A strong middle infield has been the key to many successful MLB clubs. The powerhouse Brooklyn Dodgers of the late ’40s and early ’50s had Hall of Famers Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson at short and second base respectively, the go-go White Sox of the ’50s had HOFers Luis Aparicio and Nellie Fox, the big red machine of the mid ’70s had Dave Concepcion and Joe Morgan, and there are many more examples.
The 2016 Met duo consisting of shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and second sacker Neil Walker was not of that caliber but they were very productive. The switch-hitting Cabrera, despite dealing with a sore knee, put up an excellent slash line of .280/.336/.474 with 23 home runs. As a fielder, he did have some range limitations made worse by the knee problems but basically he gobbled up every ball he got to, he had only seven errors in 135 games at shortstop giving him a career-high FLD% of .986. His throwing was very accurate with plenty of zing on it.
Walker, another switch-hitter, had a comparable slash line of .282/.347/.476 with 23 homers. Walker missed all of September due to a back problem, but when he played he was similar to Cabrera in that he mostly comes up with all balls hit to him, although his range too was a bit limited due to his back injury. He also posted a .986 FLD%, same as Cabrera, in fact, their stats are so close it is almost eerie.
The Cabrera/Walker combination was one of the best middle infields the Mets have ever had. Some of the good Met middle infields of the past include the mid 80’s duo of shortstop Rafael Santana and second baseman Wally Backman, and the late ’90s and early 2000’s combination of shortstop Rey Ordonez and second baseman Edgardo Alfonzo. All were excellent in the field, Backman could hit and Alfonzo was a terrific hitter as well, but unfortunately the slender Ordonez and Sanatana were notoriously light hitters.
There was one combination from the past that probably was a little better than the current middle infield. In 2006 a young Jose Reyes had a stellar season at shortstop for the Mets, with a slash line of .300/.354/.487 with 19 homers and 64 SB. Reyes may not have been quite as sure handed as Cabrera but he did get to a lot of balls and had electric velocity on throws to first.
The second baseman in 2006 for the Mets was Jose Valentin, who put up a slash line of .271/.330/.490 with 18 home runs. So as much as I like Cabrera and Walker, a slight edge might go to that 2006 Met middle infield.
However, it should be noted that the best may be yet to come for Cabrera and Walker in 2017. Both seem to have recovered from the injuries that hampered them in 2016. Both will be in their age 31 season which is still near peak for many baseball players. They have a year under their belt as double-play partners, and they look good turning twin killings. In the 2017 spring training season each has hit 3 homers as of this writing. Cabrera has positively smoked the ball for a .360 batting average in ST, although Walker’s .245 mark is more pedestrian. True it is only spring training, but the fact that both have looked good at the plate and in the field is a positive sign.
If both stay relatively healthy in 2017, they may well prove to be the best middle infield combination the Mets have ever had. That scenario would go a long way toward powering the Mets into the post-season once again.