This series was originally published at the Redbird Daily, but is now proud to call Cards Conclave home. This installment was written by Austin Lamb.
Welcome back to our countdown of the 100 greatest Cardinals. Today we’ll look at players who are ranked from 60 through 56.
#60 – Yadier Molina, C (2004-Present, RCG Score 98 + Extra Credit 8 = Total 106)
We’re starting off with what I believe will be one of the biggest surprises for our readers. Yadier Molina comes in at number 60. How can a future Hall of Famer, eight time all-star and Gold Glove winner, and who many see as one of the greatest Cardinals to ever play only appear at number 60?
Molina is only the second active player, and the first position player to appear on our list thus far. Also, his ranking will continue to rise as his career counting stats grow in the coming seasons. His career OPS+ of 98 actually falls two points below average, and he has only posted one season (2012) where he finished in the top 10 in offensive WAR. Molina’s career .284/.336/.403 slash is good for a catcher, but not astounding when just looking at hitters. His 18 home runs and 82 RBI in 2017 were the second most, and most ever in his career respectively. However, he posted just a .312 on-base percentage and a -9.5 offensive WAR according to Fangraphs. Molina has vastly improve as an offensive player following his first seven seasons, but they still weigh heavily on his overall numbers. He was a significantly below average hitter (82 wRC+) until breaking out in 2011. This was just the second season in which he posted a wRC+ (126) greater than league average (100), and was 20 points higher than his previous career best. It was also the first season in which he reached double digit home runs and score more than 45 runs. All of this being said, one of the greatest moments in his career did come with the bat.
We all know Molina’s defense, on-field leadership, and ability to manage a pitching staff is what will one day lead him to Cooperstown. He won the Gold Glove award for catcher every season from 2008-15, and has finished first in total zone runs as a catcher seven different times. He is the active leader in that category, and places second all-time behind recent Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Pudge Rodriguez. In addition to his skills behind the plate, Molina also plays more than any other catcher in the game. He has led the league in games caught seven times during his career. Among active catchers he ranks first in career caught stealing percentage (41.20%), assists (900), putouts (11,552), double plays turned (107), and games caught (1,715). He also ranks top five among active catchers in caught stealing (325/3rd), passed balls (78/3rd), and errors committed (69/5th). Molina has posted a positive defensive WAR every single season of his career, and his 22.1 career mark ranks 34th all-time. He has ranked in the top 10 for defensive WAR seven times during his career, and is second among active players.
In addition to his individual success, Molina is of course a two time World Series champion (2006 and 2011). He is under contract for three more seasons and should retire a Cardinal. His number four will likely one day adorn the left field wall, and he will be remembered as one of the Cardinal greats.
Update: During the 2018 season, Yadier Molina surpassed Hall-of-Famer Johnny Bench, Ted Simmons, and HOF Gabby Harnett for most games caught, pulling into 14th All-Time. He also broke Harnett’s 78 year-old record for games caught with a single franchise. With a late career offensive resurgence, Molina’s future Hall-of-Fame candidacy has become a hot topic of debate among local and national pundits. If this formula were to be recalculated in 3 years, or even 3 months, Molina would find himself far higher in the rankings than he does now. This is the issue with ranking active players along side those who have retired.
#59 – Al Hrabosky, P (1970-77, RCG Score 106 + Extra Credit 0.5 = Total 106.5)
Just nudging Molina by half a point, the “Mad Hungarian” comes in at number 59. Known to some for his mound antics as much as his ability to close, Hrabosky posted a slew of incredible seasons out of the St. Louis bullpen. In 1974 and ’75 he finished top five in Cy Young award voting and top 20 for MVP. In 1975 he led the league in both win-loss percentage (.813) and saves (22). Three times during his Cardinals career he finished a full season with an ERA under 3.00, including a 1.66 in 1975. He also recorded three seasons with an ERA+ greater than 120. He posted only one season during his 13 year career in which he had more losses than wins. His 97 career saves ranks 157th all time, and his 307 career games finished ranks 105th. He is currently a part of the Cardinals television broadcasts on Fox Sports Midwest.
#68 – Pepper Martin, OF/3B (1928/1930-40/1944, RCG Score 104 + Extra Credit 3 = Total 107)
A 2017 inductee of the Cardinals Hall of Fame, Martin was a player known for his aggressive play and base running. A member of the famed Gashouse Gang, he played a pivotal role in the Cardinals 1931 World Series championship. He was also a member of the 1934 team that brought the trophy back to St. Louis. A career .298/.358/.443 hitter, he featured little power, but made up for it with speed. He led the league three times in stolen bases in 1933, ’34, and ’36. He also led the league in runs scores in 1933 with 122. This was one of three seasons with the Birds in which he scored more than 120 runs. He was a four time all-star, and finished top 10 in MVP voting twice during his 13 year career. Following his playing career, Martin went on to manage minor league teams for multiple organizations.
#57 – Bill Sherdel, SP (1918-30/1932, RCG Score 108 + Extra Credit 0.75 = Total 108.75)
Bill Sherdel played 14 seasons with the Cardinals, including being on their 1926 World Series championship team. He twice led the league in games finished, including his rookie season of 1918. Sherdel also led the league in saves three times, and win-loss percentage once. He finished with two seasons in which he placed top ten in WAR, WAR for pitchers, ERA, Adjusted ERA+ and K/9. He threw 160 complete games and 2,709.3 innings during his career, both of which rank top 200 all-time.
#56 – Dennis Eckersley, RP (1996-1997, RCG Score 107 + Extra Credit 2 = Total 109)
Although his best years were behind him, the Baseball Hall of Famer still posted two solid seasons out of the Cardinals’ bullpen in the twilight of his career. He finished both seasons with an ERA under 4.00 and recorded at least 30 saves. A former MVP, Cy Young winner, six time all-star and World Series champion, Eckersley signed as a free agent with the Cardinals following nine years in Oakland. For his career, he recorded 197 wins, 390 saves, and finished with a 3.50 ERA and 1.161 WHIP. A starter for the first 14 seasons of his career, Eckersly would reach his greatest dominance as a closer. He twice led the league in saves with 45 and 51 respectively, and had eight seasons with 30 or more. His 63.0 career WAR ranks 153rd all-time, and 46th among pitchers. He is one of two pitchers in history to have a 20 win season, and a 50 save season. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 2004.
Adam will bring you the next entry to the countdown with #55-51 tomorrow.
Thanks for reading!