All posts by Michael Roberts

Ranking Major League Baseball Teams’ Financial Strength

Editor’s note: This is a special “Business of Baseball” report by The Cardinal Nation’s financial expert, Michael Roberts, aka “bicyclemike.” An in-depth ranking of the financial strength of all 30 Major League Baseball’s teams includes a special focus on the St. Louis Cardinals, of course.

Forbes released its 23rd annual values of Major League Baseball clubs on April 9th. MLB teams are private enterprises and are not required to file SEC reports. As such, the Forbes data are estimates based on reports from companies in the baseball business and Forbes’ own financial analysis.

Still, one can take this information, apply accounting principles to it, and make relative assessments of each organization’s financial health. This is what follows, including a summary data table at the end.

Forbes’ value calculation is based on each organization’s current stadium deal, without a deduction for debt. They call it the team’s “Enterprise value”. Normally value, or “worth” of an enterprise is thought of in terms of equity, which is the value of owned property or “assets”, netted by liabilities – the amount obligated to a third party.  Liabilities include debt, which is often a large part of a company’s financing. Several major league clubs do not have any debt on their books, a remarkable characteristic for any business enterprise.

MLB’s business model continues to be successful, with an average increase in team value of 4% over 2019. However, this is the smallest annual increase since 2010. Average operating income for 2019, defined as earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization, increased to $50 million, from $39.7 million in 2018.

Revenue increased by 4.8%, to an average of $330 million per team. Player payroll costs stayed steady, largely due to the restructured competitive balance tax and international signing rules as part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Teams spent an average of $157 million on player payroll.

Financial Strength Rankings – Top 5

  1. San Francisco Giants – No debt, second best Operating Income (OI) in MLB
  2. Boston Red Sox – No debt, solid OI, great market, legacy franchise
  3. Los Angeles Angels – No debt, strong OI, high-population market
  4. New York Yankees – No debt, easily the top revenue team in MLB, best legacy in the game
  5. Toronto Blue Jays – No debt, reasonable player costs, good market in terms of population

This is my assessment of clubs’ relative financial strength. It gauges each team’s ability to meet its fixed costs (debt obligations in this instance, as we do not know actual fixed costs) and how much income is remaining after covering those costs.

Teams with more financial strength and flexibility will be better able to take risks and absorb economic downturns, such as what is occurring currently. In baseball terms, additional risk comes with splurging more on player costs, or perhaps upgrading a stadium or committing more capital to minor league player development.

In ranking the teams by capital structure, the San Francisco Giants are clearly the most stable franchise in the major leagues. They have no debt on the books and had an operating income estimated at $96 million, tied with the Dodgers as second most in baseball, trailing only Houston’s $99 million. (Ed. note: It may not be a coincidence that the Giants are the first organization to provide minor leaguers in-season housing allowances and among the three systems to increase minor league salaries ahead of the other 27.

The Red Sox are not far behind, with no debt and $89 million in OI. Looking at the Red Sox balance sheet and income, it makes me wonder why they felt the need to move Mookie Betts. They look to be financially healthy and being a storied franchise in a fairly large market are at a low risk for future financial difficulties.

As I mentioned, being debt-free is quite a novelty in normal business operations, but not all that unusual in MLB. Three other debt-free teams round out my top five “Best Financed” organizations – the Los Angeles Angels, New York Yankees, and Toronto Blue Jays.

The St. Louis Cardinals rank right in the middle of my financial strength index at number 15. The team has solid earnings, but also has $220 million in debt to service, which pulls down their net value by about 9%. The Cardinals are also a small market team, which brings a little more risk should the club’s on-field fortunes dip over an extended period of time or other issues put downward pressure on revenue. But they are a storied franchise that has built a lot of goodwill, which would enable them to withstand some poor baseball stretches.

