This series was originally published at the Redbird Daily during the 2017-18 offseason, but as we continue to merge our two sites, it is now proud to call Cards Conclave home. We will be re-releasing this series throughout the month of August. This installment was written by Rusty Groppel.
Come one, come all! Welcome Cardinals fans to the Redbird Daily’s “100 Greatest St. Louis Cardinals”.
The idea to create a Top 100 Cardinals list was presented by our very own Allen Medlock (co-host of the Meet Me at Musial podcast), and was well received by the group. In particular, the idea got the wheels turning in my own head to create something unique. For no matter how unbiased you may try to be, your favorites tend to get a bump somewhere along the line. So we steered away from the run of the mill, opinion-based rankings. Instead, I created (while constantly bouncing ideas off of RBD colleague and Bird Law podcast partner Adam Butler) a statistical category-based system that would build an objective list that we could be proud of. Will we agree 100% with it? Absolutely not. I’ll circle back to that shortly, but the idea was to let the numbers play out and the chips fall where they may.
And so…after an unhealthy amount of time on Baseball-Reference (HUGE THANKS!!!), 4 spreadsheets, a notebook full of chicken-scratch, and countless questioning looks from my wife…the rankings are complete and ready to be revealed!
What to Look For
Beginning August 1st and releasing daily through Labor Day, will be rolling out the rankings and player articles, penned by our staff from the Redbird Daily (Adam, Allen, Kyle, Colin, and Austin). Initially, every piece will reveal 5 players, and a write-up on each. This is the format we will use starting at player #100 up until revealing player #16. For the Top 15, we felt that those gentlemen deserve articles all their own, and so we will then reveal one player at a time until we reach #1.
As we move through the process of researching, writing, and reading about all of these players, we will form our own opinions on them. And so, at the end of the series, our writers will conduct an internal poll on how we feel this group of players should be ranked. To close out the project, we will present the full statistical ranking in comparison to our opinion rankings. In some cases it may be a “righting of wrongs” for players that we feel the numbers left behind. Generally, it will be changes we feel should occur based on our disagreements with what the stats gave us.
In addition to providing great Cardinals content, our mission is to give you an unbiased ranking that both informs you and, naturally, sparks some debate and good conversation. There will be many players you may have never heard of, though most you will know. Some players were always great. Others will surprise you. Keep in mind, this is based only on their time with St. Louis, so while some players may not have had a special career overall, they were Great as a Cardinal. We hope you’ll be entertained.
How the Sausage is Made
Some of you won’t really care how we reached the final rankings, you will simply be interested in the results. That’s just fine, it will be fun no matter what. The rest of you want to know exactly how we got to where we ended up. That’s what the following (kind of boring?) paragraphs are here to explain.
As mentioned, everything is based on a group of statistical categories (explained later). There were 5 levels of categories, essentially creating more, or less, weight for a particular stat. The categories were either a 50-point, 30-point, 20-point, 15-point, or 10- point category. For a 50-point category (which was the majority) I would take the Cardinals Franchise’s Top 50 players and award points based on where a player ranked. Say for instance, Stan Musial is #1 in hits, he therefore received 50 points. #2 would receive 49, #3 gets 48 and on down the line until #50 gets just 1 point. This was the formula across the board, with the top spot getting 50, 30, 20, 15, or 10, depending on the weight of the category. If you’re still with me, I think the most complex part is over.
To standardize the rankings, everything eventually boils down to a single point total. I dubbed this the “Relative Cardinal Greatness” or RCG Score. The highest possible score based on rankings would be 310, though no one reached that mark. When it was all over, extra credit points were awarded, which I will explain in detail below.
Position Player Categories
On the position player side of things we used 8 categories. The categories were: Hits, Extra Base Hits, Adjusted Wins, Adjusted Batting Runs, Adjusted OPS+, Stolen Base %, Defensive WAR and At-bats per Home Run. Parameters for career average stats were set at 1500 plate appearances as a Cardinals. ONE EXCEPTION to this rule was made. That goes to Jack Clark, who was 129 PA’s short of qualifying due to an injury-plagued 1986. To exclude him from this top 100 ranking based on one month’s worth of PA’s would have been poor form.
Here’s how the stats were scored and why they were chosen:
Hits and Extra Base Hits, 50-points each – Fairly self explanatory. They reward hitting skill, but most importantly, these two counting numbers also reward longevity. In order to rank well, a player needed to spend a fair amount of time in St. Louis.
