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August 10, 2004

Murderer's Row

How Good Are the Cardinals Now?

by Chaim Bloom and Keith Woolner

In Baseball Prospectus 2004, we called the heart of the Cardinals' lineup--Edgar Renteria, Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, and Jim Edmonds--the Cloutin' Four. The Cardinals didn't have much around them last year. Now they do, and with the best record in baseball, GM Walt Jocketty went on the attack and made the Cloutin' Four a fivesome over the weekend.

The accumulation of talent invites the question: with Larry Walker added, do the Cardinals have the best middle of the order ever? Although Renteria (.294/.338/.418) isn't hitting like he did last year, Edmonds, Pujols and Rolen are all above a .330 EqA. When he's healthy, Walker is a Hall of Fame-caliber talent. Their performance warrants a look at the great lineups of the past, to see where exactly these Cardinals rank.

We decided to use MLVr to rank the offenses; this stat measures the amount of runs per game that a given player will contribute to a lineup that otherwise consists of average offensive performers. MLVr doesn't give bonus points for playing a tough position: it just cares how well you hit. So we took the top five regulars on each team and ranked them by their average MLVr. Lo and behold, there are our Cardinals:


               MLVR  MLVR  MLVR
TEA LG  YEAR   AVG   MAX   MIN NAMES
--- -- ----- ----- ----- ----- --------------------------------------------
PHI NL  1895  .543  .660  .410 Delahanty-Thompson-Clements-Hamilton-Turner
PHI NL  1894  .522  .713  .336 Thompson-Delahanty-Hamilton-Turner-Cross
NYA AL  1927  .497  .823  .207 Gehrig-Ruth-Combs-Meusel-Lazzeri
NYA AL  1930  .445  .758  .157 Ruth-Gehrig-Combs-Dickey-Chapman
NYA AL  1931  .408  .764  .188 Ruth-Gehrig-Chapman-Combs-Dickey
NYA AL  1937  .399  .581  .042 Gehrig-DiMaggio-Selkirk-Dickey-Hoag
NYA AL  1929  .399  .647  .182 Ruth-Lazzeri-Gehrig-Combs-Dickey
NYA AL  1928  .396  .654  .136 Ruth-Gehrig-Lazzeri-Combs-Meusel
NYA AL  1961  .394  .621  .125 Mantle-Blanchard-Howard-Maris-Berra
CHN NL  1929  .391  .652  .050 Hornsby-Wilson-Stephenson-Cuyler-Heathcote
NYA AL  1936  .386  .677  .202 Gehrig-Dickey-DiMaggio-Selkirk-Rolfe
NYA AL  1932  .381  .650  .194 Ruth-Gehrig-Lazzeri-Combs-Chapman
BRO NL  1953  .379  .483  .304 Snider-Campanella-Furillo-Robinson-Hodges
PHI NL  1899  .378  .623  .207 Delahanty-Lajoie-McFarland-Flick-Thomas
NYA AL  1939  .377  .662  .264 DiMaggio-Selkirk-Keller-Rolfe-Dickey
***
SLN NL  2004  .377  .483  .001 Walker-Edmonds-Rolen-Pujols-Renteria
***
SL4 AA  1887  .374  .777  .137 O'Neill-Caruthers-Foutz-Robinson-Comiskey
PH1 NA  1871  .373  .938  .095 Meyerle-Reach-Bechtel-Malone-Radcliff
CHN NL  1930  .369  .638  .224 Wilson-Hartnett-Cuyler-English-Stephenson
NY1 NL  1930  .367  .566  .190 Terry-Ott-Lindstrom-Jackson-Hogan
SLN NL  1921  .362  .652  .196 Hornsby-McHenry-Fournier-Mann-Smith

This method has its flaws. What you see with the '37 Yankees (Myril Hoag) as well as our Cards (Renteria) is some superlative performances compensating for pedestrian hitting by the weakest member of the group. That's not what we want; we're looking for a heart of the order whose every member strikes fear into the opposition.