Looking at other NL Central Division teams in terms of financial health, the Milwaukee Brewers top the group based primarily due to having the lowest amount of debt among the five teams at just $72 million. The Cubs are the highest risk venture in the NL Central thanks to the second-most debt in the majors at $416 million. But their intangibles, like the Red Sox, will likely keep them from having another long period of ineptitude; a feature that past Cubs teams exemplified maybe more than any other franchise in the post-war era.

The Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds have kept from getting over-loaded with debt but have not been recent division contenders other than a brief run by the Pirates. The Reds are trying to build a winner through increased player costs and are slowly bringing their young talent to the majors. The Pirates are being conservative, no doubt a bit cautious after the blunder in giving up considerable talent in return for Chris Archer.

At the bottom of the MLB pile are the Texas Rangers and Miami Marlins. The Marlins are at or near the bottom in nearly every financial metric. They are a team that generates little revenue and are highly financed by debt. The Rangers have far and away the most debt of any big league team on their books, due no doubt in large part to their new stadium.

Player Payroll as a percent of Total Expenses – Top 5

  1. Washington Nationals – 62.7%
  2. Los Angeles Angels – 62.3%
  3. Colorado Rockies – 59.1%
  4. St. Louis Cardinals – 58.5%
  5. Cincinnati Reds – 58.5%

Next is a view of which teams have the highest percent of their total expenses as player costs. Teams that commit more of their resources on players could be considered as having a high level of commitment to winning. However, it also might represent careless management. Basically, it is a more high-risk approach to allocated earnings, as multi-year contracts are usually guaranteed and spending big on players is not necessarily an indicator that a team will improve on the field.

It might come as no surprise that the World Champion Washington Nationals also finished first in this department. Almost 63% of their total expenses in 2019 was for player costs. The Los Angeles Angels rank second, a fraction of a percent behind Washington. This is also understandable with the large contract extension given to Mike Trout, and their propensity to be in the market for big-name free agents such as Anthony Rendon.

The next three may surprise you. They are the Colorado Rockies, St. Louis Cardinals, and Cincinnati Reds.

The Rockies have spent a little more freely on players developed through their system than in the past, doling out rich contracts to Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado. The Cardinals’ spending has been a hot topic at times at The Cardinal Nation forum, and is much debated as being anywhere from the club being run by cheap capitalists in it for their own gain, to reckless abandon and carelessly throwing money away to players declining in value.  The Reds are putting more emphasis on bringing a contender to the Queen City.

At the bottom of the list is none other than the New York Yankees. Despite the second highest player payroll in the majors, the Yankees generate so much revenue, about double the average team, that they do not need to spend a lot of what they get on players to have high player costs.  Comparing most any team’s player payroll to the Yankees is almost apples and oranges. Using the Cardinals for example, the Yankees revenue is $300 million more than the Redbirds, while their player expenses are only $38 million more.

National League Central Division

Focusing on the St. Louis Cardinals and their peers in the National League Central Division include one financial behemoth and four pawns. The Cubs play in far and away the largest market in the division, with a population base of 9.5 million per Forbes. They do share the market with the White Sox, but Forbes’ Revenue-per-fan calculation (local revenue divided by metro population, with two-team markets divided in half) shows the Cubs earning $87 and the White Sox $38. Clearly the Cubs are getting more revenue out of the market than the Sox.

The other four NL Central teams have a market size between 1.6 million (Brewers) and 2.8 million (Cardinals). The Brewers and Cardinals were the most successful clubs in the division at marketing to their fan base in 2019. The Brewers pulled in $111 per fan, and the Cards $103. This is likely due to the success these teams had on the field in 2019. The Reds and Pirates are still searching for the competitive acumen that the Brewers and Cardinals operations possess. The Crew struck it rich with the Christian Yelich deal to supplement a good crop of other acquisitions and home-grown players. St. Louis has used astute scouting and player evaluation metrics to stay competitive from within the organization, supplemented by an occasional key acquisition.

