Growing up in the late 80s and early 90s with a father as much into baseball as mine, one thing that I heard year after year going into seasons with outfielders such as Ron Gant and Bernard Gilkey and Brian Jordan and Ray Lankford was the hopeful refrain of "maybe we'll actually get 100 homers and 300 RBI out of our outfield this year. That'd go such a long way in having a lineup that can produce well."
Fangraphs tells me that the St. Louis Cardinals had just one such outfield prior to 2002 in my lifetime. The 1998 Cardinals outfield started Ray Lankford, Brian Jordan, and Ron Gant most of the time with a little bit of John Mabry and Willie McGee (amongst other less notables) sprinkled in. That group of players who played some outfield hit 103 homers with 370 RBI (and 347 runs scored to go along with 60 steals). Quite good production. Here's the caveat, though. Fangraphs (for 1998 data) doesn't break that production down into whether those players did that as an outfielder or while they were playing other positions as well but were technically outfielders at some point that season. So with the 103 HR total barely eclipsing that threshold, it's impossible without a deep dive to tell whether or not that actually happened. I'm leaning towards no...but I'll count it for now because it's all I've got prior to that 2002 mark.
So why the 2002 mark?
2002 is the first year that you can sort through on the splits leaderboard and get games played as a LF, as a CF, and as a RF and combine them into an "as an OF" statistic. It is also just a year before the only time they have accomplished the goal in my lifetime.
In 2003, the St. Louis Cardinals outfield had exactly 100 home runs and 315 RBI. They also procured 341 runs, 121 doubles, and 18 steals for the St. Louis Cardinals' lineup. There were zero other years in which the outfield had 100 HR as a collective. They scored 300+ runs 3 other times and over 290 runs six additional times in the last 19 seasons (18 without the wacky 2020). Out of the last 18-19 outfields, they put up 100+ doubles in 10 additional seasons and 290+ RBI in 3 additional seasons, never reaching the illustrious (at least per my father) 300+ RBI mark as a group again. The outfields have beaten the 18 SB mark on 13 separate occasions since the start of the 2002 season, however, getting better in that category.
Back to the 2003 outfield, however. That group had 9 guys play in the outfield that season. Jim Edmonds was the only one to get 500+ PA out there, but adding to that was Albert Pujols over 480, Orlando Palmeiro over 300 and JD Drew at 300 exactly. Eduardo Perez got 200+, Kerry Robinson got exactly 170, and Eli Marrero, Miguel Cairo, and So Taguchi combined for approximately 200 off the bench. As one would expect, Edmonds and Pujols combined for 67 of the home runs in 2003 and 178 of the RBI. That's about 2/3 of each total despite having just 52.1% of the plate appearances.
So where did the 2020 outfield and where could the 2021 outfield come into play here? Let's start with the former. The 2020 outfield, multiplied by the fraction 162/58 to adjust for length of season gave us this following output:
223 runs scored, 73 doubles, 8 triples, 59 homers, and 196 RBI
Here is where they would fit within those other 18 teams listed.
18 of 19
18 of 19
T-14 of 19
17 of 19
19 of 19
Well, while my projections do not believe that they are the Jim Edmonds and Albert Pujols of outfielders - and I feel that my projections are probably spot on with what you are all thinking in that regard - they may not be quite so bad in 2021. But how close can this group get - especially compared to that 2002-2020 list of teams?
We'll talk about this in two different ways.
1) If everyone in the outfield (Justin Williams, Dexter Fowler, Dylan Carlson, Harrison Bader, Tyler O'Neill, and Lane Thomas) gets even playing time they will all get approximately 350 plate appearances. If the Cardinals were to do that, not only would my head explode but my projections would have the Cardinals getting approximately 74 home runs and 254 RBI.
These numbers would place T-9th and 14th in the last 20 years for the Cardinals.
2) If everyone in the outfield plays, but I appropriate the playing time to what I think will happen in terms of them playing as well or as poorly as I envision then the numbers turn to 79 home runs and 258 RBI.
These numbers would place 8th and 14th in the last 20 years for the Cardinals.
In conclusion, while I don't think this year will be illustrious outfield production for the Cardinals - like the 2003 squad produced, I believe that they could be about what the Cardinals have averaged over the past two decades in terms of outfield production - AS A GROUP.