This series was originally published at the Redbird Daily, but is now proud to call Cards Conclave home. This installment was written by Rusty Groppel.
If this were an episode of Friends, it might be titled “The One Where Rusty Disses His Own Formula.”
If it were Always Sunny, it could be “The Gang Blows Up Their Rankings.”
Considering that I’m seeking to put a decisive cap on the whole experiment, Seinfeld may have called this episode “The Kibosh”
Had enough TV references? Alright let’s get to the substance.
I want to start by saying that the formula/system created to form our rankings was experimental. It was an exercise in trying to rank Cardinals relative to each other. Each player was not considered or analyzed individually. We simply took where they ranked among their Cardinals peers in the various statistical categories, awarded points based on that, and added up a total. No opinion, no emotion, no accounting for legacy.
Here is the complete list of our final rankings:
In the end, it was meant to be objective, not necessarily definitive.
In that regard, it was absolutely a success.
It was also a success in creating a platform to inform fans about players that they may have never heard of..
It provided some fodder for debate this offseason, providing a little bit of distraction from the fact that the Cardinals have yet to acquire a true, proven stopper for the 9th inning.
The list was a good representation of the best players to come through St. Louis. Between the rankings of 100 and the handful of Honorable Mentions, I believe that all of the greatest Cardinals were at the very least covered. The only players that may have fell through the cracks were those that had stints that were too short to qualify (generally it took 3 seasons in STL to make the list). Again, in that way, this was a success.
Overall a fun and successful exercise, but far from perfect.
People Only Speak When They Disagree
The one thing I noticed during this countdown is that people only speak up when they have a problem with the results.
For instance, Tim McCarver found himself outside of the 100, but just barely. He was represented in the Honorable Mentions. This sparked instant debate on the internet (specifically STLToday forums) about how this system was clearly flawed if McCarver wasn’t Top 60, let alone Top 100. Ozzie Smith at #33, Yadier Molina at #60, or Willie McGee at #65 all create an instant reaction. That’s fair, they are all greats and fan favorites that fell lower than most would have expected.
However, when the formula nails it with Rogers Hornsby at #4 or Keith Hernandez at #22, there is no response. That’s the nature of our culture. For the most part, there wasn’t a ton of outcry during the course of the project. That leads me to believe that people generally accepted the results, with small disagreements here and there. Once again, I would consider that to be a success.
I’ll just start at the top. I know Stan Musial is #1, you know Stan Musial is #1, heck, even Albert Pujols knows Stan is #1. (Remember that he was not fond of the “El Hombre” — ‘the man’, in spanish — nickname). Stan is “The Man”, always has been and always will be.
But the formula favored Albert. Why? Two reasons.
Here’s the thing: Baseball is a unique sport with so many aspects. To compile a true representation, all of the various skill sets needed to be recognized. Pure hitting and on-base ability (hits, OPS+), the ability to hit for power (OPS+, XBH, AB per HR), overall production (Adj. Wins, Adj. Runs Created), baserunning/basestealing success (SB%), defensive prowess (Def. WAR).
Reason 1: Albert Ranked in 7 Categories, Stan only 6
Toss out AB/HR and SB%, and Stan has Albert by 4 points.
What I can see is that I allowed the system to favor power too much. Now, I did not give AB/HR very much weight (it was only a 15 point category) it was still enough to give Albert a 9-point swing in regards to Stan. I could have left that stat out and given more points to Defensive WAR (Ozzie would have rose dramatically). The reason I added it to the formula is because the system favored pitchers overall (more on that later) and there needed to be one more offensive rate stat to create balance.
Could I have gone a different direction? Perhaps, but that 9-point swing in AB/HR didn’t really matter, because Albert was pushing ahead of Stan solely on SB%. We remember what a sly baserunner Albert was, and he had a really good success rate. Good enough to earn him 17 points in the system. Steals were not a part of Musial’s game. That category alone broke the virtual tie and gave Albert the top spot.
Reason 2: No weight attached to disparity in counting stats
Here is something that hurt Stan a lot with this system. With most ratio stats, Stan and Albert are both close in the rankings and close in the numbers. For the one used in the formula, OPS+, Stan had 159 and Albert 170. That’s not a huge separation. Another example, although not used in the formula, would be Batting Average. Stan and Albert rank 6th and 7th in franshise history at .331 and .328. This is basically how their career ratios look across the board.