What makes more sense here is to rank these teams not by the group's average production, but by the weakest member of the fivesome, thus ensuring that the other four will be as good or better. Murderer's Row isn't just about aggregate performance; it's about depth. When we rank that way, as you might expect from the chart above, the '04 Cardinals are nowhere to be found:


TEA LG  YEAR  MLVR   MAX   MIN NAMES
--- -- ----- ----- ----- ----- --------------------------------------------
PHI NL  1895  .543  .660  .410 Delahanty-Thompson-Clements-Hamilton-Turner
PHI NL  1894  .522  .713  .336 Thompson-Delahanty-Hamilton-Turner-Cross
BRO NL  1953  .379  .483  .304 Snider-Campanella-Furillo-Robinson-Hodges
BS2 AA  1891  .353  .470  .277 Brouthers-Joyce-Duffy-Brown-Farrell
NYA AL  1939  .377  .662  .264 DiMaggio-Selkirk-Keller-Rolfe-Dickey
CHN NL  1884  .325  .418  .256 Kelly-Anson-Williamson-Dalrymple-Gore
CIN NL  1970  .329  .428  .235 Carbo-Perez-Bench-Tolan-Rose
BSN NL  1897  .274  .368  .231 Stivetts-Stahl-Collins-Duffy-Hamilton
NYN NL  1999  .253  .295  .227 Piazza-Ventura-Henderson-Olerud-Alfonzo
CHF FL  1915  .264  .332  .226 Wilson-Fischer-Mann-Zwilling-Flack
PIT NL  1940  .265  .350  .225 Garms-DiMaggio-Davis-Vaughan-Fletcher
CHN NL  1930  .369  .638  .224 Wilson-Hartnett-Cuyler-English-Stephenson
SFN NL  1970  .313  .474  .220 McCovey-Dietz-Mays-Bonds-Henderson
NYA AL  1952  .272  .377  .217 Mantle-Woodling-Collins-Berra-Bauer
HOU NL  1998  .313  .390  .216 Alou-Bagwell-Biggio-Berry-Bell
BLN NL  1897  .349  .542  .215 Keeler-Kelley-Jennings-Stenzel-Doyle
CHN NL  1876  .315  .604  .215 Barnes-Anson-Peters-White-Hines
CIN NL  1965  .237  .319  .214 Robinson-Johnson-Pinson-Coleman-Rose
PIT NL  1893  .288  .402  .212 Smith-Stenzel-Van Haltren-Glasscock-Lyons
HOU NL  1995  .248  .279  .211 Biggio-Bagwell-Cangelosi-Bell-Magadan

The 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers, often forgotten in discussions of history's great lineups, are the highest-ranked team in the modern era. They won 105 games, mostly by bludgeoning opponents into submission. While Carl Erskine (20-6, 3.54) had the only sub-4.00 among the starters, the starting lineup was superlative. Catcher Roy Campanella hit 41 home runs, slugged .611 and won the MVP. Duke Snider (.336/.419/.627), at age 26, had perhaps his greatest season, and Gil Hodges (.302/.393/.550) put up the highest OBP of his career. Carl Furillo maintained a steady excellence for a number of years, and Jackie Robinson was Jackie Robinson. The '53 Dodgers were deep beyond those first five, too: of the team's top ten in plate appearances, the lowest OBP was .363 (Billy Cox).

Had they access to modern career-lengthening innovations, the '53 Dodgers might be better known. Snider had 316 home runs before his age-31 season, but aging and transplanted to Los Angeles, he hit only 93 thereafter. Most appreciated by his contemporaries and by those war babies who grew up in his prime, the Duke of Flatbush was, for a decade, one of the best in the game. Gil Hodges is not in the Hall of Fame, and his candidacy is debatable, but he, too, was hurt by quick decline, and hit all but 25 of his 370 career home runs before his 36th birthday. Without the benefit of a productive decline phase, Hodges remains on the outside looking in.

