THE REDBIRD REVIEW
Here’s my latest installment of the All-DeWitt ERA Team, ranking the players at each position during the 28 seasons of Cardinals baseball with Bill DeWitt Jr. as the team owner and chairman. DeWitt and partners purchased the Cardinals before the 1996 season.
And other than the tremendous amount of team success since then, the number of elite players who have worn the Birds on the Bat over the last 28 seasons is impressive and remarkable. Talent wins games, and the Cardinals have prospered with a large volume of talent.
In the first three parts of the All-DeWitt Team, I presented the rankings of starting pitchers, relievers and catchers. Today, it’s onto the first basemen. And while one first baseman towers over all others, a few the runners-up on the list would be No. 1s for some other franchises. Keep in mind that I attach additional value to players that came through for the Cardinals in the postseason from 1996 through 2022.
1. Albert Pujols: We know all about his extraordinary performance as a hitter, but I want to start with Pujols’ defense. His defensive excellence at first base was vastly underrated and inexplicably overlooked, and that bothers me. We have so much more information now, and we might as well put it to use to show Pujols’ value defensively.
It’s easy to forget how the young Pujols was utilized by manager Tony La Russa, who moved Pujols around the diamond. In his first three big-league seasons (2001-2003), Pujols played 269 games in left field, 125 games at first base, 92 at third base, and 40 in right field. La Russa even deployed Pujols for one game at second base and a game at shortstop. Pujols’ defensive versatility gave La Russa more opportunities to go with flexible lineup choices.
Pujols received two Gold Gloves for his fielding at first base, but the total should have been higher. Here’s why I say this:
+ As the St. Louis starting first baseman from 2004 through 2011, Pujols led the majors with 119 defensive runs saved at the position – and that was 61 more DRS than Mark Teixera, who ranked second.
+ Pujols led MLB first basemen in defensive runs saved four times and finished second in another season.
+ Pujols led National League first basemen in defensive runs saved for five consecutive seasons, 2005 through 2009.
+ Even during his final two seasons (2010-2011) as a Cardinal during the first phase of his career, Pujols led NL first basemen with 16 defensive runs saved over the two years. By then Pujols was dealing with leg-related issues – especially his calves – and slowing down some, but he still was the finest defensive first baseman in the NL. If you ask me, all of this is pretty incredible and only elevates his greatness.
As for the rest … where do we begin?
Three NL MVP awards, nine All-Star teams, six Silver Slugger awards, the two Gold Gloves, and the 2001 NL Rookie of the Year. He received MVP votes in his first 11 seasons with the Cardinals. Pujols not only won it three times, but he finished second in the MVP voting four times.
From this point forward, I’ll use the statistics that Pujols compiled as a first baseman from 2004 through 2011. Because that’s what this exercise is all about: focusing on Albert’s achievements and his domination of the first base position.
== STL’s starting first baseman from 2004-11, Pujols won the “Triple Crown” at the position, leading all big-league first basemen in batting average (.326), home runs (.331), RBI (948) and runs scored (924.)
== That’s not all. Over those eight seasons Pujols was tops among MLB first basemen for most Wins Above Replacement (59.1). No other first baseman had more than 39.1 WAR. Pujols also had the highest onbase percentage (.424) slugging percentage (.618), OPS (1.042), Isolated Power number (.292), and park-and-league adjusted runs created (168.) . That 168 wRC+ means he performed 68 percent above league average offensively in his St. Louis seasons at first base. And, as we noted, Pujols also led MLB first basemen in defensive runs saved over the eight years.
== From 2004 through 2011, Pujols led all MLB first basemen in every meaningful postseason category over that time: batting average, homers, RBI, doubles, runs scored, onbase percentage, slugging, Isolated Power, and wRC+. Oh, and Pujols also played in 34 postseason wins – the most by any player at any position from 2004 through 2011.
I could go on and throw more numbers at you. This is one of the greatest players in MLB history. And in Cardinals history, Pujols’ overall statistical profile is topped by one man, Stan Musial. How lucky were we to watch and enjoy the first 11 seasons of Pujols’ career and his curtain-call season in 2022?
When Pujols retired, he was the only player in major-league history to put together this combination: 700+ career home runs, more than 2,000 RBI, and multiple league MVP awards. Henry Aaron was right there with Pujols, but voters (sigh) selected Mr. Aaron for only one MVP award.
2. Paul Goldschmidt: During the DeWitt Era, Goldy and Pujols are the only Cardinals to win the National League MVP award. Goldschmidt received the honor after his career-best 2022 season.
In his five seasons as a Cardinal (2019-2023) Goldy ranks second among major-league first basemen in Wins Above Replacement (21.3), wRC+ (138), doubles and stolen bases. He’s also third in OPS and onbase percentage and is among the top five in homers, RBI, batting average and runs scored. And he’s won a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger award.
In his first two postseasons with the Cardinals – 2019 and 2020 – Goldschmidt had four homers, five doubles, slugged .600 and posted a .902 OPS. But in three postseason games in 2021-2022, Goldy went 1 for 10 with five strikeouts and the Cardinals scored four total runs in the three contests. That’s the one disappointment, but Goldschmidt is a terrific all-around player, a class act, and one of the most respected and admired MLB players of his time. Goldschmidt has a solid chance to be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and he’ll be a lock for the Cardinals Hall of Fame.