Final thoughts on the St. Louis Cardinals financial structure

Forbes has the “Birds on the Bat” ranked at number seven in net value at $2.2 billion. The average club falls around $1.85 billion; thus the Cardinals are valued at about 19% above the average MLB organization. St. Louis has done this despite a metropolitan area that ranks at number 24, tied with Baltimore. The Cardinals rank third in the Forbes’ revenue-per-fan calculation at $103, just ahead of Boston’s $102.

This speaks volumes for the work that Cardinals ownership has done, both today and in the past to sustain success, develop loyalties, and bring value to the consumer.

On the negative side, the Cardinals are not in the top 10 for financial strength. They are a bit heavily debt-financed for the industry, running about 14% above the average club in this area. But they do bring in well above average operating Income, and thus are not in an overly risky financial position, nor are they overly aggressive.

Another negative, and one that can be support for those highly critical of management, is a number Forbes put together based on 2018 data called “Wins per Player Cost”.  It is described as wins per player payroll relative to the league, with playoff wins counting double. Thus, a score of 100 is average; a score of 120 would be a roster that performs 20% better than the league in terms of player cost “efficiency”.  Below 100 can be thought of as a roster that is over-bloated with under-performing players based on their salaries.

The 2018 Cardinals were dead last in this measure, a woeful 15% of the average team. The Cardinals would have fared much better in 2019, but Forbes does not have that data available. While we can say the team greatly underperformed in 2018, to truly make a judgement on management’s performance using this number, we would need at least a five-year trend. Thus, I do not put much emphasis on a one-year record. Many other factors will contribute to a team’s successes or failures during a given season. But it does put an exclamation point on how bad the 2018 season was for St. Louis.

The big picture is brighter. The history of Cardinals baseball is rich, and there are so many great players in the team’s genealogy. Some promising players in the St. Louis minor league system are close to making their mark in Cardinals lore. An equally impressive list of ownership groups have kept the Cardinals thriving, and fan interest strong. The current club is probably not where management wants them to be on the field or in the financial books. But they are not deficient in either respect, and are consistently valued among the top 10  franchises in Major League Baseball. This is a tribute to everyone who has played a part in this storied organization over the last 140 years.

Abridged details

For ease of consumption, three detailed spreadsheets backing up the above have been distilled to the following:

Major League Baseball Financial Data, ranked by financial strength

Rank  Value  Rank Team Forbes Value ($B) Debt / Value Rev. Oper. Income (S MM) Player exp ($ MM) Metro pop (MM) Rev / Fan ($) Wins / Player Cost Player cost expense ratio
1 5 San Francisco Giants 3.100 0% 452 96 192 4.7 170 74 53.9%
2 3 Boston Red Sox 3.300 0% 519 89 246 4.6 102 63 57.2%
3 9 Los Angeles Angels 1.975 0% 377 61 197 13.1 44 67 62.3%
4 New York Yankees 5.000 0% 683 35 220 20.3 63 95 34.0%
5 Toronto Blue Jays 1.625 0% 265 16 135 5.9 27 92 54.2%
6 8 Philadelphia Phillies 2.000 4% 392 73 182 6.1 48 82 57.1%
7 Milwaukee Brewers 1.200 6% 295 43 141 1.6 111 116 56.0%
8 Chicago White Sox 1.650 6% 285 66 117 9.5 38 114 53.4%
9 Colorado Rockies 1.275 7% 305 29 163 2.9 65 80 59.1%
10 Pittsburgh Pirates 1.260 8% 273 66 95 2.4 61 134 45.9%
11 San Diego Padres 1.450 8% 299 52 141 3.3 54 92 57.1%
12 Cleveland Indians 1.150 9% 290 43 136 2.1 82 126 55.1%
13 Cincinnati Reds 1.075 9% 276 23 148 2.1 69 94 58.5%
14 Oakland Athletics 1.100 9% 225 10 111 4.7 48 161 51.6%
15 7 St Louis Cardinals 2.200 10% 383 72 182 2.8 103 15 58.5%
16 2 Los Angeles Dodgers 3.400 12% 556 96 217 13.1 78 94 47.2%
17 Baltimore Orioles 1.400 12% 256 57 103 2.8 47 97 51.8%
18 Seattle Mariners 1.600 12% 315 31 163 3.7 57 77 57.4%
19 Detroit Tigers 1.250 12% 276 30 136 4.3 36 64 55.3%
20 4 Chicago Cubs 3.200 13% 471 68 228 9.5 87 68 56.6%
21 Arizona Diamondbacks 1.290 14% 278 27 145 4.8 32 108 57.8%
22 6 New York Mets 2.400 15% 362 7 171 20.3 26 92 48.2%
23 Houston Astros 1.850 15% 420 99 176 6.3 52 133 54.8%
24 Washington Nationals 1.900 18% 370 27 215 6.2 44 100 62.7%
25 Tampa Bay Rays 1.050 19% 264 68 87 3.0 41 215 44.4%
26 Minnesota Twins 1.300 19% 297 43 144 3.6 48 129 56.7%
27 Atlanta Braves 1.800 21% 382 92 150 5.9 49 124 51.7%
28 Kansas City Royals 1.025 24% 251 27 122 2.2 55 89 54.5%
29 Miami Marlins 0.980 41% 222 -5.9 98 6.2 11 107 43.0%
30 Texas Rangers 1.750 43% 335 61 146 7.1 33 99 53.3%

