With the inauguration of new US President Joe Biden now having taken place, we are starting a new period in the country. With this change, let’s take a look back into who have historically been the best St. Louis Cardinals players under the reigns of each of the Presidents in the last 40 years.
Ronald Reagan (1981 – 1988)
The 80s were one of the St. Louis Cardinals’ most successful years as a franchise. They finished Ronald Reagans’ time in the Oval Office with four National League East pennants and a World Series ring, losing in two further World Series!
Not only was it a prime time for the Redbirds, but this was Ozzie Smith season! The Wizard led the team in Fangraphs Wins Above Replacement (34.1 fWAR), thanks to his stellar defense, and this led the majors over this period! Smith was followed up by strong performances from Willie McGee (18.0) and Tommy Herr (17.9): two more World Series winners with the Cardinals.
On the pitching side, Joaquin Andujar lead the team in WAR (13.8, per Fangraphs) but John Tudor was certainly the leader on the mound. Tudor finished the period with a 2.55 ERA, which was the best ERA of all Major League starters with at least 700 IP.
George H. W Bush (1989 – 1992)
The Cardinals managed three winning seasons during these four years, though were unable to win the National League. Their best finish being in 1991, when they managed a second-place finish with an 84-78 record.
Ozzie Smith again led the team, being undoubtedly the star performer of these four years. He generated 20.0 fWAR (again mostly driven by his defense) and this ranked him as the fifth-strongest performer in the majors over the period. Smith brought the defense, though it was the breakout of Ray Lankford offensively that scored the Cardinals runs with his 121 wRC+ leading the team.
Jose DeLeon led the team in starts (111), with Bob Tewkesbury taking on the role of a key arm in the rotation. His 2.88 ERA led all Redbird starters. Lee Smith was the main bullpen piece, pitching in 190 games and maintaining a 2.53 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching). This was the joint third-best FIP in MLB of all relievers with at least 200 IP.
Bill Clinton (1993 – 2000)
During Bill Clinton’s eight-year spell as president, Ray Lankford played by far the most games (1,054) for the Cardinals. Though if we want offense, Mark McGuire was the powerhouse during these eight years with a 186 wRC+. McGuire finished with more homers (191) than Lankford while playing in less than 50% of the games!
On the mound, Andy Benes led the team in WAR (9.1 fWAR) but Matt Morris held the lowest ERA (3.05) of all Cardinals pitchers during this period. The mid-to-late 90s weren’t the strongest time for big-name pitching in St. Louis, but the team still managed to finish this eight-year period with the joint ninth-best ERA (4.31) of all Major League teams!
George W. Bush (2001 – 2008)
The George W. Bush era was a fantastic eight years in Cardinals history. Making five of eight postseasons including a World Series loss, a World Series win, and the most Wins Above Replacement amassed of every team in the majors over this period.
This was absolutely the Pujols era. Albert Pujols had the most games played (1,239), best offense (168 wRC+), most fWAR (62.2), and most homers (319) of all St. Louis Cardinals during these eight years. This was enough to lead all of MLB in fWAR, homers, and RBI.
Jim Edmonds was the Cards’ second-strongest performer, but although he was a fair way behind Pujols he still managed eighth overall in MLB and Scott Rolen sat at 19th overall in MLB per fWAR. A really positive period for the Cardinal offense.
Matt Morris led the St. Louis pitching staff, having the most inning pitched and therefore fWAR (16.9). Though Chris Carpenter was realistically the team’s best pitcher, with a 3.11 ERA in 97 starts and a team-low 3.22 xFIP. Looking at the bullpen, Jason Isringhausen pitched in relief in 401 games during Bushs’ time in the big seat. This was significantly the most of any relief pitcher with a single team and so his 5.3 fWAR was by far the best of any pitcher in relief in the majors.
Barack Obama (2009 – 2016)
This was probably the best eight-year period in franchise history since the three World Series wins in the forties. The St. Louis Cardinals managed to make six of eight postseasons including four National League Central pennants and a World Series ring in 2011!
Yadier Molina was the runaway leader of the St. Louis Cardinals per fWAR during Obamas’ eight-year period with 40.8 fWAR. This sits sixth-highest Wins Above Replacement in all of MLB for a player with a single team over this period, though it was vastly driven by his defense. If we want to look at offensive performance, then Albert Pujols led the Cards with his 164 wRC+, even though he only played 466 games versus Yadi’s 1,082.
On the pitching side, Adam Wainwright was the standout performer with a 3.03 FIP which led all Redbirds starters and his 202 starts were significantly the most on the team. Waino’s 29.0 fWAR sits fifth overall of any pitcher with one team for this period, behind only Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, and Cole Hamels. Trevor Rosenthal led the Cards relievers with his 2.92 ERA in 278 games.
Donald Trump (2017 – 2020)
The Trump era started out slowly with two third-place finishes in the NL Central. Things improved towards the end with two postseason berths and the Cardinals’ winning record has been maintained to 13 consecutive seasons which still leads the league of current franchises.
More from St Louis Cardinals History
- Reflecting on the 2013 Cardinals’ top 30 prospects
- Cardinals: The best Silver Slugger performances at each position.
- The St. Louis Cardinals are in rare company with this free agency stat
- What Happened to the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals? Matt Holliday Edition
- The St. Louis Cardinals avoided disaster with Jason Heyward
The four years from 2017 through 2020 were unsurprisingly headed by Mike Trout from an overall MLB perspective. The key St. Louis Cardinals performer was Paul DeJong based on Fangraphs WAR variable. DeJong compiled 11.1 fWAR during this period, which was significantly driven by his strong defense. On the offensive side though, the key contributor was Matt Carpenter and his .348 wOBA which led the team.
Jack Flaherty led all Redbird pitchers with 7.6 fWAR and his 3.64 xFIP lead all Cardinal starters during these four years. Overall Flaherty finished with the 34th highest WAR, per Fangraphs, of all pitchers in MLB. From the bullpen, Giovanny Gallegos was the key reliever from the St. Louis Cardinals with his 2.64 ERA leading the team.
Joe Biden (2021 – ???)
Where can we expect the St. Louis Cardinals to be in four to eight years’ time? With a depleted NL Central, there is certainly scope for the Redbirds to get another first-place finish in the Central in 2021. Going forwards though, with some of the big contracts coming off the board in 2022, there is a real opportunity to re-tool for the future.
From a player perspective, during Biden’s time in office we would be looking at the youth that is coming through the ranks. Dylan Carlson is likely to be at the forefront of the NL Rookie of the Year contenders in 2021. If he can maintain strong performances that all of his lower league experience have shown, Carlson could be a really good shout for the key bat throughout Biden’s reign.
On the pitching side, this will essentially come down to whether Jack Flaherty re-signs with the club. If he stays as a Redbird, this should undoubtedly be Flahertys’ time to make a real name for himself in Major League Baseball. Though if Flaherty were to move on, I’d be leaning towards seeing Matthew Liberatore really stepping up on the mound and taking on that head of the rotation role. Aiming to cement his name in St. Louis folklore for years to come.