With the way the this current Cardinals team has been playing the past couple of months, I thought we could all use a pick me up. So here is look back at on of the best teams in franchise history...
After a disappointing 2003 season in which the Cards finished in 3rd place with just 85 wins, the Cards traded away JD Drew to the Braves for a LOOGY and two young pitchers. While JD Drew was an oft injured and inconsistent player, he was tremendously talented and many people took the trade as a sign that the Cards weren't going to be very competitive in 2004. They had a very weak looking pitching staff, and despite a dynamic 1-2-3 punch in the middle of the lineup, PECOTA projected a 3rd place finish again and 89 wins.
Of course, the Cardinals then decided to win 105 games, while the GOB's simultaniously gave a giant middle finger to the Cubs starting rotation. Despite getting swept by the Red Sox, the 2004 Cardinals could only be described as a wildly successful team. In this post I wanted to explore what made them so good.
It was no secret that the starting rotation was considered weakness for this club before the season started. The oppening day rotation was filled with reclamation projects and injury risks. A quick look a Marcel's projection for each of the scheduled starters would have any Cards fan wetting their pants:
Morris: 3.80 ERA
Marquis: 4.50 ERA
Williams: 3.98 ERA
Suppan: 4.65 ERA
Carpenter: 4.70 ERA
Um... wow. That looks like the freaking Nationals this year. Morris and Williams were the only ones above average, and they hardly constituted a dynamic 1-2 punch. It gets even worse when you consider the complete lack of depth elsewhere in the orginization. Top prospect Danny Haren was really the only other unlaughable option; and given his lackluster performance in the majors in limited time in 03, most people didn't think he was ready to contribute at the major league level.
Of course, games are played by players, not by their Marcels projections. The rotation stayed healthy the entire year, with those 5 starters combing to start 154 games, and had an agreggate 4.20 ERA. However, they put up a not-so-pretty 4.59 FIP, which implies that they got lucky and/or the defense was particularily good.
Here is how the starting rotation looked by WAR using FIP:
Despite pitching the fewest innings of any regular in the rotation, Carpenter was by far the most valuable. However, once you get past him, only Woody Williams was able to be above average. Despite shiny ERA's, Suppan and Marquis simply weren't very good pitchers back then.
Still, given the preseason expectations for that motely group of pitchers, it can only be considered a positive that they were able to stay healthy and reasonably productive the entire year.
While the starting staff was clearly a weakness going into the season, people had big expectations for the everyday players. The opening day lineup, void of infielders in the oufield, was a thing of beauty:
Pujols and Edmonds were each coming off back to back to back seasons in which they had at least .400 wOBA. Renteria and Rolen made for a dynamic right side of the infield, as they each were allstars and had won gold gloves in the past. Matheny at catcher wasn't great, but he could handle the pitching staff and was a good defender. The corner outfield situation, on the other hand, looked a little shaky, with two aging veterans looking to get most of the starts. Still, it was a good group of position players.
The offense couldn't have turned out much better. As a team, the Cardinals had a .344 wOBA and were 73 runs above average. On the defesnive side, the Cards had a cumulative +19.5 UZR. All together, Cardinals postion players were worth 33.8 WAR, which lead the majors. Here is the breakdown by players:
As you can see, the big three was a monster. Pujols, Edmonds and Rolen combined for just under 25 WAR, meaning if the rest of the team was filled with replacement level players, they would have won about 75 games.
The supporting cast wasn't great. Only Womack and Sanders were above league average, and the rest of the bunch was worth a combined 4 WAR.
Still, this was a great group of everyday players.
In 2003, Cardinal relievers had a cumulative 4.98 FIP, dead last in the majors and a 4.79 ERA. They blew 30 saves and had a combined -1.89 WPA. In other words, they made last years pen look a bunch Mariano Rivera's. Before 2004, they traded for Ray King and signed Julian Tavarez and Al Reyes to short term deals. Most importantly, they hoped for an entire season of Jason Izringhausen (ahh, remember when he was good?).
So in 2004, the Cardinals pen shaved over a run and a half off of their ERA and FIP. They finished with a combined 7.54 WPA, good for 4th in the majors. Here is the breakdown by player:
Where in 2003, the bullpen essentially cost the Cards the season, in 2004 it was amazing.
Scott Rolen is my pick for that years MPV. Powered by a .421 wOBA and a 21.2 UZR, he had a rediculous 8.8 WAR season, good for 3rd in the NL (actually, 3 of the top 6 in the NL in WAR were on the Cardinals that year. JD Drew was 4th, although he obviously wasn't with the team anymore). Pujols beat him in WPA, but Rolen's season was just too good to ignore.
Chris Carpenter would be my pick. He finished with a 3.41 FIP and led the club in WAR despite having the fewest innings pitched of anyone in the rotation. If you want to go by WPA, then Carp is still your winner, with a 2.04 mark.
Scott Spezio Award
This is dedicated to the player who came out of nowhere and ended up being a valuble player for the club. I think in 2004, this belongs to Tony Womack. Coming off of a miserable season with the Cubs/Rockies/D-Backs in which he was worth -1.3 WAR, the Cards weren't expecting much from him. Instead, he won the opening day job in spring training and finished with a 2.8 WAR mark.
Well I hope that this look into the past was enjoyable for you. You'll note that despite winning 105 games, the 2004 Cards started off slow. Through the first 40 games of the season they were only 3 games over .500. After that they went on a tear and ended up becoming one of the best teams in recent memory. Hopefully this years team can follow suit.