Rank = Bike Mike’s Financial Strength Ranking
Capital is 2020 values
Income/Expense is 2019 data
Bold = National League Central Division teams

About the author

Michael Roberts is a semi-retired accountant, and lives with his wife Cathy in the Denver, Colorado area. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Business from the University of Colorado, Boulder, as well as an MBA in Finance from CU. Mike has a 35 year career as an Accounting/Finance professional including over 20 years in management. He contributed three articles to the SABR publication “A Mile High – The First Quarter Century Of The Colorado Rockies”, and has been a passionate St. Louis Cardinals follower for close to 60 years. He is known as “bicyclemike” in his long-time role as a moderator at The Cardinal Nation’s forums.

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Lankford and Tudor Endorsed in Cardinals Hall of Fame Fan Vote

In two recent articles*, I summarized the careers of the seven 2018 Hall of Fame candidates to be voted on by fans – starting Thursday, March 1 – for induction into the St. Louis Cardinals team Hall of Fame. Each candidate is a “Modern Era” player, having retired from the game within the past 40 years.  The top two vote-getters will be enshrined at the 2018 induction ceremonies on August 19th at Ballpark Village.

* St. Louis Cardinals Returning Hall of Fame Candidates
St. Louis Cardinals First Time Hall of Fame Candidates

There will be about as many answers as voters to the question, “Who is most deserving of induction?” from the 2018 candidate list. Choosing the “Best of the Best” in any endeavor is never an easy process, and this year’s slate – a rich sampling of baseball talent – presents a challenge to voters.

Ray Lankford (Getty Images)

Of this class of seven who made their mark in Cardinal lore, John Tudor and Ray Lankford stand out as most deserving for Hall of Fame honors, in my view.

Let’s briefly review the seven players, starting with the five who I believe should remain outside the Cardinals hallowed halls – but only for the time being.

Two closers made the list this year, first-time ballot member Lee Smith and returning candidate Jason Isringhausen. Bruce Sutter is the only closer currently enshrined in the St. Louis Hall. Sutter is also a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and thus was automatically added to the Cardinals’ Hall when it opened in 2014.

Isringhausen spent more time as a Cardinal than either Sutter or Smith, and is the club’s all-time saves leader. He is the franchise leader in games finished and is sixth in appearances. Smith is second on the club’s save list, and is third all-time in major league history. Isringhausen is certainly worthy of recognition to the Cardinals Hall and will undoubtedly receive a lot of support. Smith is as deserving as Sutter, but his enshrinement should be contingent on Izzy getting in first.

