Per a quick glance at FanGraphs, 379 players participated in a Major League Baseball regular season game for the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2010s. Given that the Cardinals were the third-winningest team in the sport over the decade, and by some measures the most successful team in the sport since 2010, it should come as no surprise that many of these players were very good. But some were better than others. This is a post about some of those players.
This is an exercise to create the ultimate all-decade St. Louis Cardinals roster. There are several approaches one can take to this, but here is mine. Feel free to note the rules I created for myself if you’re the kind of person who is going to compulsively create their own roster before reading any further.
- This is a 40-man roster that I am approaching with the understanding that it is for use over the course of one MLB season. Thus, I have established a 25-man roster with a starting lineup, a starting rotation, semi-defined bullpen roles, ideas about how to implement substitutes, etc. But I also have fifteen other players who can be held and brought to the Majors in the event of injury or, less likely given the types of players who qualify for this team, ineffectiveness.
- The roster functions like an actual MLB roster. You need players at each position. You can’t just load up the roster with pitchers or hitters. Both are necessary in life and in this exercise.
- I am selecting individual seasons of players. It’s not enough to say “Yadier Molina”–I have to pick which specific version of Yadier Molina I’m getting. And I can’t choose one season’s Molina to be my starter and one season’s Molina to be my backup–each player can only be selected one time.
- Here’s where it gets a little bit trickier–each season gets exactly four players. Four players from 2010, 2011, etc. The 2011 World Series champions, the 100-win 2015 squad, and the 2017 team that barely cleared .500 are equally represented. This is a way to make sure the entire decade is represented.
Here it goes.
The starting lineup
Second Base: 2013 Matt Carpenter
One of the most truly inexplicable developments of the 2010s for the Cardinals was the emergence of Matt Carpenter, a lowly-touted four-year collegiate player turned marginal third base prospect being plugged into second base for the 2013 season with virtually no professional experience at the position not only surviving, but having arguably the best second base season in Major League Baseball that season. He showed offensive promise in 2012 as a bench player, but Carpenter astonished even his biggest champions with a .318/.392/.481 season as leadoff hitter for the NL champion Cardinals. Defensively, while Carpenter wasn’t quite elite at second base, he was perfectly representative at the position and was actually a bit of an upgrade over his predecessor at the position, fellow late-career second base convert Skip Schumaker.
Center Field: 2017 Tommy Pham
Pham always had his supporters in the organization (and in the Cardinals fan base), but few expected that upon getting his chance a month into 2017, Tommy Pham would do this. Despite having to wait his turn for Matt Adams’s hapless attempts in the outfield, Pham became the team’s most outstanding offensive contributor during the 2017 season, which culminated with the late-blooming 29 year-old clearing the rare .300/.400/.500 triple-slash line. While Pham mostly played left field throughout the season, he proved to be a serviceable center fielder, and given alternatives in left and center field, I feel that starting Pham in center field is the correct move.
First Base: 2010 Albert Pujols
Sabermetric lineup theory says to put Pujols in a higher-leverage spot in the batting order than third, but given the strength of the top of this lineup, I think I’m willing to acquiesce to player wishes and put Pujols in his familiar spot in the order. While 2010 was a moderately lackluster season compared to some of Albert’s greatest hits of the aughts, his 164 wRC+ was still the highest mark by a Cardinal in the 2010s, and his 42 home runs and .312/.414/.596 triple-slash were undeniably great. No player came closer to winning an MVP this decade as a Cardinal than Pujols, who finished second to Joey Votto.
Left Field: 2010 Matt Holliday
As he did in real life, Matt Holliday follows Albert Pujols in this lineup, and in 2010, Holliday had what was likely his finest season as a Cardinal. Granted, Matt Holliday had a Pujols-like consistency during his Cardinals tenure, so this could be debated, but a 149 wRC+ (equaling that of the aforementioned Tommy Pham and trailing only Pujols in this lineup) with a .390 on-base percentage and 28 home runs all while turning in the only plus defensive season of his Cardinals career makes Matt Holliday an easy choice for the heart of this lineup.
Catcher: 2012 Yadier Molina
Either of Molina’s MVP-caliber seasons of 2012 or 2013 could be argued for this spot, and while I understand the appeal of Molina’s ultra-wizardry behind the plate of 2013, I prefer the more obvious, visceral appeal of his 2012. Molina hit a career-high 22 home runs (still in the heart of a relatively stagnant power era) while striking out in fewer than 10% of his plate appearances, he somehow stole 12 bases, and he caught 48% of would-be base stealers from behind the plate. Whether it was excellent foresight or remarkable fortune, that the Cardinals signed Molina to an extension before the 2012 season was one of the most well-timed transactions of the era.
