When I read Patrick Sullivan's intriguing "A WARPed Study of Yankee CF and Red Sox LF" over at Baseball Analysts, I -- being both a friend of the Cardinals and an idolator of Keith Hernandez -- immediately seized upon his line
Sure, off the top of my head, I can say the Cards have had their share of excellent first basemen (Bottomley, Mize, Musial, Hernandez, McGwire).In case you haven't read the article, well, first, let me commend it to you. Sullivan wanted to look at "run[s] of greatness by one team at one position like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox have had at center field and left field, respectively." I won't spoil the ending as to which team wins Sullivan's comparison, but I did run the numbers for the Cardinals' first basemen. I used the same method as Sullivan, taking the average of WARP3 for the players who played the most games at the position each year.
I have to admit, I began the undertaking with the not-unbiased expectation that the Cardinals' history of first sackers -- which, in addition to the ones Sullivan mentioned, included some excellent seasons from Orlando Cepeda, Joe Torre, Bill White, Jack Clark and, of course, Albert Pujols -- would compete with those New York centerfielders and Boston leftfielders. I even went back a few more years further than where Sullivan started (1936) to include Bottomley's career. The table at the right shows what I found:
So their average WARP3 was a full point lower than the worse of the two groups that Sullivan looked at. So what happened? Well, with the exception of Hernandez, the Cardinals, while they boast some of the greatest players at the position, largely did not get the best years from those players at first base in St. Louis. Musial, who played the position early in his career and late, had his most amazing seasons playing the outfield, from 1948-1954 (when the team had guys like Nippy Jones and Dick -- not George -- Sisler manning first). Cepeda produced for the championship team of '67, but had played his best seasons earlier in San Francisco. After getting the majority of starts at first in 1969, Joe Torre moved across the diamond to third base and won an MVP there before returning to first. The team acquired Jack Clark, Pedro Guerrero and Tino Martinez after their peak years for other teams. Albert Pujols, who has averaged more than 10 WARP3 annually in his five seasons, has only been the team's regular first baseman the last two. And who knew that Andres Galarraga, in his lone season in St. Louis, would have one of his worst years?
Still, with production from Mize (average of 8.7 WARP3), Musial (8.1), Hernandez (7.8), McGwire (6.9) and Pujols (10.7), it may well be that the Cardinals have had the best lineage of first basemen of any team. I'll leave that study for another day.