In that situation, a completely unbiased system that awards a set number of points to each slot in the rankings works just fine. Where this fails with the Cardinals is that Stan Musial’s counting stats are drastically greater than anyone else in the team’s history. For instance, in hits, Stan has 3630 which tops 2nd place, Lou Brock, by 917. This separation is disproportionate because, as you look down the list, only 850 hits separate Lou in 2nd place from Curt Flood in 9th place.
Same goes for the Adjusted Wins and Runs Created categories. Looking only at the Adjusted Wins, Musial tops the list at 94, Pujols is 2nd a 64.2, Hornsby is 3rd at 61.2, and then Johnny Mize appears at 4th with 30.9. Do you see the issue?
The system is cookie-cutter. It was designed to allow long-tenured and short-tenured Cardinals to walk side-by-side. I thought that including counting stats would give a nod to the guys that were here longer. It did to an extent, but it couldn’t account for Musial’s NL record of spending 22 years with the same team.
These issues are not limited to Pujols and Musial. These sort of things could have happened between any players, up and down the list. However, the top spots were of the most interest and the best way to exemplify the short-comings this system had on the position player side.
As you peruse the rankings, you probably notice some names on the pitching side that raise an eyebrow. If you dig into the numbers you gain a better understanding, but you may still wonder how Larry Jackson, a pretty good but not necessarily great pitcher, is ranked 50th, while McCarver falls outside of the 100 or Willie McGee sits way down at #65. Simply, I found that the system ended up favoring pitchers. The reason took a little digging.
Top Heavy Pitching Ranks
Here’s the thing. The Cardinals have had many good to very good pitchers in their history, with a handful of truly great ones. On the other hand, they have had many more truly great position players. So what happened is, the great position players distributed the points more evenly between a group of say, 25, where the pitching was top heavy with more average guys gaining points down the list.
Here’s what I mean. Just using Adjusted Wins, if you run down the Position players you’ll find Hall-of-Famer Lou Brock at #20. That’s a really good player down the list. But if you look at that same slot on the pitching side, you find Ted Wilks, a good relief pitcher in the 1940’s. This system awards them both 31 points for that ranking. But are they really on the same level?
See, a handful of great pitchers occupied the top spots. Gibson, Dean, Wainwright, Carpenter, Brecheen, Cooper, and Tudor were always lingering in the rankings. Everything else became a scatter shot of random good pitchers. That’s why guys like Larry Jackson and Murry Dickson got a lot of points. They were decent and played here long enough to accumulate stats. Is Lance Lynn really better than McGee, Molina, Scott Rolen, or HOF’s like Red Schoendienst and Frankie Frisch? I wouldn’t think so, but that’s how the system played out.
Who it favored
The bunching at the top led to the best of the pitchers having inflated totals compared to the best of the hitters. Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright can be Top 10, but they are probably more like #9 and #10, rather than #5 and #7. Harry Brecheen was good, but he should probably be in the mid-teens beind Jim Edmonds and Ray Lankford, and not at #9.
Also, the system favored relievers a bit because they dominated the rate stats such as WHIP, K/9, and ERA+. That’s how guys like Ryan Franklin and Dave Veres made the list. Now, those guys had a dominant year or two with the Cardinals, I won’t take that away, but it’s questionable when they are making the list over Tim McCarver and ranking ahead of HOF’s like Orlando Cepeda and Frisch.
I think the perfect example of how randomly the system favored pitchers can be exemplified by this:
Wally Moon ranked ‘down ballot’ in 6 of the position player categories. Meaning he was consistently one of the top 50 Cardinals hitters of all-time. He wound up at #96 with 51 points. Michael Wacha was a ‘just-missed’ guy at 43 points, simply because he ranks 8th in franchise history in K/9. Moon had production across the board and barely made the cut, while Wacha had one category and almost made the cut.
I think that system put the right pitchers in the Top 40, or so. But the back half of the ranking was littered with random guys, and Relievers were all ranked probably 5-10 spots higher than they should have been.
How We Would Re-Order the Rankings
Over the last couple weeks, I put out a call to action for our fantastic Redbird Daily staff. Everyone did such great work researching and writing about all the players on the list, it was now their turn to re-arrange the Top 100 to how they felt it should be. Here are the composite results for what our group would have changed:
This formula wasn’t perfect. But a lot of effort was put in to create something different. We could have just ranked everyone by WAR and called it a day. Instead we did something experimental and fun. It had flaws, but was a success, overall.
I had a blast writing all these player articles this winter and I hope everyone enjoyed reading them. Come back any time you want to brush up on your Cardinals History.
Thanks for reading.