Right Field: 2015 Jason Heyward
Certainly the greatest one-year Cardinal of the decade, Jason Heyward serves as a counter-weight to the prior few batters, all of whom were largely immobile righties. Heyward, a true five-tool left-handed bat, had what was arguably his best professional season in St. Louis. In addition to his 121 wRC+ and plus base running, Heyward was the best defensive right fielder in baseball–despite Matt Holliday and Tommy Pham being primarily offensive selections for the starting outfield, the presence of the athletic, cannon-armed Heyward makes this an above-average outfield on the whole.
Third Base: 2012 David Freese
While 2011 was David Freese’s legend-making year in St. Louis, 2012 was his best season. After battling injuries throughout his career, Freese was an All-Star at the hot corner, hitting twenty home runs and providing solid defense. The only third baseman this decade who could touch Freese’s numbers was Matt Carpenter, but as Freese managed to eclipse anything any of the other second baseman did at the plate, this is the arrangement of third basemen that makes the lineup its most lethal self.
Shortstop: 2014 Jhonny Peralta
Although the eighth spot in the lineup is traditionally reserved for a weak defensive specialist, Peralta hit a team-high (it’s easy to forget how recently we were in a dead-ish ball era) 21 home runs and was a formidable on-base threat every time he went to the plate. In contrast to his predecessor at the plate, Pete Kozma, Peralta had the ability to cause fear in opposing pitchers. But while Peralta made this lineup for his offense, his defense was typically underrated for largely cosmetic reasons–despite being noticeably heftier than most of his peers at the position, Jhonny Peralta was consistently well-positioned and rarely botched plays at the position, even if he rarely made the acrobatic, highlight-reel plays.
Catcher: 2016 Eric Fryer
So before Turp gets mad at me, I should clarify something–Eric Fryer wasn’t as good as his 2016 results. Literally the rest of his career should establish that. But the bar for non-Yadier Molina catchers is so low that I’m willing to get suckered into 41 plate appearances of .452 BABIP offense. Of course, since my starting catcher is peak Yadier Molina, I’m not exactly banking on a ton of playing time for my backup. But I have to have one, right? (This is not a rhetorical question)
Second Base: 2019 Kolten Wong
In his first full season under Mike Shildt, Kolten Wong was a breakout star, combining sustainably positive offensive contributions with Gold Glove-caliber (and Gold Glove-winning) defense at second base. On sheer value alone, Kolten Wong was going to make this team, but on this particular roster, he is particularly useful–while Matt Carpenter provided decent second base defense, there is no question that last season’s version of Wong would make for an intriguing late-game defensive substitution and/or pinch-runner.
Shortstop: 2017 Paul DeJong
Any version of Paul DeJong could justifiably crack this team’s bench, but I’m fond of the rookie version of the shortstop, the one who came so profoundly out of nowhere and seemed far too good to be true. He hadn’t yet gained plate discipline but he was already a slick fielder (at the time, we thought this was unsustainable) and his raw power was something to behold. A shortstop who makes his MLB debut the day before Memorial Day isn’t supposed to lead a winning baseball team in home runs, but that’s exactly what happened. DeJong is a more than worthwhile backup (he could theoretically play third base from time to time as well, though Matt Carpenter can shift there when Wong enters games, as well).
Right Field: 2011 Lance Berkman
Lance Berkman had the second-best offensive season from a Cardinal in the 2010s in his debut season in St. Louis–by wRC+, only 2010 Albert Pujols was better at the plate (and barely). The drawback is that Berkman wasn’t much of a fielder; the upside is a .301/.412/.547 triple-slash, along with 31 home runs and 94 RBI if you prefer your numbers a little more traditional. For DH games, Berkman is an easy choice for that role, but in NL games, he can serve as a backup at first base, left field, and right field, as well as serving as the team’s most lethal pinch-hitting option (as a switch-hitter, Berkman qualifies as the first guy up regardless of matchup).
Center Field: 2018 Harrison Bader
It’s hard to imagine a baseball team on which Harrison Bader is a better fit than this one. In late innings, Bader can enter the game for Matt Holliday as a defensive substitution, after which Tommy Pham can shift to left field and the Cardinals can field an outfield where fly balls go to die. But it’s not as though Harrison Bader is only a role player–this version of Harrison Bader was an above-average hitter who belted twelve home runs and was worth high-threes Wins Above Replacement. He would be a perfectly worthwhile starter–as a reserve, he’s like a dream come true.