3. Mark McGwire. Big Mac was a Cardinal for a relatively low total of 545 games, but he packed abundant power and filled MLB ballparks during his time here. With McGwire putting on a show, annual home attendance in St. Louis jumped to more than 3 million for the first time since 1989.
After being acquired from Oakland at the trading deadline in 1997, he bashed 24 homers and slugged .684 in 51 games. In 1998, McGwire broke the single-season MLB home-run record by launching 70 home runs, and he followed with 65 homers in 1999. Over the two seasons McGwire averaged 67.5 homers and 147 RBI, slugged .724, and rolled up a 1.171 OPS. During the two seasons McGwire hit a home run every 7.9 at-bats, and did all of this damage despite being walked by pitchers in 22 percent of his plate appearances.
And even in MLB markets that suffered with low attendance, there was no problem selling tickets when McGwire came to town. Fans would line up hours before the game, just to get into the ballpark for the best standing-room position to watch him take batting practice. McGwire was a boom for business.
McGwire was chosen for the NL All-Star team in 1998, 1999 and 2000. He finished second in the NL MVP vote in 1998, and was fifth in the balloting in ‘99.
McGwire was voted into the Cardinal Hall of Fame in 2017 and remains extremely popular among the team’s fans.
If you want to discredit his career because of performance-enhancing drug revelations, that’s your choice. As for me, I don’t do asterisks. If baseball wants to remove steroid-era stats from the official record, fine. But as long as the statistics from that time are official – they are, and always will be – then they count with me.
McGwire was a symbol of that so-called steroids era – one of the most famous stars of that time. But through the years I’ve come to despise the blatant hypocrisy and selective prosecution we’ve seen from pearl-clutching critics.
4. Matt Carpenter: First of all, I’m not sure if listing Carp as a first baseman is the best way to go here. During his time with the Cardinals (2011 through 2021) Carpenter played 333 games at first base. He played virtually twice as many (671) at third base and logged 246 games at second base. Carpenter was also used at a corner outfield spot 21 times. Perhaps I will also select the top “utility” guys that have served the Cardinals during the 28 seasons of DeWitt ownership.
For now, let’s leave it at this: though Carpenter won’t be the top selection among the team’s third baseman in our All-DeWitt listings, he played about as many games at 3B here as Scott Rolen did. And I’ll get into more of the numbers when Carpenter’s name appears at other positions.
But here’s the bottom line: over the 28 seasons that I’m examining here, these are the top five St. Louis position players in Wins Above Replacement as Cardinals. And keep in mind that WAR entails hitting, defense and baserunning – not just the offense
Albert Pujols, 83.0
Yadier Molina, 55.6
Jim Edmonds, 42.4
Matt Carpenter, 30.6
Scott Rolen, 27.1
This doesn’t mean Carpenter that was superior to Rolen. It means, as I pointed out, that he played nearly twice as many games as Rolen did as a Cardinal and that boosted his WAR value over the long term. Carpenter was one of the best producers and generators of offense the Cardinals had during this 28-season history.
5. Allen Craig. Should he be considered a first baseman? Yes, I think that’s OK. Even though Craig hardly played any first base in 2011, the situation changed when Albert Pujols left as a free agent before the 2012 season. Over the next three years, 2012-14, Craig played 223 games at first base. He also Cardinal, he also received plenty of action in left field and right field, but I’ll slot him at first base.
From 2011 through 2013, Craig was a special hitter. In 327 games he batted .312 with a .500 slugging percentage and .863 OPS. Per wRC+, he was 40 percent above league average offensively over that time. He hit a good amount of home runs and doubles, and drove in a run every five at-bats.
More than anything, Craig was a monster when hitting with runners in scoring position. His consistency in taking advantage of RBI opportunities was phenomenal.
From 2011 through 2013, among the 142 MLB hitters that had at least 300 at-bats with runners in scoring position over that time, here’s where Craig ranked on the leaderboard:
* Batting average: 1st at .407
* Slugging percentage: 2nd, at .660.
* OPS: second, at 1.119
* Onbase percentage: third, at .459.
Craig also had the top wRC+ in the majors with runners in scoring position over the three seasons; his performance in the category put him an astonishing 103 percent above league average offensively. In that three–year period Craig was better in RISP scenarios than more heralded dudes such as Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto, David Ortiz, Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard, Troy Tulowitzki, Adrian Gonzalez, Buster Posey, Matt Kemp, Andrew McCutchen and Robinson Cano.
Here’s the stat I love the most: during those three seasons, when coming to the plate with runners in scoring position, Craig averaged an RBI for every 1.6 at-bats. Preposterous!
In three postseasons (2011-2013) Craig played in 34 games and slugged .480 with an .839 OPS. He was fantastic in the 2011 run to the World Series title, slamming four homers, slugging .622 and generating a 1.013 OPS. Craig homered in World Series Game 6, and did it again in Game 7. His third-inning solo homer off Texas lefty Matt Harrison gave the Cardinals a 3-2 lead and helped propel St. Louis to series-clinching 6-2 victory.
Craig suffered a severe foot injury late in the 2013 and was never the same after that. (It affected his balance – his hitting foundation – at the plate.) The Cardinals traded Craig to Boston in the summer of 2014 in a deal that brought starting pitcher John Lackey to St. Louis.
Honorable Mention: Matt Adams, Tino Martinez, Jose Martinez, John Mabry and Lance Berkman. I’ll have more on Berkman later in this series.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie hosts an opinionated sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. on Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. You can stream it live or access the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.
Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Fielding Bible and Baseball Prospectus unless otherwise noted.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.