Best Cardinals by Position - Center Fielders

This is the next piece in a series of posts in which I will look at the BEST St. Louis Cardinals of all time. I will do so by position. As always, I will be following a set of criteria. The criteria that affects this the most is that I only took a look at players with 3,000 or more plate appearances AS A CARDINAL. (So, Mark McGwire, Scott Rolen, Darryl Porter, Mike Matheny, and others - sorry, you're out!) From there, I used a very complicated formula involving:

  • WAR (a mix of fangraphs" and baseball-reference's WAR statistics)
  • WAR/PA*600 (600 plate appearances is a very near approximation to a complete season, so it's basically WAR/season
  • batting average
  • on base percentage
  • slugging percentage
  • on base plus slugging
  • OPS+ (takes OPS and converts it to a comparison to league average for that season or career and adjusts for ballpark)
  • % of hits that are extra base hits
  • BB:K (I could not compare 3rd basemen, shortstops, or corner outfielders on this statistic due to lack of data)
  • XBH:K (I could not compare 3rd basemen, shortstops, or corner outfielders on this statistic due to lack of data)
  • SB/PA*600 - basically SB/season
  • for catchers I looked at how many players were caught stealing or picked off compared to how many people stole bases off of them
  • for outfielders I looked at how many outfield assists that they got per 600 plate appearances (or per season) as well

I then took this data and ranked the players at each position against each other, accounting for small or large differences in each statistic in able to see who the best of the best was.

Without further ado, your top 3 St. Louis Cardinals' center fielders of ALL TIME!

Honorable Mention goes to: Willie McGee, Terry Moore, Taylor Douthit

Special note: I do have to say that this list of centerfielders was especially great for me because the top two came out in the order that I would have liked and Willie McGee (my 3rd choice off the top of my head before beginning) came in a very close 4th place, nearly on the list of 3. Yay!

3) There is a quite large discrepancy between #2 and #3 on this list, in terms of on the field achievements; but it is great to write about Curt Flood at #3 on this list as well, because his off the field achievements are more legacy-lasting than anything either of the two men ahead of him on the list could ever accomplish on the field. His monumental off-field achievement first: Basically, Curt Flood was the man who pioneered free agency. He was traded from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Philadelphia Phillies in the 1969 offseason and spent the entire year in 1970 fighting the trade and MLB's reserve clause. (Eventually the Cardinals gave up other players and sent him to the Washington Senator instead the following season.) The reserve clause meant that players who finished a contract with a team were bound to that team when the contract was over, as well, unless they asked and received a trade or an outright release. Major League Baseball would eventually adopt free agency in 1975; 4 years after Flood's playing days were over. Another interesting note is that, in Flood's only year as a Senator in 1971, he became the first MLB player to get a regular season hit in Canada, off of former teammate Larry Jaster, then pitching for the Expos in Montreal. Now, onto Flood's on the field achievements. Flood played 12 years as a Cardinal and led the league in plate appearances once, at bats twice, and hits once. He was a 3 time All-Star and won 7 straight Gold Gloves - always known as a great defender - while earning MVP votes in all seven of those Gold Glove seasons.

2) Ray Lankford was one of those players that you loved to love, but loved to hate at the same time. I remember one play (my father and sister were at the game, but I was not - it was not "my turn" to go with Dad that night, I guess) where he bowled over a catcher and knocked the ball loose to win a game in extra innings at home. My dad and sister say that when they showed the replay, nobody had yet left their seats to go home, and the noise from the stadium was just as loud as when it had actually happened 5 minutes earlier. However, Ray Ray (as we called him) was part of the 1990's crop of players who struck out at a high rate, while still putting up fantastic numbers. That frustrated many fans, which saw his talent level as much more capable. Lankford spent parts of 13 seasons in Cardinal red, including a comeback as a 37 year old on the 2004 team that won 105 games and went to the World Series. He hit 20 or more homers 6 times as a Cardinal, with a high of 31 (twice). He had 20 or more steals 6 times as a Cardinal (with highs of 44 and 42). In fact, 5 of those 6 times, he was a 20-20 man (with 20 or more steals AND homers in the same season). He also doubled more than 30 times on six different occasions. He drove in 100 runs once and scored 100 runs once. He had an OBP over .400 once and a slugging over .550 once (over .500 four times). His OPS+ as a Cardinal was 123. Despite all of these gaudy stats, he was only an All-Star once, in 1997, when his season ended with an OPS of .996 and an OPS+ of 159! Ray Lankford simply played baseball at the wrong time - the beginning of the Steroid Era - to put up stats that were league leadable, I believe. I also believe that he was nowhere within shouting distance of being a user of steroids. He finished 3rd in rookie of the year voting (leading the league in triples that year) and twice got MVP votes. His 40.0 WAR over 13 years as a Cardinal ranks him second in CF behind our #1 man.

1) Jim Edmonds might be one of the most amazing athletes on any of these lists. Edmonds gets dogged about his style of play in centerfield, seen as someone who dove for everything, whether he needed to or not. However, Edmonds accomplished 44.8 WAR as a Cardinal in just 8 seasons in the uniform. He has the highest percentage of hits going for XBH (47.0%) of anyone ever to don the Birds on the Bat 3,000+ times at the plate; his total was even higher than "The Big Cat," "The Machine," and even "The Man." Edmonds' nickname came to be "Jimmy Ballgame," (or simply "Jimmy," by many) a hearkening back to "Teddy Ballgame" (Ted Williams) of the Red Sox around WWII times. While Edmonds will never be confused with Ted Williams - who some argue was the best hitter of all time, better than Musial, Gehrig, Mantle, even Ruth - Edmonds became an amazing hitter over time. Edmonds was seen as a defense first guy when coming up as a California (then Anaheim) Angel in the mid-1990's, but quickly found his stroke and averaged a 119 OPS+ over his 7 years in Cali. He then brought his frosted tips and surfer style to the expansive turf in centerfield in St. Louis in 2000, at the age of 30. Edmonds had been an All-Star once and won the Gold Glove twice, but really thrived in St. Louis, playing alongside Ozzie and McGwire, then Pujols, then Rolen and Renteria, then others. Again a victim of playing during the steroids era - although I'm not sure whether or not Edmonds was squeaky clean on this one? - He never once led the league in any offensive category, frequenting the top 10. Along with Pujols and Rolen, Edmonds became part of the MV3 in St. Louis' mid 2000's batting orders. He twice bested the 1.000+ OPS plateau and averaged a .989 OPS and 153 OPS+ his first six seasons in St. Louis, while playing Gold Glove centerfield defense all six seasons. He averaged 34 doubles and 35 homers in those 6 seasons, with 100 runs and 98 RBI per season as well. He bested the 40 home run and 110 RBI marks twice in that span, becoming a pure run producer in the middle of the order. He finished in the top 5 in MVP voting twice and garnered votes for MVP in 3 more seasons.

Congratulations to those 3 great Cardinal center fielders!

The next post in the series will be Cardinal corner outfielders.

1) Jim Edmonds - 12.965

2) Ray Lankford - 11.422

3) Curt Flood - 9.576

4) Willie McGee - 9.182

5) Terry Moore - 8.857

6) Taylor Douthit - 8.610

This series was originally researched in early August, so statistics of current players may be slightly off now.

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