The starting rotation
2013 Adam Wainwright
Wainwright was the only Cardinal to be a finalist for the Cy Young Award in the 2010s, and he did it three times, so it should come as no surprise that he is the ace of the all-decade rotation. His best season came in 2013, when he logged 241 2/3 innings and sported a sub-3 ERA. And his peripherals suggest that he may have gotten a little bit unlucky along the way–he was, even by his standards, a control artist without sacrificing near-career best strikeout totals, and his 2.55 fielding-independent pitching was better than any other non-Wainwright pitcher’s mark by over half a run.
2019 Jack Flaherty
The best may still be yet to come for Jack Flaherty, which is a very exciting thing to consider. Flaherty broke the franchise’s single-season strikeouts per nine record and had the best half-season (the second half) of any Cardinals pitcher since Bob Gibson. Did Flaherty get a little bit lucky on his way to a 2.75 ERA? Maybe a little. But this is certainly a guy you wouldn’t mind taking the mound every five days on any team you could possibly imagine.
2018 Miles Mikolas
It is likely that the 2020 rotation is going to have two guys who finished in the top six in Cy Young voting within the previous two seasons, and that’s before the Cardinals sign Gerrit Cole and/or Stephen Strasburg (as a reasonable analyst, I’m willing to accept just one of the two). Miles Mikolas pitched in 2018 like an idealized version of a Dave Duncan-era workhorse, striking out a relatively moderate 6.55 batters per nine innings but combining pinpoint control and a propensity for soft, ground ball-based contact made for an effective season for the first-year Cardinal, who had a 2.83 ERA in over 200 innings for the team.
2011 Chris Carpenter
It wasn’t his best Cardinals season, but Chris Carpenter’s 2011 campaign keeps getting better with age. While Carpenter continuously ran into a lack of run support (this continued into the postseason, when the Cardinals only managed one run for him in Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS but, well, it’s fine), thus a somewhat underwhelming 11-9 record, Carpenter had a 3.06 FIP in 237 1/3 innings. Carpenter led the National League in innings pitched and finished 7th in FanGraphs WAR, and while his mediocre record meant a lack of Cy Young votes, he got his moments in the sun come October.
2014 Lance Lynn
In his first couple seasons as a starting pitcher in St. Louis, Lance Lynn was the type of starter that divided fans, as his ERAs tended to be materially higher than his peripherals suggested they should be. But in 2014, everything came together for Lynn–in 203 2/3 innings, Lynn once again had a terrific FIP of 3.35 but also was fortunate in the ways of sequencing, leading to a 2.74 ERA. Lynn combined with Adam Wainwright to create a formidable 1-2 punch for the Cardinals on their way to an NLCS appearance.
Closer: 2015 Trevor Rosenthal
One could make a case that Rosenthal’s best season was 2013, but the gap is small enough between his rookie campaign, during which he was primarily a setup man, and his 2015 season closing for a 100-win Cardinals team that I am willing to defer to the “proven closer” mentality. On his way to accumulating 48 saves, Rosenthal remained a marvelous strikeout pitcher while regaining much of the control which had largely subsided during his relatively lackluster sophomore campaign of 2014. On the season, Rosenthal notched a 2.10 ERA and a 2.42 FIP.
Setup: 2016 Seung-hwan Oh
What an incredible revelation that Seung-hwan Oh turned out to be for the Cardinals. Known as “the Final Boss”, the veteran relief pitcher made a sterling debut in Major League Baseball in 2016, acting primarily as a setup man but still notching 19 saves along the way. Most relevantly in assessing Oh’s pitching, however, were his 1.92 ERA and 2.13 FIP, the result of a remarkable ability to baffle hitters (11.64 K/9, the best full Cardinals season, non-Rosenthal division) while not giving many free passes (Rosenthal could only dream of a 2.03 BB/9).
Middle relief: 2014 Pat Neshek
One of the more unexpected Cardinals reclamation projects of modern times was that of Pat Neshek. And Neshek wasn’t even just a one-year wonder, either–he became a coveted relief pitcher outside of St. Louis, as well. But in his lone year on the Cardinals, Neshek was the team’s best relief pitcher, demonstrating pinpoint control and a particular prowess against right-handed bats that allowed the thirty-three year-old to reach a career-best 1.87 ERA.
Middle relief: 2019 Giovanny Gallegos
Initially maligned as part of the lackluster return from the New York Yankees for first baseman Luke Voit, Gallegos emerged in 2019 as the team’s most reliable reliever. Although Gallegos was in some ways very fortunate (opponents had a .222 BABIP against him), in other ways he was unlucky (opponents hit home runs on 11.4% of fly balls against him) and some of the indicators for sustained success were there–he struck out more than 11 batters per nine while walking fewer than two. He may not be a true 2.31 ERA-level reliever, but he’s probably, to put it generously, good enough to be the fourth highest-leveraged righty out of your pen.
