What the Marlins' middle infielders -- second baseman Dan Uggla and shortstop Hanley Ramirez -- have been able to accomplish since being paired in 2006 would have been unheard-of less than two decades ago. The duo has combined to hit 224 home runs, an average of 56 a year.
Until the 1990s, middle infielders, with very few exceptions, were in the lineup for their defense. The second basemen and shortstops of yore were supposed to be seen and not heard when they stepped into the batter's box -- they were asked to do little more than hit a few opposite-field singles, make contact on the hit-and-run and drop down an occasional bunt. The Marlins' middle infield pair is one a few that has been posting historic home run rates in the last two decades.
No middle-infield combination combined for 50 homers in a season until 1958, but that was mainly due to shortstop Ernie Banks hitting 47 for the Cubs while second baseman Tony Taylor added six. The 55-homer plateau wasn't reached until 1969 by the Red Sox as shortstop Rico Petrocelli had a 40-homer season and second baseman Mike Andrews went deep 15 times. It took until 1999 before a middle-infield tandem reached the 60-homer mark as shortstop Alex Rodriguez (42) and second baseman David Bell (21) combined for 63 for the Mariners.
And it’s been a different story since then. All 11 of the top combined home run totals by middle infielders have occurred since 1999, including six in the past five seasons. Rodriguez is on the list four times and Uggla and Ramirez are on it three times, combining for at least 55 in each of the past three seasons.
Top 2B/SS Combos -- Home Runs
Only since 1999 has power been produced in the middle infield. (Compiled from stats post-1954.)
Going beyond home runs, a handy metric for measuring a player's overall offensive contribution is Value Over Replacement Player (VORP). The concentration of top-10 seasons by double-play combination according to VORP is not as restricted to recent seasons as those on the home runs list. However, all 10 come from the divisional play era, which began in 1969. The general rule of thumb is that 10 points of VORP is worth the equivalent of one victory.
Top 2B/SS Combos -- VORP
Even using VORP, we see that middle infield production is a modern thing. (Compiled from stats post-1954.)
John Perrotto is editor-in-chief of Baseball Prospectus. BP's Eric Seidman provided research for this story.