Let's begin the article by saying: this is my opinion on the Cardinals all-time roster. A lot of time and effort was put into this specifically because of the need for reasoning behind each choice made to fill the roster. I will provide clarity on why certain players have the roles they do; along with past statistics that led me to this conclusion. What I have learned throughout this process is that the best players were usually the best in their era. This means that majority of the best in each era likely contributed offensively in the 3-hole. Considering the task at-hand, there is only one 3-hole spot available--for the best of the best in the history of the Cardinals franchise. Without further or do, here is my all-time 25-man roster--Enjoy!
1. Lou Brock (LF): When evaluating the lead-off spot in a lineup, there are many factors to consider. After diving into the numbers, I decided to choose Brock based on his wOBA, SB, and XBH. Although his wOBA is merely average (career .336), his ability to reach scoring position is the important factor here. He sits atop the leader board in stolen bases with 888 as a Cardinal. More than likely, none of those stolen bases occurred by stealing home. With that being said, any time Brock reached 1st or 2nd base, then there was a good chance he would reach scoring position. To be exact, 1 in every 3 or 4 plate appearances Brock made his way into scoring position. As for extra-base hits, he currently ranks 4th on the list with 684. Now knowing the numbers, you can divide 684 (XBH) by 2713 (hits) to find that roughly 25% of Brock's hits went for extra-bases. Which ever way you want to look at it, this Cardinal has the most potential to reach base and manage to reach scoring position; which is why I would have Brock at the lead-off spot.
2. Rogers Hornsby (2B): In my opinion, a 2-hole hitter is equally as important as the 3-hole; with different skill sets and roles attached to their importance. To have the ideal 2-hole hitter, I evaluated XBH, wOBA, and BABIP. Hornsby excelled in all three categories and was a difficult strike-out candidate. As a Cardinal, he collected 703 XBH in less than 7000 PA; which means he hit 1 XBH every 9 or 10 PA. Keep in mind, that ratio doesn't include singles or any other factor that allowed him to reach base safely. It's also imperative to understand that if your lead-off man succumbs to an out, then you want a 2-hole guy that can reach scoring position more frequently than others to give your team a better opportunity to score runs. Although SB's help reach scoring position, I decided to go with Hornsby based on his ability to put the ball in-play and not strike-out. From a strategy point-of-view, a hitter who is less likely to run into an out is more valuable than someone who creates a negative impact to the "winning percentage added" (WPA). I'll be honest--prior to these evaluations, I had no idea of the impact Hornsby had during his tenure as a Cardinal. His most impressive season was in 1922 when he slugged 42 HR in 704 PA and ended the season with a .401/.459/.722 slash line--unbelievable. For my closing statement--Hornsby did not only put the ball in-play, but he reached base an awful lot. My thinking is this: I would rather have him in a no-out or 1-out situation more than a 2-out situation--but you can argue the other side of needing a player that gets on-base in 2-out situations all day long.
3. Stan Musial (RF): As I previously stated, the 2-hole and 3-hole hitters are equally valuable assets to any lineup--with different important skills. My 3-hole needs to be able to drive-in runs, especially with runners in scoring position. Musial did just that. He drove-in 1197 runs and only struck-out 131 times in 3031 PA with RISP. In addition to his phenomenal .326 average with RISP, he also posted a .316 average with 2-outs; which is another important concept in determining an efficient 3-hole hitter. Strike-outs were a rare commodity for Musial as well during his career. In nearly 11,000 AB, pitchers defeated "The Man" only 696 times via punch-out. Here's a smaller number for those that don't realize the greatness--his career average strike-out percentage is 5.5%; and his BB% sits at 12.6. Oh--and let's not forget, this success occurred during the era of pitchers like Bob Feller, Don Drysdale, Warren Spahn, and Sandy Koufax. In the end, how can you not put the Cardinals all-time leader in R, H, 2B, 3B, HR, RBI, BB, and XBH in the 3-hole. Yes--his numbers are inflated due to the fact he played over 3000 games for the Cardinals. However, that shouldn't neglect the fact that he hit quite a bit of long-balls, while mixing in a healthy amount of 2B and 3B. He was "The Man" back then and is still "The Man" to this day.