Adjusted Wins, 50-points – Offensive Wins Above Replacement, adjusted for ballparks and put up against the league average, which is set at 0 in this case. This stat, because each season total adds to the next, also rewards longevity, as well as offensive excellence.
Adjusted Batting Runs, 50-point – The same as WRC+ (ballpark adjusted runs created) except that the league average is set at 0 instead of 100. Again, this total accumulates during a career, thus awarding excellence and longevity.
Adjusted OPS+, 50-point – Or simply OPS+ is stat that adjusts a players OPS against the league average (100). This encompasses On-base skill as well as extra-base skill. This stat is averaged out over a players career, thus is does not give any bias to longevity, only the hitting dominance of a player.
Stolen Base %, 30-point – Used instead of pure stolen base totals. This was to remove bias towards career length, and simply reward players for their true ability to steal bases without being caught.
Defensive WAR, 15-point – To ignore defensive prowess would have been a crime. The best of the best in the field needed to be recognized and as an cumulative total, this category does give a nod to longevity.
At-Bats per HR, 15-point – This stat recognizes pure home run hitting prowess, without giving it too much weight in the overall score. It does not account for career length.
In total, 5 categories gave credit for career length as well as performance, where the other 3 awarded performance only.
Again, there were 8 categories, Adjusted Wins, Adjusted Pitching Runs, Adjusted ERA+, Strikeouts per 9 innings, Walk and Hits per Inning Pitched, Wins, Innings Pitched, and Saves. The parameters for the career average stats were 500 innings pitched or 50 decisions for starting pitchers. And either 200 IP + 75 Games Finished OR 100 IP + 100 Games Finished for relief pitchers.
Here’s how the categories were scored and why they were chosen:
Adjusted Wins, 50-point – Wins Above Replacement adjusted for ballparks with league average set at 0. This stat awards both dominance and longevity.
Adjusted Pitching Runs, 50-point – This uses linear weight to determine a pitchers contribution to their teams total runs. This stat awards performance and longevity.
Adjusted ERA+, 50-point – Or simply ERA+, this stat works along the same lines as OPS+, taking a pitchers ERA against the league average (set at 100). This stat awards performance only.
Strikeouts per 9 innings, 50-point – Fairly self-explanatory, this category rewards dominance.
Walks/Hits per Innings Pitched, 50-point – Rewards performance.
Wins, 30-point – Hotly debated in the era of sabermetrics, I still included wins. The reason is simple, a pitcher can win 15 games by accident some years, but typically they don’t fluke their way to 15 wins for 5-10 seasons. Not giving this stat as much weight as others, it rewards longevity and performance in the sense that the pitchers leading this franchise in wins, earned their way to the top of the charts.
Innings Pitched, 20-point – This category has very little to do with skill, but much to do with longevity and durability. Those two things are certainly ingredients to greatness, and thus innings get a nod, albeit at a lesser weight.
Saves, 10-point – Another hotly contested stat, I elected to include it because, like stolen base % and defensive WAR, it rewards a specialized part of the game. Limiting this stat to the top 10 pitchers kept the riff-raff out, but rewarded the select relievers that dominated their role with the Cardinals. It didn’t carry much weight, but like Defensive WAR it was a tip of the cap to what these gentlemen accomplished.
In total, 5 categories recognized performance and longevity, while 3 were purely based on performance.
Finally, I did award some extra credit points. These points served mainly as tie-breakers and were based on accolades. The highest honor is induction in the Hall of Fame, and for this a player received 2 points. For winning an MVP, Cy Young, Triple Crown, or Rookie of the Year, a player received 1 point. For winning a Batting title or ERA title, a player received 0.75 points. Each Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, Rolaid’s Relief (or save leader), or World Series Championship, earned a player 0.5 points. Every year (sorry Stan, no doubles) that a player was elected an All-Star, or a National League Pennant (World Series loss) was worth 0.25 points. A few players received a decent amount of extra credit, but the numbers were very small, relatively. Again, these were meant more as a tip of the cap to player accomplishments, and to break ties.
So In Conclusion…
Now that we have the boring stuff out of the way, we can get started on the fun part. We look forward to re-releasing our rankings here at the Cards Conclave and hopefully learning something new about our beloved Cardinals along the way. We hope you will enjoy it as well.