Middle relief: 2011 Jason Motte
The eventual de facto closer for the World Series champion Cardinals, Jason Motte was the team’s most consistent relief pitcher in a year littered with inconsistent relief pitching. Formerly, Motte had control issues, but he weathered that storm in 2011 and was a sub-2.50 pitcher by both ERA and FIP by the end of the season. He also may have been the only reliever for the Cardinals this decade (and maybe in my lifetime) that didn’t have loud skeptics any time he would allow a base runner, and I support having a reliever with the extremely rare capacity of being liked.
LOOGY: 2013 Randy Choate
Randy Choate has exactly one baseball talent, but unfortunately, he was signed to play for a team with a tactically deficient manager, so he was only intermittently deployed correctly. But when Choate was allowed to face tough left-handed batters and only tough left-handed batters, he was a standout. Choate’s total numbers in 2013 are good on their own–a 2.29 ERA and 2.57 FIP–but broken down into splits for the role he was born to execute, he was even better. Left-handed batters Choate faced in 2013 batted .176/.268/.224. Even in this loaded bullpen, there is nobody I’d rather have facing Joey Votto or Anthony Rizzo or Christian Yelich with the game on the line than Randy Choate.
Lefty reliever: 2015 Kevin Siegrist
Randy Choate is a unique specialist; Kevin Siegrist was just a really good reliever who happened to be left-handed. Although Siegrist had his most jaw-dropping numbers in 2013 (seriously, a 0.45 ERA?), he managed to be a shutdown pitcher for a longer period of time, and thus I feel that this is the safer bet. Although he still wasn’t exactly a control artist, Siegrist had the strikeouts to make up for it and worked his way to a 2.17 ERA on the season. It may not be 0.45 level, but the whole thing did feel quite a bit more real.
The reserve roster
Catcher: 2010 Jason LaRue
You want to know how much effort I spent on deciding which of the countless lackluster choices for third catcher to select? I picked the rest of the roster, saw that I still had an opening in 2010, and decided, “Sure, why not LaRue?” In theory I could pick Matt Pagnozzi from 2010 as well, but since I’m already choosing one flash-in-the-pan catcher in Eric Fryer, I decided to go with established, cromulent mediocrity in the form of the veteran most famous for getting kicked in the head by Johnny Cueto.
First Base: 2012 Allen Craig
A similar player to Lance Berkman–a prodigious offensive threat who can play first base or a corner outfield spot–Allen Craig came and went like a supernova, but in the meantime, he was a really good hitter. In 2012, after beginning the season as a bench player, he belted 22 home runs and his 137 wRC+ was tied for 19th best in Major League Baseball that season.
Second Base: 2016 Jedd Gyorko
Although originally acquired in what was a bit of salary dumping by the San Diego Padres, Gyorko was a surprisingly productive player for the Cardinals in 2016, leading the team in home runs with 30 despite a lack of defined starting position. The 2016 version of Gyorko could hit, yes, but what makes him particularly intriguing as a bench player if necessary is that he was capable of handling two positions moderately well (second base and third base) and could fill in at shortstop in a pinch.
Third Base: 2019 Tommy Edman
2019 was the Year of Edmania, and it wouldn’t totally surprise me if Tommy Edman is a true one-year wonder, but the results in 2019 speak for themselves–a 123 wRC+ in 349 plate appearances while playing slick defense at third base and an ability to handle at least second base, right field, and possibly shortstop. Edman could wind up a very fun player to have around.
Shortstop: 2016 Aledmys Diaz
Diaz had been so lost in the shuffle of Cardinals infielders of the future that by the time Aledmys Diaz arrived in 2016, he seemed more meme than man. And yet when the Cuban shortstop got his chance to crack the MLB lineup, he more than took advantage of the situation. Although long-time concerns about Diaz’s ability to stick at shortstop were never truly assuaged, his offense was undeniable–he rocked a 132 wRC+ on the season, trailing only Corey Seager among MLB shortstop with as many plate appearances that year.
Center Fielder: 2010 Colby Rasmus
Rasmus’s acrimonious departure from St. Louis has since overshadowed it, but Colby Rasmus’s second season with the Cardinals was pretty remarkable. In 534 plate appearances, the 23 year-old hit .276/.361/.498, and his 130 wRC+ trailed only Josh Hamilton and Carlos Gonzalez among MLB center fielders that season. He doesn’t necessarily serve a specific unique purpose on this 40-man roster, but it’s really hard to pass on a 4ish WAR player who is just sitting out there.