4. Albert Pujols (1B): The good ole clean-up spot, where the hitters focus on swinging for the fences and couldn't care less about strike-outs. Not in this lineup though--nor should this be anyone's approach when constructing a solid lineup. Similar to a 3-hole hitter, I wanted to shift my attention more towards stats with RISP and 2-outs. In his 11-year career as a Cardinal, Pujols was no "easy-out" when it came to either of the two situations. With RISP, he holds a career .346 average at the plate; and 458 H (105 being HR) in 1818 PA. It wasn't much better for the pitchers when they came across Pujols with 2-outs. He finished his time in St. Louis with 2504 PA--231 PA ending in a strike-out. I must add that 663 of his career hits were contributed with 2-outs; 133 of those hits were souvenirs. Considering Pujols is a modern-day player, sabermetrics are available for this evaluation. The most important metric being weighted runs created plus (wRC+); which is defined as the value of each outcome every plate appearance rather than treating each time on-base equally and also adding in ballpark and environment factors. Pujols' total wRC+ as a Cardinal is 168; meaning he was 68 percentage points better than league average from 2001 to 2011. All-in-all, I feel the most comfortable with Pujols batting clean-up because of three reasons: 1) high potential for the long-ball, 2) ability to produce with RISP or with 2-outs, and 3) can work a BB and control K%. I'll end my reasoning with this: Pujols will remain 30 HR less than Musial in Cardinal history--but he also accomplished his 445 HR feat in 5,279 PA less than Musial.
5. Jim Edmonds (CF): This spot in the lineup may have been the most difficult for me. I went in knowing I wanted a guy who was productive with RISP, didn't strike-out a ton, and had an above-average BABIP. Some may argue that none of those were true for Edmonds during his time as a Cardinal; I found different stats that prove he would be a nice contributor at the 5-hole. An interesting split-stat I found on Baseball-Reference was his numbers against starting pitchers who were either the opposing team's #1 or #2 starters. Against starters in general, he owned a .297 average and accumulated 619 XBH (300 were long-balls). When facing opposing team's aces, Edmonds holds a career .288 average, .377 OBP, and hit 104 HR. His numbers against team's #2 increased quite a bit--.310 average, .398 OBP, and .987 OPS (.927 OPS against SP1). Although his strike-out rate sat around the mid-20's for most of his career, Edmonds excelled at getting to starting pitching early in games. Between the 2nd and 5th inning in his career, it shows that he batted .300 or above in each of those innings--okay, .299 in the 4th inning, but what's .001 point. It's worth noting that Edmonds ranks 4th in all-time HR as a Cardinal; along with 7th in OPS and 9th in OBP. There's a good chance some may not have him this high in their all-time lineup, in the lineup at all, or on their 25-man roster--but I do. I like the numbers against starters, the power threat, and his Cardinal numbers compared to McGee and Lankford. Here are the slash-line comparisons between the three options: .285/.393/.555 (Edmonds), .273/.365/.481 (Lankford), .294/.329/.400 (McGee). Those numbers ultimately told me that Edmonds should be the starting CF in the 5-hole for the all-time Cardinals lineup.
6. Ken Boyer (3B): The 6th spot in a lineup may not be as important to some, but it does to me in the aspect of creating runs. To solidify this spot, wRC+ influenced my decision to have Boyer to hit behind Edmonds. In 8 of his 11 seasons with the Cardinals, he was at least 15% better offensively than league average (>115 wRC+)--for most of his career, he was in the range of 25-35%. Although his K% and BB% are nothing too exciting, his wOBA was pretty consistent over the years. His career wOBA is .355--and 6 times in his 11 seasons with St. Louis, Boyer's wOBA exceeded .370. He was also efficient with RISP--hitting .280, 172 XBH, and 830 RBI during his career. In conclusion, it didn't seem to matter what situation Boyer was in when he went up to the plate. He consistently batted around the .285 area in RISP, 1-out, 2-out, high-leverage--it didn't matter. Consistency, wRC+, and wOBA are what led me to batting Boyer 6th in my all-time lineup.
7. Yadier Molina (C): We're getting to the point in the lineup where offensive production begins to slow down. Usually catchers or more defensive players are present near the bottom of the order. While Yadi will go down as the Cardinals best catcher of all-time, and likely a future Hall-of-Fame catcher, he continues to provide a nice offensive bat to the lineup. First off--when constructing the bottom of a lineup, I ask myself two questions: 1) can he get on-base and 2) can he effectively work counts? In essence, I focused on wOBA, K%, BB%, and BABIP to answer those two questions. Now--anyone that has watched Yadi over the years knows that both are what he specializes in at the plate. How good is he though? Through 14-years, his average wOBA sits at .323; and if you remember from earlier, that's 23% better than the average player offensively. As he gets older, his K% fluctuates anywhere from 10.5% to 12.5%. However, early in his career, pitchers simply could not strike-out the 8-time gold glove winning catcher (averaged around 8-9 K% from 2004-2012). Yadi's ability to work counts continues to be in the plus column considering his BB% has consistently stayed around 5-6%. Yes--his BB% is a tad-bit lower than you would like to see. Although, this is probably because he has been penciled in at either the 5th, 6th, or 7th spot in the lineup. With the exception of the 5-hole, pitchers have a tendency to throw more strikes to hitters in the 6th and 7th spots in the lineup. As for BABIP, Yadi holds a .299 career BABIP; which is about average. My decision to start Yadi and bat him 7th is based on both numbers and the eye-test over the course of his career. He's a backstop mastermind with the ability to work counts and get on-base a decent amount to still be called productive.