Keith Hernandez and Scott Rolen were both excellent players for the Cardinals, on defense as well as offense. In my opinion, Hernandez should have been voted in last year ahead of Mark McGwire. As Cardinals, Hernandez was far more valuable with a 33.9 fWAR compared to McGwire’s 21.9.  Rolen’s St. Louis career fWAR is 27.1.  Hernandez is at #16 on the team’s all-time list in fWAR, with Rolen at #21 and McGwire 28th.  Both Hernandez and Rolen are worthy of recognition, but the strength of the new additions to the 2018 class keeps them on the bench.

Vince Coleman’s star shined brightest during most of his six years as St. Louis’ left fielder and illustrates a unique case.  His game was speed, specifically base stealing speed, and base stealing is not highly valued in today’s metrics.  But I contend that Coleman’s speed was as valuable to his teams, two of which won pennants, as McGwire’s power was to his clubs a decade later.

John Tudor (Getty Images)

This brings us to the cream of this year’s crop. John Tudor’s historical stature in Cardinal lore is like his pitching style. He quietly sneaks in as the club’s all-time leader in winning percentage, ERA (for pitchers with a minimum of 750 innings pitched) and WHIP.  Every fifth day he simply went out and excelled at his job. He did not have the exploding fast ball of Roger Clemens or Doc Gooden, nor the swagger of Joaquin Andujar. He just got hitters out.  A stalwart of the pennant winning teams in 1985 and 1987, Tudor took his game to the next level in St. Louis and his legacy is cemented in the numbers. If elected, Tudor will be the first left-handed pitcher enshrined in the Redbirds Hall of Fame.

Ray Lankford is similar to Tudor in that he is not often thought of being among the best players in St. Louis history.  The outfielder’s career was steady.  He never hit more than 31 home runs, but collected between 20 and 31 six times. Likewise, Lankford never stole 50 bases, but swiped between 20 and 44 six times.  He struck out more than all but one Cardinal in team history, which seems to be a dubious distinction – until looking at the names on the list. The player ahead of him is Hall of Famer Lou Brock, and the next three after Ray are all team Hall of Famers (Jim Edmonds, Willie McGee and Ken Boyer).

The former third round pick (1987) combined power and speed better than any St. Louis Cardinal in history. Now is the time to recognize Ray Lankford’s career, and induct him into the team’s Hall of Fame.

As Cardinals fans, we are fortunate to have watched so many great players on the Busch Stadium fields. The exploits of men who are not going to be honored as Cardinals Hall of Famers this year would be at the top of the list for many organizations.  This further emphasizes the greatness of the two stars who should be honored this year.  John Tudor and Ray Lankford stand tall as Hall of Fame-worthy players for a proud and successful franchise, your St. Louis Cardinals.

Agree or disagree?

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What is next

St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame voting begins Thursday, March 1 here.

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St. Louis Cardinals First-Time Hall of Fame Candidates – 2018

Photo: Vince Coleman, John Tudor, Lee Smith, Ray Lankford (Getty Images)

Four former St. Louis Cardinals greats are new additions to the team’s Modern Era Hall of Fame fan ballot in 2018 – Vince Coleman, John Tudor, Lee Smith and Ray Lankford.

We will look into the qualifications of each.

Vince Coleman

Vince Coleman did one thing on a baseball diamond extremely well, in fact historically well. The switch-hitting speedster is sixth all-time in Major League career stolen bases, with the five players in front of him all Hall of Famers. Vince was such a prolific base stealer that he has three of the eight all-time individual 100 stolen base seasons.  Those came in the first three seasons of his career.

Vince Coleman (Getty Images)

Little did anyone know that when native Floridian first stepped to the plate as a major leaguer a week into the 1985 season, that both his and the Cardinals fortunes would dramatically change.  Off to a slow start, while division favorites Chicago and New York were setting the pace, St. Louis needed something to get them (literally) untracked.