Center Fielder: 2014 Jon Jay
Jon Jay is about as archetypal of a fourth outfielder as you could design–capable of handling all three outfield spots and a solid contact hitter coming off the bench. Jay lacks the upside of the other outfielders on this roster, but the version of him we got in 2014, a maximally Jon Jay Jon Jay whose batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage each began with a three, would be a dependable bit of roster depth.
Center Fielder: 2015 Randal Grichuk
During his 2014 MLB debut season, Randal Grichuk seemed like an incomplete prospect–he struck out a lot, didn’t walk very much, and was stuck in a corner outfield spot. The version we got in 2015, aside from the latter part, wasn’t too dissimilar to this, but you’re able to forgive a general lack of plate discipline if a guy can play a competent center field and he just crushes home runs. Grichuk had a relatively meager 350 plate appearances, but prorated out to 600 plate appearances, representative of a full season, he socked dingers at a nearly 30 home run pace and played at better than a 5 WAR level of overall production.
Starting Pitcher: 2012 Kyle Lohse
When the Cardinals appeared in the first ever Wild Card Game, it was Kyle Lohse rather than Adam Wainwright who was entrusted with the start. Those who do not remember Kyle Lohse saw a similar style of pitcher in Miles Mikolas–Lohse only struck out 143 batters in 211 innings, but he walked just 38. Although he wasn’t quite as good by his peripherals, Lohse’s eye-popping traditional measures (16-3, 2.86 ERA) allowed the Cardinals to offer him the qualifying offer during the first season of the modern qualifying offer system (he declined, signed with the Brewers, and the Cardinals drafted Rob Kaminsky, whom they later traded for Brandon Moss).
Starting Pitcher: 2013 Shelby Miller
Shelby Miller was a highly touted prospect who lived up to his hype in his Rookie of the Year-finalist 2013 season. In some ways, he was the first true fireballer starting pitcher for the Cardinals since Rick Ankiel, and the rookie was arguably the second-best starting pitcher throughout the season for a team that won 97 games. In 31 starts, Miller went 15-9 with a 3.06 ERA in 173 1/3 innings.
Starting Pitcher: 2017 Carlos Martinez
For a player who is often subjected to claims of being inconsistent or erratic, Carlos Martinez has been among the most steady starting pitchers for the Cardinals this decade when healthy. Martinez’s 2017 was arguably the least productive of his first three seasons in the Cardinals’ starting rotation, but he was the team’s best starting pitcher during the season, tallying a career-high 205 innings (just 2 2/3 shy of the National League lead) and producing a 3.64 ERA that may not, on first blush, look particularly impressive, but with increased scoring throughout baseball, he remained firmly above-average among MLB starters.
Relief Pitcher: 2011 Fernando Salas
Because baseball is a deeply unfair sport, the man who led the 2011 World Series champions in saves was relegated to footnote in history. But, particularly given the slim margins by which the Cardinals made the postseason, the championship doesn’t happen without the contributions of Fernando Salas, who saved 24 games in 2011 with a 2.28 ERA. While he was assisted by unsustainbly favorable BABIP and left-on-base percentage, Salas was a more-than-worthy bit of bullpen depth.
Relief Pitcher: 2017 Tyler Lyons
While Lyons had been a marginal starting pitcher coming up for the Cardinals, he found his footing as a lefty reliever for the team in 2017. The 2017 version of Lyons is somewhat anomalous in his career, but the numbers were largely not a fluke–he was a legitimate strikeout pitcher and both his ERA and FIP resided below three.
Relief Pitcher: 2018 John Brebbia
John Brebbia has been one of the most understatedly productive Cardinals over the last several years, and while he lacks an outstanding season, he has several good ones, with the best of the lot being his 2018. Brebbia, pitching in middle relief (he ended up with two saves on the season), produced a 3.20 ERA and 3.02 FIP and, realistically, how can I not include the guy with the decade’s greatest bullpen entrance music (Wham!’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go”, a seemingly bizarre choice that matches Brebbia’s off-kilter personality like a glove) when it’s even remotely justifiable to do so on baseball grounds?
Relief Pitcher: 2018 Jordan Hicks
Last but not least is Jordan Hicks and his age-21 rookie season. The numbers were fine though hardly elite–a 3.59 ERA and a 3.74 FIP, though in my defense, the numbers did improve as the season continued. But I am adhering to a very simple philosophy with regards to this choice–when you have a chance to put a guy who throws 105 miles an hour on your roster, you should strongly consider doing so. At best, you have a really intriguing potential superstar on your hands. At worst, you have somebody who is compelling to watch.