The 1980s were a great decade for the St. Louis Cardinals, making three world series and winning one in 1982. So which players from the 1980s would improve the current 2020 starting lineup?
The St. Louis Cardinals finished 2019 with a National League Central division title and made it to the National League Championship Series. The Cardinals though finished the year with a real question mark around their offense after scoring a meager six runs from 16 hits in their four-game NLCS whitewash by the Washington Nationals. Plus they have failed to bolster the team with any real additions in the off-season so far (here’s still hoping Nolan Arenado can happen!)
The 1980s Cardinals had an offense that was very different as well, but it still made them successful and led them to their domination of the decade.
So in following with our eighties themed week at Redbird Rants, which St. Louis Cardinals players from the 1980s would improve the current Cards starting lineup?
Catcher – Porter vs. Yadi
Darrell Porter played for the St. Louis Cardinals for five years from 1981 through 1985. He was known for his outstanding defensive skills and hitting for power, shown by his .749 OPS during his career in St. Louis. Porter was even named MVP of the 1982 World Series, which the Cardinals won in seven games against the Milwaukee Brewers, where Darrell had numerous key hits including a home run in Game 6.
Porter’s career OPS is 11 points higher than current catcher Yadier Molina (.738) and he has a World Series MVP to his name which has only been done by six other catchers. But Yadi has a higher average fWAR per season in St. Louis than Porter (3.375 vs. 2.56) and his management of the pitching staff and overall clubhouse presence puts him over and above. So for me, Yadi gels this team together and his clubhouse presence alone means I just don’t think you can replace him from this lineup!
First base – Hernandez vs. Goldy
Keith Hernandez was a Redbird for only three and a half years in the ’80s but managed to win four Gold Gloves and one Silver Slugger during this period. Hernandez was a contact hitter, having a .396 OBP during his time as a Cardinal in this decade, which was way above league average for the eighties (.324). He even managed the highest OBP in the National League in 1980, and a 1.667 OPS in the final three games of the 1982 World Series.
But Hernandez was traded away to the New York Mets in 1983 after a number of disagreements with manager Whitey Herzog, with Whitey even going as far as saying Keith was a “cancer” on his team! There have been many criticisms of this trade, some even calling it the second-worst trade in Cardinals history but after Paul Goldschmidt’s slow first season in the Lou, would Hernandez be an upgrade?
Goldy is a perennial All-Star, already having more appearances (six) than Hernandez (five) in his career and Goldys 141 career OPS+ is far superior to Hernandez’s (128 OPS+). Paul is going into his 9th full season in MLB, and in Keith Hernandez’s 9th full season he won a Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, was an All-Star and came second in the MVP voting. So here’s hoping for the same with Goldy this season with him staying in my 2020 lineup.
Second base – Herr / Oquendo vs. KoWo
The 1980s kicked off with Tommy Herr as the St. Louis Cardinals second baseman (where he amassed 18.2 fWAR during the decade) and then transitioned into Jose Oquendo who was the fulltime second baseman by 1989. Both players were above average defenders, but marginally below-average hitters (with Herr having a 96 OPS+ and Oquendo having a 93 OPS+ as Cardinals).
If you asked me the same question this time last year, then Kolten Wong was definitely replaceable. Though after his 2019 season where he won his first Gold Glove, hit for considering more power than his career average and had his career highest fWAR (3.7) then I will be taking KoWo for my 2020 lineup without much hesitation.
Shortstop – Smith vs. DeJong
Ozzie Smith is a St. Louis Cardinals legend. He has had his number one jersey retired, has the second-longest streak of consecutive Gold Gloves won by any position player and is widely thought of as one of the best defensive shortstops in Major League Baseball history.
The Wizard spent eight years with the Cardinals in the eighties, being voted as an All-Star every year and although he wasn’t a natural power hitter (only hitting 17 homers as a Redbird in the 1980s) he greatly improved his contact numbers finishing the decade with a .353 OBP. Oz excelled defensively with his combination of acrobatic skills and natural athleticism and this is exactly why he would be one of the first names on the lineup in the 2020 team.
Paul DeJong has been excellent defensively so far in his career with the Cardinals, amassing 13 Infield Outs Above Average in 2019 which was fifth-best in the majors. He also hit 30 homers in 2019. However, DeJong’s career-high 4.1 fWAR in 2019 was lower than seven different seasons by the Wizard, so unfortunately for Paul, this is an unfair matchup.
Third base – Oberkfell / Pendleton vs. Carp
Ken Oberkfell kicked off the 1980’s as the Cardinals starting third baseman until he was traded away in 1984 to the Atlanta Braves, which allowed Terry Pendleton to step up. Ken had a 107 OPS+ during the decade as a Cardinal, whereas Pendleton was not as strong behind the plate but was an improvement in the field.
If the Cardinals could secure the much sought after Nolan Arenado trade then we can close this conversation down immediately, but at present the Arenado-less Cardinals I believe could still outperform either of the eighties third baseman. Carp is due a bounceback season, and if he could re-ignite his second half of 2018 stats, then the Cards are back in business.
Right field – Hendrick vs. Fowler
In his seven years as a Cardinal, George Hendrick only hit below an .815 OPS twice (that’s higher than anyone on the entire St. Louis Cardinals roster last season) and his wRC+ (124) was the sixth-highest of all right fielders in the NL with a single club of the decade.