8. Ozzie Smith (SS): The spot before the pitcher is a crucial part in my strategy to construct an all-time lineup. I think about the horrible situations when pitchers have to lead-off an inning and typically results in an out right away. I don't want that. Unlike his glove at SS, Ozzie's offensive stats tell a different story. Whether he was facing RHP or LHP, it didn't really matter; he batted .264 against right-handers and .257 against left-handers in his career. Back then, he mainly batted 2nd in the lineup where he holds a slash-line of .268/.342/.333; followed by his secondary spot in the 8-hole with a line of .245/,335/.313. On the bright side, "The Wizard" did have a decent BB% and K% when he was with the Cardinals. He walked around 11% of the time, while striking-out only 5-5.5%. He was also a prolific base-stealer; which he was successful in 433 of 535 attempts. Ozzie doesn't rank too bad on the Cardinals all-time leaderboard either. To-date, he sits 3rd in both BB and SB, 4th in sacrifices, 7th in hits, and 10th in 2B. Although his offensive numbers are far from impressive, he won the all-time starting spot because of his plus-defense and lack of offensive production from SS in the Cardinals past.
Bench--Ted Simmons (C): This was a hard decision after evaluating his production at the plate. He leads almost every category offensively for Cardinal catchers, even though I couldn't help but to start Yadi. Simmons would be a great late-inning bat off the bench; especially with RISP. It really surprised me to see that his career slash-line in innings 7-9 at .296/.358/.446. An even more impressive line was in high-leverage situations: .313/.369/.482. Although the stats for Simmons look great, Yadi starts for me because of the all around player he continues to be for the Cardinals.
Bench--Frankie Frisch (2B): The middle-infield bench role was up in the air between two switch-hitters; Frisch and Schoendienst. It didn't take long for me to recognize who I would go with after seeing Frisch's numbers. Considering the role, I looked at late-inning production and efficiency with 2-outs and RISP. Both aspects of the game, Frisch did extremely well in--.339/.398/.440 (7th inning or later) and .319/.389/.441 (2-outs/RISP). A bonus to this old-timer was that he had the potential to steal-bases. While he played for the Cardinals, Frisch stole 195 bags and was never caught. His most impressive year on the bases was in 1927 when he stole 48 times without being caught. Overall, Frisch would be a huge asset to bring off the bench in a late-inning comeback role.
Bench--Joe Medwick (OF): With Simmons and Frisch being switch-hitters, I wanted to add a true right-handed bat to the bench. Medwick is more than a RHH though. In the past, he hit lefties very well; posting a career .322 average and .372 OBP. In addition, XBH were a common result to his plate appearances; of his 610 XBH as a Cardinal, 377 of them were doubles. An intriguing statistic I found was his percentage of hits that went for extra-bases at 38%. Considering Medwick will be on the bench for this team, I looked into his numbers against RP during his time. Those numbers read: .306 average, .348 OBP, and .479 slugging%.
Bench--Ray Lankford (OF): Majority of the bench is filled with players who are balanced in their amounts of 2B, 3B, and HR. When it comes to Lankford, he flat out hits bombs from the left-side. He's 5th on the leaderboard for both HR, with 228, and SB, with 250 in his career as a Cardinal. It may not be a rare commodity in today's game, but back then it was to find a speedy CF who could hit homeruns like Lankford did. In his career against RHP, he hit 513 XBH in 4200 AB; and holds a .283/.377/.510 slash. His stats look similar to my starting CF, Jim Edmonds, but Lankford provides more speed and a more balanced bat off the bench.
Bench-- ???: For my last bench spot, I am torn between 3 players; I won't name who, or tell you what position. I will provide you with a set of stats and you can vote for who you would like to see in the last spot. This is also a good way for me to see what stat line you find more important as well. There is two ways you can vote-- 1) by clicking on the "Clubhouse Chatter" tab on the website or 2) find me on twitter @ballparkbeef and vote on the poll. The poll will end on Monday February 12.
Player A: 32.9% of his hits as a Cardinal went for extra-bases. Career slash-line when he went up to bat with 2-outs is .300/.370/.469. Career slash-line against RHP is .290/.348/.429.
Player B: 43.8% of his hits as a Cardinal went for extra-bases. Career slash-line when he was ahead in the count is .311/.497/.561. Career slash-line with RISP is .287/.385/.500.
Player C: 29.5% of his hits as a Cardinal went for extra-bases. Career slash-line against LHP is .304/.383/.458. Career slash-line in high-leverage situations is .296/.356/.414.
I hope you all enjoyed reading this article on Ballpark Beef. I'm always looking for a good conversation, debate, or argument on Twitter for those that have a handle and want to give me a follow--I do follow back. Early next week I plan to publish the rest of my all-time 25-man roster for the Cardinals; which will include the starting rotation, relief pitchers, and closer. Stay tuned!