By now you know the story. Even though the St. Louis Cardinals had enjoyed a half-decade of competing for the postseason, thanks to several trades by general manager Walt Jocketty chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. decided that organization needed to change the way it did business. Instead of relying on acquiring establish big-leaguers via trade or signing them on the free-agent market, DeWitt wanted a pipeline of young, cost-controlled talent flowing from the farm system to St. Louis. The expanded use of analytics was also a source of internal disagreement. Fissures developed in the front office as DeWitt set out implementing his vision. The chasm ultimately led to the Cardinals parting ways with Jocketty.
Bill Madden of the New York Daily News succinctly described the situation at the time the Cardinals announced that the organization and Jocketty had mutually agreed to part ways:
The firing of respected Walt Jocketty as Cardinals GM last Tuesday by team chairman Bill DeWitt was just another example of the growing trend of meddling owners reducing the powers of the general manager and shifting the emphasis of baseball operations to statistical analysis. In announcing he was parting ways with Jocketty - under whose stewardship the Cardinals had gone to the postseason five times in the last seven years, twice to the World Series and winning it all just last year - DeWitt cited an irreconcilable division within the Cardinals' front office. But it was a division DeWitt created when he promoted Jeff Luhnow, one of the new-wave stat practitioners, as head of both player development and scouting. Jocketty viewed that as a usurping of his powers - especially since Luhnow clearly had the chairman's ear - and let it be known to his friends and associates that he was not comfortable with the new arrangement.
In addition, the payroll constraints placed on Jocketty by DeWitt prevented the Cardinals from retaining many of their free agents. It created an annual challenge for Jocketty to "patch the tire" with creative deals with clubs conducting fire sales and signing middle-of-the-road free agents such as Juan Encarnacion and David Eckstein. On the other hand, a big part of Jocketty's undoing with DeWitt was the failure of the Cardinals' farm system to develop any pitchers in a decade and only two frontline players, catcher Yadier Molina and outfielder Chris Duncan, in recent years.
DeWitt explained that a difference in philosophy necessitated the move but did not expand beyond that, as reported by MLB.com's Nate Latsch:
"I think that we had a little different philosophy and vision with respect to some baseball issues," DeWitt said. "There was clearly tension that was reported widely, not only locally but nationally in the organization. While I've said on several occasions that tension is in every organization, I do think it got to the point with the Cardinals that is was counter-productive. We couldn't achieve our objectives given what was going on inside the organization."
"It was philosophy, the direction they wanted to take the organization, how they put their team together," Jocketty said. "I didn’t necessarily go along with the thinking. We had a pretty good organization in place. I was given the right to run the organization the way I thought it should be, and I think people would say we had done the right job in scouting and player development and had the right people, quality people, to run it."
I bring up this moment in Cardinals history because of an article last week by Richard Justice. In the MLB.com piece, Justice writes:
One part of their story that sometimes gets overlooked is that the Cardinals completely changed their baseball model after the 2007 season when Mozeliak took over as general manager.
Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr. wanted to shift direction toward a player development-oriented system, one in which success could be sustained with a constant supply of young, affordable talent and a reasonable payroll.
In seven seasons under Mozeliak, the Cardinals have 628 regular-season victories, second only to 648 by the Yankees. In that time, they've averaged 11th in payroll and been in the top 10 only once. They do this with a straight forward belief in embracing analytics and the First-Year Player Draft, and especially in being willing to give their young players an opportunity.
"That's one of my themes when I address our Minor League system," Mozeliak said. "You do your job. You play well. You will play in the big leagues for us."
As Cardinals first baseman Matt Adams said, "It's pretty cool to see the faith they have in young players, even the guys in the Minor Leagues. The Cardinals believe in homegrown players. That gives you a lot of faith, knowing they want you to be part of their club."
Sitting here over seven years after DeWitt showed Jocketty the door and with the narrative of that split having become cemented in our collective psyche as Cardinals fans, I wondered if my impression of the Jocketty years as compared to the Mozeliak years is true. Did Jocketty really rely on homegrown talent so rarely? Have the Cardinals relied more on homegrown talent since Mozeliak took over as GM?
I did some digging. I decided to divide my inquiry into to two components: position players and pitchers. I looked at the non-pitcher St. Louis plate appearance (PA) totals and position-player fWAR totals for each year from 1994 (Jocketty's first as GM) to last season. Then, over the same time period, I looked at innings pitched totals (IP) and pitcher fWAR.