After selecting Coleman in the 10th round of the 1982 amateur draft, the club knew he could run. In 1983, he stole a remarkable 145 bases with Macon in the South Atlantic League, then followed that up with 101 in 1984 at Triple-A Louisville. The question was, could hit enough to stay in the big leagues?  The fleet outfielder stated his case in his second big league game when he had four hits, including a double and triple. He remained in the lineup the remainder of the season, stealing 110 bases and scoring 107 runs to ignite an offense that lead the league in runs scored, despite finishing 11th out of 12 teams in home runs.  The 1985 Cardinals epitomized “Whitey Ball”, running wild on the bases and winning 101 regular season games. Vince’s accomplishments earned him the 1985 Rookie Of The Year award.

Despite a .232 average in his second season, Coleman still managed 107 steals and scored 94 runs. The Cardinals slipped in the standings that 1986 season, before returning to championship form in 1987 as “Vincent Van Go” swiped 109 bag and scored 121 times. The reigning base-theft king went on to earn all-star honors in 1988 and 1989.  His final season in St. Louis was one of his best, as he hit .292 during the 1990 campaign with a .360 on-base-percentage and 77 steals. But the Cardinals were not a good team that year, slipping to last place. They were so bad that Whitey Herzog got fed up watching a team he felt had quit, and resigned during the season. A shake up of the roster ensued, and the ball club allowed their lead-off hitter and base-stealer extraordinaire to walk away. Coleman soon signed a free agent deal with the rival Mets.

While his lifetime batting average and on-base-percentages are not overly impressive, .264 and .324 (.265 and .326 as a Cardinal), the fleet-footed outfielder carved out a 13-year major league career. The first six of those in St. Louis were far and away his best.  Vince was the perfect cog at the top of the order in the Cardinals speed-and-defense machine of the 1980s.

Modern day baseball analytics have devalued the stolen base as an offensive weapon. The risk of losing an out on the bases is thought to be greater, in most situations, than gaining the extra base. But Vince was arguably a more valuable player than the stats show.  Stealing bases at an 83 percent clip as a Cardinal, he thus accumulated extra bases over outs at greater than a 4-to-1 ratio.

When Coleman got on base, the threat to steal completely changed the game in a way that is difficult to quantify. He could disrupt the pitcher’s rhythm, and distract the defense, thus forcing mistakes. The club under Whitey Herzog’s leadership took advantage of a ballpark that was tailored for that type of game. Opposing teams hated coming in to St. Louis, knowing they were in for a series of “fast break” baseball.

Coleman left the Cardinals as the club’s second leading all-time base stealer (549 to Lou Brock’s 888). He was an offensive catalyst on two pennant winners, 1985 and 1987.  During the hey-day of the “Running Redbirds” In St. Louis, Coleman ran the anchor position on a team filled with track stars.

Link to career stats:

John Tudor

John Tudor threw 10 shutouts for the Cardinals’ 1985 pennant winners but had only six over the rest of his career (two with St. Louis). He finished with a W-L record of 21-8 in 1985, despite starting the season at 1-7.  While not pitching as bad as his record indicated early on, at the suggestion of a former teammate, he made a slight adjustment in his delivery, hesitating just a bit at the top of his motion. After the change, the smooth lefty went an incredible 20-1. He finished second to the Mets’ Dwight Gooden in the NL Cy Young voting that year.

John Tudor (Getty Images)

A native of New England, Tudor was selected by Boston in the third round of the secondary phase of the 1976 amateur draft, and made it to the big club in 1979.  He pitched five years in Boston and one in Pittsburgh, from where the Cardinals acquired him after the 1984 season.

St. Louis, with Whitey Herzog’s defense-oriented ball clubs, turned out to be a match made in heaven for the veteran southpaw. In a five-year stint with St. Louis, before he was dealt away in 1988 and after he was reacquired in 1990, the stylish New Englander was as consistent as any pitcher in Cardinals history. His .705 winning percentage is tops in team annals for pitchers who were primarily starters in the modern era (post-1900). His 20.0 bWAR ranks 20th on the club’s all-time list, just behind Steve Carlton’s 20.9. The lefty control artist ranks second all-time in ERA for Cardinals hurlers at 2.53, trailing only deadball pitcher Ed Karger, who pitched just three seasons for the club. In fact, Tudor is the only non-deadball era pitcher in the Cardinals’ top ten. Mort Cooper at number 12 with a 2.77 Cardinals ERA is the next pitcher on the list whose career was after 1919.

