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WAR Cards -- Middle Infield

Last week I began a series of comparing Cards’ players since 1955 by position in terms of their WAR as Cards. This week I’m looking at the middle infielders. I’m using Sean Smith’s fantastic historical WAR database as the basis for my information.

Second base – you’ll see that the dilemma the team’s had for the last several years – bouncing from 1 player to another – is not unique to the last several years at all. In fact, there’s probably no other position on the diamond where the Cards have experienced such futility in their history. And we’re off:

1. Tom Herr

He’s the best Cardinal 2B of the last 55 or so years. He had 19.2 WAR as a Cardinal and had 15.9 in his best 5 years. The truth is that Herr was really a pretty good 2B. He had 6 seasons of being an above average 2B and had 5.7 WAR in the Cards’ terrific World Series of 1985.

2. Don Blasingame

Blasingame was the team’s 2B from 1955 – 1959 and put up 10.5 WAR in those 5 seasons. Yes, the 2nd best 2B of the last 50 years was about a league average 2B. As with the next 3, Blasingame reaches this list solely based on tenure b/c he wasn’t great by any stretch. His best season was 1957 when he put up 5.4 WAR by having a wOBA of just .324. Those 728 PAs helped out a lot.

3. Jose Oquendo

The Secret Weapon did it based on tenure w/ the team. As w/ several others, I had to separate his years when he played more OF or SS than he did 2B. I only included the years in which he played more 2B than any other position and recorded 10.4 WAR in 6 seasons, one of which was exactly replacement level. Because of the team’s historical futility at this position, Oquendo gets most of his value from his 1989 campaign where he recorded 5.5 WAR. He had a .336 wOBA in ’89 and recorded almost 2 WAR on defense alone.

4. Ted Sizemore

Sheesh! Let’s be clear – Sizemore was not a good player but he did have 2 pretty good seasons, recording 3.8 WAR in 1973 and 2.2 in 1974. His 5 year total from 1971-1975 was just 7.1 WAR (1.4 per year) and, as you can see, he recorded 6 of those 7 in 2 seasons. As w/ Oquendo, he got a bunch of his value from his defense in 1973 – 1 ½ wins – much as Adam Kennedy did last year.

5. Ken Oberkfell

Oberkfell was better known as the Cards’ 3B once Herr came up but he began his career at the keystone and was really quite good in 1979 and 1980 (3.2 and 3.6 WAR, respectively). After that, he was moved across the diamond and was an above average 3B for the Cards for the next 3 seasons. In 1981, he had a wOBA of .352.

2nd Base Total WAR 5 year peak
Herr 19.2 15.9
Blasingame 10.5 10.5
Oquendo 10.4 10.4
Sizemore 7.1 7.1
Oberkfell 6.1 6.1

On the other side of the bag, the Cards have been significantly better, as you all know. The best SS in Cards’ history had more WAR as a Cardinal than the top 5 2B of the last 55 years.

1. Ozzie Smith

Like Pujols – duh! What more needs to be said about how good Ozzie was? He recorded 61.1 WAR as a Cardinal and had 31 in his best 5 seasons – more than 6 WAR per season. His peak average had as many WAR as Oberkfell recorded in 2 full, and 2 partial seasons at the keystone. Besides being tremendous, he was also amazingly consistent – recording between 5.5 and 7.4 WAR in each season from 1985-1989. Amazingly, his best season – 1987 – was not one of his better defensive seasons, as he recorded just 1 WAR defensively. His wOBA that season was .357.

2. Garry Templeton

Expected Renteria here, didn’t you? So did I but w/ all the middle-finger gesticulating we forget how good Templeton was before being traded for someone…I forget who. Anyway, in 5+ seasons as a Cardinal Templeton had 19.2 WAR and had 18.5 in his 5 best seasons. He was really good. His best season was 1977 where he had 4.3 WAR w/ a .336 wOBA.

3. Edgar Renteria

I didn’t realize how eminently average Renteria was as a Cardinal for most of his tenure. A league average SS is nothing to sneeze at, of course, but the level of play among shortstops increased many times between the days of Templeton and Ozzie and the late 90s and early 2000s. In 6 seasons, Edgar put up 17.7 WAR – obviously, 3 WAR per season is damned good from a SS – and his best season was in 2003 when he was 6.6 WAR. In ’02 he was 4.1 WAR and he was right around league average the other 4 seasons (he was actually below average in 1999 and 2001). A great and valuable part of some great Cards’ teams in the early part of the decade.

4. Dick Groat

In 3 seasons as the Cards’ SS from 1963-1965, Groat was 12 WAR, including a tremendous 6.8 WAR in 1963. Ozzie, for example, only had 1 season better than Groat’s 1963 season. Groat had a .368 wOBA w/a .377 OBP and a .450 SLG in ’63. 46 years ago, a .450 SLG from your SS was tremendous. Hell, I’d be ecstatic if Khalil Greene gave us a .450 SLG this year.

5. Alvin Dark

Dark only played 2 full seasons for the Cards and recorded 5.5 WAR in those 2+ seasons (1956-58). Both seasons he played an above average SS and recorded 3.5 WAR in 1957 w/ a .313 wOBA. We’ve come a long way since a .313 wOBA for a SS was considered above average.

Shortstop Total WAR 5 year peak
Ozzie 61.1 31.0
Templeton 19.2 18.5
Renteria 17.7 16.4
Groat 12.0 12.0
Dark 5.5 5.5

Honorable mention at both positions – Rogers Hornsby WAR hasn’t been calculated for players who played prior to 1955 but I wanted to estimate Hornsby’s WAR just to see where he would rank. A lot of stats for the 1910s and 20s is pretty hard to find so I had to estimate the league average wOBA for that period. We can find a player’s RAA by subtracting the league average wOBA*1.15 from the player’s wOBA for that season and then multiplying it by the number of PAs. I had to estimate Hornsby’s defensive RAA but, by most accounts, he was a terrible defensive player. There were a lot of errors committed in those days and Hornsby had a ton so I guessed that he was minus 3 WAR defensively for each season. Maybe he wasn’t that bad, almost nobody is, but I’d rather err on that side than assume he’s something near league average.

Even assuming he cost his team 3 wins each season defensively, he accumulated 85.3 WAR as a Cardinal 2B (in 7 seasons) and 15.0 WAR as a SS (in 4+ seasons). Hornsby was ridiculously good – easily the best 2b in the team’s history regardless of how bad he was defensively. And he’d be among the top 4 SSs in the team’s history as well.