Note also some recent teams: the '99 Mets, and two editions of the late-'90s Astros. We'll bet you didn't expect to see John Cangelosi or Dave Magadan here, not to mention Sean Berry and Derek Bell (twice!).

But back to the topic at hand: our 2004 Cardinals. Edgar Renteria can play for us any day, but we have to be ruthless, and he's holding the other four back. When we look at the top four batters instead of the top five, we see that this year's Cardinals, with Pujols's .463 MLVr their fourth-best, are second all-time behind only the 1894 Phillies. By that measure, the heart of this Cardinals lineup is the best in modern baseball.

And if a list of average MLVr gets you going instead, the Cardinals still rank seventh, and the best since 1937:


TEA LG  YEAR  MLVR   MAX   MIN NAMES (Top 4)
--- -- ----- ----- ----- ----- ---------------------------------------
PHI NL  1895  .576  .660  .443 Delahanty-Thompson-Clements-Hamilton
NYA AL  1927  .569  .823  .293 Gehrig-Ruth-Combs-Meusel
PHI NL  1894  .568  .713  .468 Thompson-Delahanty-Hamilton-Turner
NYA AL  1930  .517  .758  .209 Ruth-Gehrig-Combs-Dickey
NYA AL  1937  .488  .581  .376 Gehrig-DiMaggio-Selkirk-Dickey
CHN NL  1929  .477  .652  .368 Hornsby-Wilson-Stephenson-Cuyler
***
SLN NL  2004  .471  .483  .463 Walker-Edmonds-Rolen-Pujols
***
NYA AL  1931  .463  .764  .209 Ruth-Gehrig-Chapman-Combs
NYA AL  1961  .462  .621  .390 Mantle-Blanchard-Howard-Maris
NYA AL  1928  .462  .654  .201 Ruth-Gehrig-Lazzeri-Combs
NYA AL  1929  .453  .647  .282 Ruth-Lazzeri-Gehrig-Combs
BS1 NA  1871  .443  .634  .042 Wright-Barnes-McVey-Wright
PH1 NA  1871  .443  .938  .227 Meyerle-Reach-Bechtel-Malone
SL4 AA  1887  .434  .777  .197 O'Neill-Caruthers-Foutz-Robinson
NYA AL  1936  .432  .677  .264 Gehrig-Dickey-DiMaggio-Selkirk
NYA AL  1932  .427  .650  .228 Ruth-Gehrig-Lazzeri-Combs
SFN NL  2000  .422  .586  .130 Bonds-Burks-Kent-Snow
PHI NL  1899  .420  .623  .269 Delahanty-Lajoie-McFarland-Flick
SLN NL  1925  .413  .833  .056 Hornsby-Bottomley-Blades-Mueller
NY1 NL  1930  .411  .566  .224 Terry-Ott-Lindstrom-Jackson
NYA AL  1939  .406  .662  .270 DiMaggio-Selkirk-Keller-Rolfe

Coming in second are the familiar 1927 Yankees, the original Murderer's Row. In order to leapfrog the Cardinals, the '27 Yanks rely on Gehrig and Ruth to pick up Earle Combs and Bob Meusel. "The Kentucky Colonel" (.356/.414/.511) and "Long Bob" (.337/.393/.510) had fine seasons, but their team makes this list because of Gehrig (.373/.474/.765) and Ruth (.356/.486/.772). With all four players between a .463 and .483 MLVr, the 2004 Cardinals are surely the deepest and steadiest Murderer's Row in history, and maybe the best.

Well, except for those 1894-95 Phillies. But that was a very long time ago. So even as we watch Barry Bonds hit, and prepare stories for our grandchildren like the ones we were told about Babe Ruth, we should make time for the 2004 Cardinals. Even Babe Ruth never saw a lineup like this.

Keith Woolner is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Keith's other articles. You can contact Keith by clicking here

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