Testing strength up the middle

Thanks to Robinson Cano and Derek Jeter, the Yankees have had one of the best up-the-middle combos in recent years. Noah K. Murray/THE STAR-LEDGER/US Presswire

It's a timeworn adage that a ballclub must be strong up the middle to win a championship. A few years ago, Bill James wrote that the importance of strength up the middle was "perhaps the first lick of old baseball wisdom that I ever encountered."

Given the way talent is distributed across what James called the defensive spectrum, which runs 1B-LF-RF-3B-CF-2B-SS-C, it makes sense. The positions on the right are the premium ones defensively; the offensive bar is lower than for those on the left. It's much tougher to find above-average hitters to fill the premium defensive slots, and teams are at a considerable advantage when they do. In his column Thursday, Jerry Crasnick breaks down the best up-the-middle combos in baseball in 2011 (catcher, second base, shortstop and center field), and that got us thinking about how much truth there is to the "strong up the middle" axiom.