Dexter Fowler’s “bounce back” year in 2019 falls below every season from Hendrick as a Cardinal in nearly all offensive stats. So with how the lineup currently stands and the offensive struggles of 2019, a bit of extra pop from Hendricks bat would be a great addition to the team.
Center Field – McGee vs. Bader
If you could replicate Willie McGee’s 1985 All-Star, Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, MVP season where he had an MLB season-high in hits (216), triples (18) and average (.353) then this would be a no brainer. Yet over the entirety of the 1980s, McGee had a 99 OPS+, was relatively average defensively and so poses are a real challenge on his inclusion into the team.
Harrison Bader is the St. Louis Cardinals’ current self-proclaimed center fielder after saying in an interview at the Winter Warmups recently “I’m the starting center fielder. It’s my position.” But although Bader continued his excellent defensive abilities, with the 4th-best Outfield Outs Above Average of 2019 in the Majors, he regressed offensively with just 81 wRC+.
There is a glut of outfielders coming through the system, so for the 2020 roster, I’ll take Willie McGee in center and leave Bader in the roster to fill in where necessary.
Left field – Coleman vs. current open LF slot
Vince Coleman joined the major league team in 1985, winning the Rookie of the Year award that year and had a further two All-Star appearances in 1988 and 1989. Vince was a premium baserunner where he led all of the MLB in stolen bases every year from 1985 through 1990 (having over 150 more stolen bases than second-placed Ricky Henderson).
Though in today’s game with baserunning becoming a dying art and Vince not excelling with the bat (he had 86 wRC+ over this period), I feel the best option would be the continue with the current roster of players vying for the left field spot. This would leave options open for any of Tyler O’Neill, Lane Thomas, Harrison Bader & Dylan Carlson to solidify this position.
Starting pitching – Tudor, Forsch or Andujar
John Tudor spent 3 and a half years in St. Louis during the ’80s and had a 2.55 ERA over this period including a stellar 1985 season where he pitched 10 shutouts, had 21 wins and came second in the Cy Young behind an exceptional season from the Mets Dwight Gooden. His 6.4 fWAR in that 1985 season ranked the 8th best amongst all pitchers in the NL across the entire decade.
Bob Forsch was an innings eater throughout the decade, with 220 starts, 1,465 innings pitched and a 3.82 ERA. Forsch was never a front of the rotation pitcher and did struggle on the big stage as he pitched in seven world series games, losing the three starts he did make and had an 8.22 ERA in the four other games where he came in as a reliever.
Joaquin Andujar had the most fWAR accrued (13.8) of any Cardinals pitcher over the decade, the majority of which came in the 1982 World Series-winning season in which Andujar started the game seven win over the Brewers to secure the World Series ring. Yet his best season statistically was the 1984 season where he led the league in wins (20), innings pitched (261.1) and shutouts (four) while also winning the Gold Glove.
Relief pitching – Ken Dayley, Todd Worrell or Bruce Suter
Cardinals’ relief pitching was dominated by one man in the ’80s whose jersey has since been retired at Busch Stadium. But alongside Bruce Suter, there were also notable performances from Ken Dayley and Todd Worrell.
Ken Dayley was converted by the Cards to be a relief pitcher in the 1984 season and he continued in relief for the remainder of the decade. Ken had a 2.83 ERA for the Redbirds as a relief pitcher in the ’80s and had a stellar postseason record pitching in 16 games with a 0.44 ERA and having five saves, two holds and a World Series game one win.
Todd Worrell was drafted by the Cards in 1982 and joined the major league team in 1985, winning the Rookie of the year award in 1986. He got his first career save against the Chicago Cubs in 1985, then went on to have an NL-high 36 saves in 1986 allowing just a 2.08 ERA in this season.
Finally, the list wouldn’t be complete without Bruce Sutter. Bruce joined the Cardinals from the Cubs in 1981 and pitched in St. Louis for four years, including the series-clinching Game 7 save to secure the 1982 World Series. Sutter had a 2.72 ERA during his time in Missouri and in 1984 tied the MLB record for most saves in a single season (45). Sutter got the Hall of Fame call in January 2006 and later that year had his number 42 jersey retired by the Cardinals.
There is no doubt Sutter would be the closer for the St. Louis Cardinals, particularly with Hicks out until mid-summer and Carlos Martinez expected to join the starting rotation. But Ken Dayley would be a great addition to an already strong Cardinals relief pitching staff to join Giovanny Gallegos, John Brebbia and John Gant (assuming Gant can re-gain his early season 2019 form).
Manager – Herzog vs. Shildt
Now we have the lineup sorted with a mix of our current crop and some excellent talent from the eighties, who should manage this team?
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Mike Shildt is fairly new to the management game with only 1.5 years of experience to date, but since taking over he has a .562 record and has taken the team to the NLCS in his first full season in charge and winning the National League Manager of the Year. Mike is still learning, but seems to be learning quickly and is taking the Cards in the right direction.
Whitey Herzog was well known for his Whiteyball style of play in the eighties where he concentrated on pitching, speed and defense to win games rather than home runs. This worked with Whitey finishing his 11 years managing the Cards with a .530 record, a National League Manager of the Year award and three NL pennants including one World Series ring.
Based on the way the game has moved since the eighties and Mike Shildt’s strong performances in his first year and a half, I’d take Shildt to manage this team towards that 2020 postseason and ideally a 12th World Series trophy for the St. Louis Cardinals.