How to divide these stats was kind of tricky. I wanted to get an idea of the Cards' reliance on homegrown players—those drafted and developed by the club. However, the Cardinals drafted some players, traded them away, and then signed them as free agents (Adam Kennedy and Braden Looper, as examples). Other times, St. Louis drafted a player, developed him, he made his MLB debut with the Cardinals, played with the club for several years, left via free agency, and then later signed with the Cards as a free agent (John Mabry is one such player). In order to keep it simple, I divided each stat—PA, position-player fWAR, IP, and pitcher fWAR—into one of two categories: players St. Louis drafted and those the Cardinals did not draft. It's a strict black-and-white definition based on drafting or amateur international signing. So Adam Wainwright and David Freese are not homegrown. Neither is So Taguchi. However, every PA and fWAR from Mabry, Kennedy, and Mike DiFelice is considered homegrown for purposes of this analysis.
Position Players (1994-2014)
The chart shows raw PA totals. I'll share some percentages based on those numbers.
1994 was a strike-shortened season, but it's nonetheless uncanny that it was the only season under Jocketty's leadership in which St. Louis draftees took more PAs than players acquired via trade or signed in free agency. Homegrown Redbirds notched 56.99% of the PAs that season. In 1995, their share fell to 48.20%. The next season, it dropped to 47.51%. Then to 33.77% in 1997. In 2004, that share dipped to 23.13%. In Jocketty's final season as GM, the injury-riddled 2007 campaign, St. Louis draftees took 40.65% of the club's non-pitcher PAs.
2008 was Mozeliak's first season on the job. It was the first year since 1994 that St. Louis-drafted players took the majority of the club's non-pitcher PAs with 54.12%. They've been above 50% in every season since. That share jumped to 64.76% in 2009. The pennant-winning 2013 campaign saw St. Louis draftees notched the highest share of the club's non-pitcher PAs: 68.23%. In 2014, their share was a tad over 65%.
The contrast between the Jocketty and Mozeliak eras is striking in this area.
Not surprisingly, the fWAR chart tends to mirror the PA chart. After all, those who get the playing time tend to produce the WAR. But a couple of years stick out to me. The first is 2001, when homegrown talents Albert Pujols and JD Drew both had standout seasons and propelled the drafted fWAR total through the roof. The other is a comparison between 2013 and 2014, when the falloff of homegrown production (Allen Craig, Yadier Molina, and Matt Carpenter) coupled with the signed of Jhonny Peralta and Matt Holliday continuing to hit well to create a WAR realignment of sorts. I'm very interested to see what the breakdown is in 2015.
The Cardinals won 205 games in 2004 and 2005 combined, because everything worked out. The club didn't suffer that many injuries on the pitching front. In fact, in 2004, the Cardinals saw five starters make every single one of the club's starts. In 2005, St. Louis needed just two starts from pitchers who were not in the opening-day rotation. Jocketty constructed a starting staff by trade, free agency, and with Matty Mo, and they pitched healthily for two glorious seasons. Since the low point in terms of homegrown IP in the mid-aughts, the innings totals have gradually crept upward—first out of necessity (due to injuries and ineffectiveness from veterans), then based on merit, culminating in 2013's homegrown pennant-winner.
The Cardinals didn't have much in the way of pitching when Jocketty took things over. Matt Morris and Alan Benes combined to flash hope in 1997. Ankiel did the same in 2000. While Morris returned to the majors after missing time due to injury, neither Benes nor Ankiel was able to deliver prolonged MLB success. After that, the Cards didn't get much in the way of homegrown pitching. St. Louis-drafted pitchers didn't notch many innings and the innings they did tally were not very good. Then the farm was barren when it came to pitching. But the Mozeliak and Luhnow drafts helped replenish the system and now homegrown pitching is its defining characteristic.
DeWitt made the bold move of calling for a change of direction while the club was in the middle of an incredible run of success. He then stuck to his guns and showed Jocketty—the architect of that run—the door. DeWitt wanted a pipeline of young, cost-controlled talent and that's just what Mozeliak has given him. The Cardinals are now a mix of additions from outside the organization and homegrown stars. DeWitt deserves credit for seeing what needed to be done and charting a course that has put the Cardinals well positioned to compete for another World Series in 2015.