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The Five Best St. Louis Cardinals Players by rWAR (1989-2011)



Earlier, we looked at the five best St. Louis Cardinals by rWAR from 1959 through 1988. This the follow-up to that post, which covers the time period from 1989 through 2011. This list is inspired by David Schoenfield's post on the ESPN Sweet Spot blog which looked at the five best position players by WAR. Unlike Schoenfield, I have included pitchers and ranked the five best Cardinals by rWAR.

1989-1993: Ozzie Smith, SS (20.6); Bob Tewksbury, SP (11.7); Milt Thompson, OF (9.0); Ray Lankford, OF (8.3); Bernard Gilkey, OF (7.6)

In these, his age 34-38 seasons, Ozzie continued to accrue numbers despite entering the normal decline phase for baseball players generally and middle infielders in particular. 1989 was likely Ozzie's second-best season. His defense was otherworldly according to Total Zone. He posted a 3.1 dWAR (!), which was almost half his value. With a batting line of .273/.335/.361/.696 (97 OPS+), Ozzie accrued 6.3 rWAR that year.

That Milt Thompson is third on this cumulative rWAR list tells us all we need know to about these years in Cardinals history. Rather than focus on Thompson, though, I wanted to mention the emergence of Ray Lankford. Over this time period, Lankford posted a line of .265/.346/.417/.763 (113 OPS+) and totaled 39 homers. In 1991, No. 16/12 led the league in triples and, in 1992, Lankford had the dubious distinction of leading the league in times caught stealing (24) and strikeouts (147). It won't be until the next five-year segment that Lankford emerges as the Lankford we (especially DanUp) remember fondly.

Tewksbury started 118 games over this timespan, totaled 813 IP, and posted a 3.13 ERA which was good for a 118 ERA+. All of this with opposing batters hitting for a .273 average against him. You, like me, are likely wondering how he managed this feat. It's because he barely walked anyone. Well, in 1989, he did (3.00 BB/9), but after that he was exemplary, posting BB/9's of 0.93 in 1990, 1.79 in 1991, and 0.93 in 1992. That's how he held opposing batters to a mere .297 OBP despite their .273 BA.

1994-1998: Ray Lankford, OF (23.6); Brian Jordan, OF (19.6); Mark McGwire, 1B (9.4); Matt Morris, P (7.2); Todd Stottlemyre, SP (6.5)

Lankford's age 27 through 31 seasons were everything you'd expect, a joyous mix of homers, walks, stolen bases, and strikeouts. Lankford posted a slash line of .282/.378/.523/.900 (135 OPS+), hit 127 homers, drew 381 walks, and struck out 632 over these five seasons. Overshadowed by The Great Home Run Race of 1998, Lankford had his best season in 1998. Lankford hit .293 with a .391 OBP and slugged .540. His .932 OPS was good for a 143 OPS+. Throw in roughly average defense and his 5.9 rWAR was a career best.

The Cardinals acquired Mark McGwire in 1997. In 1998, he rewarded them for having done so with one of the greatest seasons in baseball history. McGwire hit for a .299 average and led the league in OBP (.470), SLG (.752), OPS (1.222), OPS+ (216), walks (162), and, of course, home runs (70). That Sammy Sosa won the National League MVP award is a travesty. McGwire's 1998 was worth 7.2 rWAR. McGwire's production was so ridiculous and the Cardinals that preceded and surrounded him (not named Lankford or Jordan) so lackluster that he is ranked third on this cumulative rWAR list for the five season from 1994 through 1998 despite his only having played in St. Louis for one full season and a couple of months. Does anyone know when the Cardinals will install his statue outside of Busch?

1999-2003: Jim Edmonds, OF (27.7); Albert Pujols, IF/OF (23.6); J.D. Drew, OF (18.5); Edgar Renteria, SS (15.5); Mark McGwire, 1B (10.4)

Jim Edmonds did not play for the Cardinals in 1999. Over the four seasons from 2000 through 2003, he put together four of the six best seasons of his career (with the other top seasons coming in 2004 and 2005). Edmonds burst onto the St. Louis scene in 2000 with a 6.8-rWAR season and just kept hitting and fielding. Here are his OPS's over these five seasons: .994 (146 OPS+) in 2000, .974 (149 OPS+) in 2001, .981 (158 OPS+) in 2002, 1.002 (160 OPS+) in 2003. Here are his rWAR totals for the same years: 6.8, 6.4, 7.2 and 7.3. He also won four Gold Gloves that he was mostly deserving of with dWAR totals of 0.1, 0.5, 0.9, and 1.8.

Pujols places second on this list on the strength of three seasons. By now, we all know how ridiculous Pujols's career has been. Here are his OPS's from his first three seasons: 1.013 (157 OPS+), .955 (151 OPS+), and 1.106 (187 OPS+). Here are his rWAR totals: 6.9, 5.8, and 10.9. He won Rookie of the Year honors in 2001, a Silver Slugger, and placed fourth in the MVP voting. Pujols won the Silver Slugger for third base but could have won it for any number of positions as he played the outfield in 78 games for 611.2 innings, third base in 55 games for 431.2 innings, first base in 42 games for 287 innings. In 2002, Pujols's primary positions was left field where he played in 117 games for 870.2 innings but he also played third base for 293 innings in 41 games, first base for 144 innings in 21 games, and shortstop for two innings.

2004-2008: Albert Pujols, 1B (43.8); Jim Edmonds, CF (17.6); Scott Rolen, 3B (17.3); Chris Carpenter, SP (12.9); David Eckstein, SS (8.0)

To witness the MV3 season of 2004 was to live an entire summer constantly pinching oneself to see if it was a dream. It wasn't. Our trio of WARmongers really did lay waste to the National League in historic fashion. The numbers speak for that fireworks-filled season.













































Chris Carpenter won the Cy Young in 2005. Carpenter threw 241.2 innings that season. While his IP total did not lead the league, his complete game total of seven did. Carpenter's 2.83 ERA was good for a 150 ERA+ and his peripherals were outstanding: 7.93 K/9, 1.90 BB/9, 2.90 FIP, and 2.93 xFIP. Carpenter pitched in only 2004, 2005, and 2006 for the Cardinals, missing the bulk of 2007 and 2008 due to injuries. Nonetheless, Carp still is the four-most valuable Cardinal during this five-year span.

2009-2011: Albert Pujols, 1B (21.7); Chris Carpenter, SP (12.8); Matt Holliday, OF (12.1); Adam Wainwright, SP (11.9); Yadier Molina, C (9.2)

Rather than five seasons, the final block of time is only three. Matt Holliday's rWAR total comes over about two and a half seasons wearing The Birds On The Bat. His line during that time is .314/.394/.543/.937. He has been elite but not Pujolsian. Despite declining production, Pujols is still a ridiculous talent. These last three seasons, his line is .313/.409/.598/1.007.

Adam Wainwright has only pitched in two of the three seasons that make up this cumulative rWAR exercise, yet his two-year 11.9 rWAR total is only 0.9 rWAR behind Carpenter's three-year total. This is a great indicator of just how excellent Wainwright was in 2009 and 2010. During those two seasons, he pitched 463.1 innings with a 2.53 ERA (157 ERA+) while posting a K/9 of 8.3 and BB/9 of only 2.4. His K/BB ratio was 3.48. The Cardinals' 2012 fortunes largely depend on the return of a healthy Wainwright, capable of dominating like he did prior to his elbow injury and corrective surgery.

It will be interesting to see whether Holliday, Carpenter, or Wainwright can surpass Pujols in rWAR by the end of 2013.