And there is more. Tudor is the franchise’s all-time leader in WHIP (1.080) and Adjusted ERA+ (146). Adjusted ERA+ is a metric that attempts to refine the basic ERA number for park factors and league norms, with 100 being average.  As a comparison, Tudor outranks two of the best pitchers, not to mention competitors, in Cardinals history, Chris Carpenter (133 adjusted ERA+) and Bob Gibson (127).

Not the type of pitcher we often see today, Tudor relied on changing speeds, control, and worked at a quick pace.  The lefty ace of the 1985 and 1987 pennant winners, Tudor is one of the most accomplished, competitive and successful pitchers in Cardinals history.

Link to career stats:

Lee Smith

Big Lee Smith always strolled in from the bullpen looking like he hurt everywhere. He had what looked to be a pained expression on his face, and walked slowly, lumbering as if it was a chore just to make it from the bullpen to the mound. Then he would throw darts for warm up pitches and look fluid and effortless doing it.  At one time the all-time career saves leader at 478, the intimidating righty earned 160 of those as a Cardinal. That is good for second on the club’s all-time list to fellow HOF candidate Jason Isringhausen’s 217. He has 31 more Cardinal saves than Todd Worrell, and 33 more than Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter.

Lee Smith (Getty Images)

The big righty (6’5” and 220 pounds) pitched 18 seasons in the majors, but only two full seasons and parts of two others for the Cardinals. The Redbirds acquired the good-natured Louisiana native from Boston for Tom Brunansky on May 4, 1990, and traded him to the Yankees on August 31, 1993.

Extremely durable, Smith pitched in 245 games for St. Louis, finishing 205. He set the club’s single-season saves record (since broken by Trevor Rosenthal) with a league-leading 47 in 1991, and followed that up with 43 in 1992, again leading the league. Lee was an all-star both seasons, as well as 1993 when he racked up another 43 saves before the deal with New York. Unfortunately, the Cardinals had mediocre teams in the early ’90s, keeping the Colossal Closer from post season opportunities during his St. Louis years.

Link to career stats:

Ray Lankford

On just about any category list of all-time Cardinals batting leaders, Ray Lankford’s name is probably in there somewhere around the top 10. He checks in at number 10 in career fWAR at 40.4, sandwiched between Hall of Famers Lou Brock (41.6) and Joe Medwick (39.4). Every player above him except for the still-active Albert Pujols is in the club’s Hall of Fame, including fellow center fielder Jim Edmonds who is two slots above at 42.4. Lankford ranks 5th all-time in home runs (228), 9th in doubles (339), and 11th in total bases (2606) and is tied with the great Rogers Hornsby at number 11 in games played with 1580.

Ray Lankford (Getty Images)

The California-born lefty swinger and thrower combined speed and power, hitting 20 or more homers and stealing 20 or more bases in a season five times. Again, looking at his all-time club standing, the list goes on – runs scored, #8 at 829, and stolen bases, again #8 at 250. Ray was the National League’s all-star center-fielder in 1997, a year in which he had an OPS of .996, slugging 31 homers in 133 games.

Yet when discussions of great Cardinals hitters take place, not too many people think of number 16. Part of that is likely due to his misfortune of coming up to the big club after the good 1980s teams and leaving before the good 2000s teams.  The fact is, St. Louis was extremely blessed for close to 20 years in center field with two slugging Californians.

Ray was not quite Jim Edmonds based on seasonal production. Jim slashed .285/.393/.555 in eight years with St. Louis. In Ray’s 13 years, he came in at .273/.365/.481. Though he played 475 more games than Edmonds, Ray is almost identical to Jim in terms of overall value to the franchise. Listed 12th and 13th in the club’s bWAR rankings, Edmonds has a slight advantage, 37.8 to 37.5.

