
|2008||Izturis: 1.0||Kennedy: 1.4||819|
|2007||Eckstein: 0.7||Kennedy: -1.1||790|
|2006||Eckstein: 1.5||Miles: -0.6||1,023|
|2005||Eckstein: 2.5||Grudzielanek: 2.8||1,276|
|2004||Renteria: 2.0||Womack: 2.8||1,248|
|2003||Renteria: 6.3||Hart: 1.1||984|
For a franchise that has been as successful as the Cardinals, I found it surprising to see a considerable amount of "meh" in the table. Frankly, it boggles the mind that teams with Eckstein-Miles (2006) and Theriot-Schumaker (2011; the trade deadline addition of Rafael Furcal obviously helped) up the middle won respective World Series titles, but that's the beauty of playoff baseball. I like the 2014-2015 combination much better. The 2013 "combination" was really close to 7.2 fWAR with 6.9, but it's not the best comparison considering one player (the player who finished fourth in NL MVP voting) made up 100% of the total value. Here's to hoping the Cardinals can continue having an effective shortstop-combination for the duration of Peralta's current contract and beyond.
I understand there are limitations to using only fWAR when comparing the respective SS-2B combinations, but given that I wanted to factor in hitting, fielding, and baserunning over multiple seasons, I figured this was the best available option. I included total plate appearances in the table as a reference. The years with fewer total plate appearances were seasons where one (or even both) of the players split time with someone else. To reiterate one last time, Renteria's 2003 season was phenomenal.