The Tale of The 1985 St Louis Cardinals

The analysis of Baseball unlike any other sport have made huge strides in recent years: Forward thinking and new metrics have lead us to look at the game from a whole new angle. Think about it for a second:

Before "Moneyball", Average and Slugging were perceived as the only ways to evaluate a hitter performance, then we started looking at OBP then OPS and GPA which opened the way to a whole new set of metrics: wOBA, VORP, FIP, tRA...

With Pitch f/x, we can analyze the pitcher stuff: The breaking of his Slider, the velocity of his 4 seamer, the movement of his 2 seamer...and not only that! We can also attribute values to those pitches and see what pitch is effective and witch one is not, we can also judge the hitter plate discipline:

  • If he's a "hacker" (think Francoeur) swinging at anything outside the strike zone; or
  • A disciplined hitter waiting for "his pitch" to cross the plate.

Changes didn't stop there: UZR and other new defensive metrics are helping us to distinguish which fielder is good when it comes to "flashing the leather" and who's not...RIP Fielding percentage and errors, position adjustments and WAR are helping to appreciate the true value of a player.

Why I'm telling you all this? Because there's still a lot a myths and dogmas when it comes to analyze the game and construct a roster. I'll tackle this after the jump.

The most talked about topic this offseason was: What the Sox are going to do to replace the offensive production of Jason Bay? Because, according to Mazzarotti, Cafardo, Borges and the other clowns polluting the media, a team needs a slugger to add "punch" to "the heart" of the order, to struck "fear in the heart" of the opposing pitchers and drive runs...

Before the Sabermetrics revolution, we -baseball fans- were conditioned to think that a lineup needs power in the corners and speed in the middle and that's fine! After all, we won 2 world series using this blueprint but, is it the only way to win games? Certainly No! A team doesn't need a "power threat" in LF or 1B to win game: A team needs GOOD players to win games!!! Plain and simple, heck, I'll take the slick fielding player with a .870 OPS over the "bulking slugger" with a .950 OPS and no glove every day of the week and twice on Sunday!

That's why I chose to talk to you about, the 1985 St Louis Cardinals who made it to the world series:

  • They compiled a 101-61 record (Best in the NL).
  • They scored 747 runs and allowed 572 good for a Pythagorean record of 100-62 and leading their league in both categories.

Now, let's start the fun: How many HRs do you think they did hit? a whooping 87! Only the Pirates were worst (yeah even then they were ugly). Their LFer? He hit A SINGLE dinger: Pretty weak for the so-called "power position" huh?

So how they did it?

  • They hit a bunch of singles: 1055 (1st in the NL)
  • They draw a bunch of walks 586 (again 1st in the NL)
  • They were speedy: they stole 314 bases (yep 1st in that too) and they hit 59 triples (1st in the NL) compiling a gaudy 6.8 on FanGraphs' speed score.
  • To resume it all: They led the NL in wOBA.

Well, that speed translated very well in the field: They held opposing batters to a .272 BABIP (tied with the Dodgers in the 1st place in the NL in terms of defensive efficiency)  and from there, you got the picture: Less hits, more outs allowing their starters to go deeper into the games. Here's the Top 10 leaders in IP in the NL, I added ERA and FIP just to make you notice again their fielding prowess:





Dwight Gooden Mets




John Tudor Cardinals




Fernando Valenzuela Dodgers




Joaquin Andujar Cardinals




Rick Mahler  Braves




Tom Browning Reds




Mario Soto Reds




Ron Darling  Mets




Danny Cox Cardinals




Bob Knepper Astros




I'll add that due to their shut down defense, the Cardinals starters pitched for a nifty 1066.1 Innings good for 3rd in the league behind the Mets (1091.2 IPs) and the Dodgers (1074 IPs).

Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying that the current Red Sox lineup will hit 78 HRs au contraire, they'll hit plenty of them, all I'm saying is that this is a lineup filled with GOOD players and that alone gives them/us a good shot at contending for a title...the heck with "the power at the corners" and the Ayatollah of the reactionary thinking!

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