Over the last couple weeks, reports surfaced detailing how Major League Baseball may attempt to play a COVID-shortened 2020 season. First we had “Baseball City,” where all 30 teams would play at Chase Field or surrounding facilities while being away from their families for the entirety of the season. The more recent proposal suggests a temporary dissolution of the National and American League (and their respective divisions) in favor of a geographic realignment based on the teams’ spring training homes. Including divisions, the leagues could look like this:
Roster sizes, quarantine challenges, and other logistics aside, baseball in some form is better than no baseball at all. Temporary realignment would present a host of challenges, including what to do about the designated hitter. While the details were not announced, Dan Szymborksi included a universal DH when he projected the realigned league. Ignoring what this might mean for the future of the debate between the pro-universal-DH fans and baseball purists, the proposal got me thinking about the history of Cardinals pitchers at the plate. Who are the Cardinals all-time Pitchers Who Raked?
*Note: all stats below are sourced from FanGraphs and Baseball Savant. Qualified pitchers made a minimum of 100 plate appearances in a Cardinals uniform since 1946.*
Home Run King: Bob Gibson
Perhaps unsurprisingly, one of the Cardinals most powerful pitchers holds the record for most home runs in a season by a Cardinals pitcher since WWII. After blasting five dingers in 1965 while winning 20 games, he tied his own mark with another five in 1972 while winning 19 games. Spoiler alert: this post has more on Gibson.
Whiteyball Star: Bob Forsch
On May 22nd, 1985, Bob Forsch launched his only home run of the season and sixth in his career, tossed 6.1 innings of one run ball, and clawed the Cardinals up to .500 for the first time in 1985. Forsch was nearing the end of his fourteen year stay in St. Louis which included the 1982 World Series title and two runner-up finishes in the ‘85 and ‘87 seasons.
While most will remember Forsch for his presence on the bump during one of the team’s best eras, the long-time Redbird also had some prowess at the plate. Forsch fit right in with the Whiteyball style that emerged throughout his career, accumulating eight triples, 44 doubles, and 12 homers during his time with the Cardinals. By wRC+, Forsch holds the three best offensive seasons by a Cardinals pitcher.
Statcast Darling: Adam Wainwright
Despite being the most obvious pitcher who raked in recent memory, Wainwright’s 39 wRC+ ranked only 22nd on my list. Although his reputation at the plate might outpace his actual production, Wainwright legendarily homered on the first Major League pitch he saw in his career and also broke Statcast. He leads Cardinals pitchers with four barrels since 2015, including three home runs and a double, and is tied for the sixth most across the Majors over that timeframe.
Batting Champion: Allen Watson (.270 batting average)
This list includes a couple names I’m not familiar with, and Allen Watson is the first of those names. He played for the Cardinals from 1993 until 1995. While I was born in ’95 and alive for Watson’s last full season wearing the birds on the bat, I was presumably more focused on crying and teething.
While I was experiencing the world for the first time, Watson hit .417 in 41 plate appearances in his final year in St. Louis. His 166 wRC+ would have ranked fifth in the Majors had he qualified and was the highest on the team among all players who stepped up to the plate more than twice. On the mound, Watson went 19-21 with a 5.07 ERA over his three seasons in St. Louis.
On-Base Champion: Todd Stottlemyre (.306 OBP)
A couple months after Watson was traded to the Giants in the 95-96 offseason, the Cardinals found their silver slugger replacement when they traded for Stottlemyre from the Oakland A’s. Stottlemyre fared much better on the mound than Watson, compiling a 35-29 record with a 3.77 ERA.
Prior to joining St. Louis, Stottlemyre had only two plate appearances to his name – a postseason walk for Toronto in 1993 and a strikeout for the A’s in 1995. Despite the lack of professional hitting experience, Stottlemyre maintained a respectable .230 average during his time in St. Louis, never hitting below .226 in a season, and his 9.0% walk rate is the second best among the pitchers who qualified for this list. His strong walk rate coupled with a 30.2% strikeout rate suggests the lefty-hitter/righty-hurler may have had a real approach at the plate, which is more than most pitchers can say.
Before getting to the team’s offensive MVP, here are a few honorable mentions who I found interesting for one reason or another:
Kip Wells would have led Cardinals pitchers with an 87 wRC+ if I lowered the qualifier to 50 plate appearances. St. Louis was the only place Wells eclipsed even a 36 wRC+ and he managed only more two hits in his career after leaving the Cardinals in 2008.
While Jason Marquis earned a reputation as a pitcher who raked by hitting .292 and .310 in his first two years in St. Louis in 2004/2005, he managed a measly 8 wRC+ and .174 average in 472 plate appearances from 2006 on.
Brett Tomko (71 wRC+) and Braden Looper (56 wRC+) both rank in the team’s top ten. I’m not sure why I remember Brett Tomko, who only played for the Cardinals in 2003 (maybe he was stuck on the roster in MVP Baseball 2004?), but Braden Looper was one of my favorite guys in MLB The Show starting in 2006 for some reason.
Most Valuable Player: Bob Gibson
Bob Gibson launches his first career postseason home run in Game 7 of the 1967 World Series. The bomb extended the Cardinals lead to 3-0 en route to a 7-3 win. Bob Gibson tossed a complete game to earn his third win of the series.
What couldn’t Bob Gibson do? Go to the leaderboard and sort by almost any offensive stat you want, and Bob Gibson probably leads it. Home runs? 24, exactly twice as many second place Bob Forsch (12). For good measure, he added two more in the postseason. Runs scored? 132, or 56 more than second-place Forsch. His 144 RBI are 65 more than Forsch (poor Bob Forsch, this would just be an article about him if Gibson was never a Cardinal). Gibson finished his career with 13 steals, six more than the next best pitcher. Hell, Gibson just stepped up to the plate 1,489 times (486 more than Bob Forsch, of course). Unsurprisingly, Gibson’s 7.8 fWAR as a position player leads the team. Oh yeah, he was a decent pitcher too.
Since the end of World War II, Cardinals pitchers have accumulated 9.2 fWAR as position players, the highest among all teams due to a combination of defensive prowess and offensive aptitude. The Cardinals have, for a long time, been credited for building rosters that fit their home stadium. They deserve credit for constructing pitching staffs to fit their league, too.
Credit to @cardinalsgifs for his incredible work on the gifs and cover art, and digging around to help find these videos.