Lankford might be the most underrated position player in franchise history. To rank number 10 (per fWAR) on a team that has been playing the game as long as the St. Louis Cardinals is a testimony to his greatness.

Link to career stats:

Prior related article

St. Louis Cardinals Returning Hall of Fame Candidates

What is next

To close this three-part series, we will offer our recommendations on those we believe are the best of the best.

Cardinals Hall of Fame voting begins March 1 here.

Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation: Cardinals Prospect Interview: Juan Yepez

Not yet a member?

Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system. Annual members may purchase the new 2018 Prospect Guide for less than half price.

© 2018 The Cardinal Nation, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

St. Louis Cardinals Returning Hall of Fame Candidates – 2018

photo: Scott Rolen, Jason Isringhausen and Keith Hernandez (Getty Images)

Three former St. Louis Cardinals greats were on the team’s Modern Era Hall of Fame fan ballot in 2017 and are back again this year – Keith Hernandez, Jason Isringhausen and Scott Rolen.

We will look into the qualifications of each.

Keith Hernandez (Getty Images)

Keith Hernandez

Keith Hernandez went from a 42nd round draft choice by the Cardinals in 1971 to the National League’s co-MVP in 1979. A terrific defensive first baseman, who maintained an OPS+ of 130 as a Cardinal, he also played the part of a villain to St. Louis’ fans during the mid-1980s as a member of the rival New York Mets.

Career-wise, Keith was first and foremost a Cardinal.  He came up through the Redbirds system and played 10 of his 17 seasons in St. Louis. Hernandez is like Mickey Mantle in that his dad was the biggest influence in getting him to the big leagues. Keith’s father, John, would spend hours with him and brother Gary throwing batting practice and hitting balls for fielding practice. John even gave the boys written tests on baseball fundamentals. As a player, Keith would sometimes consult with his dad when he was struggling or felt his swing was not quite right.

His career started slowly, both in the minors and majors. But he learned quickly and after a terrific season with Triple-A Tulsa in 1974, was called up to the big club in August. He made St. Louis’ roster in 1975 out of Spring Training but struggled early and went back to Tulsa.  Still only 22, Hernandez joined the club to stay in 1976, gaining confidence with a strong second half.

By 1977, the left-hander was entrenched as St. Louis’ first baseman, batting .291 with 60 extra base hits and an .837 OPS. Starting in 1978, he won the Gold Glove award every year of his remaining tenure with the team. In total, Hernandez won the award 11 consecutive years, 1978 through 1988.  He was an All Star in 1979 and 1980 with the Cardinals. In his 1979 co-MVP season, won the league batting title with a .344 average, and lead the league with 48 doubles. The California native also hit 11 triples and 11 home runs, with an OPS of .930.  It was his best major league season.

The culmination of the St. Louis phase of his career came in 1982, with the club’s first pennant in 14 years. The Cardinals trailed 3-1 in the sixth inning of Game 7 of the World Series against Milwaukee, when Hernandez came to bat with the bases loaded and one out. He stroked a clutch game-tying two-run single, and the Cardinals went on to win 6-3 to notch the World Championship.

Keith’s reputation was damaged after Whitey Herzog dealt him to the Mets in mid-1983. He was enduring a self-described “bad” cocaine habit at the time, partially due to personal troubles after a divorce. He was able to kick the habit and return to the all-star form he showed in St. Louis, winning a second world championship with the Mets in 1986.

Hernandez’ 34 bWAR as a Cardinal ranks 20th on the club’s all-time list. Among players who primarily played first base, he ranks behind only Albert Pujols and Johnny Mize, and just ahead of Jim Bottomley (Fangraphs rates Bottomley slight ahead of Hernandez, 36.5 to 33.9).

Today, Hernandez is identified mostly as a Met, maintaining his residence in the New York area and serving as an analyst for Mets broadcasts. He also made some memorable appearances on Seinfeld in 1990s. But as a player, the bulk of his accomplishments came as a Cardinal.

Link to career stats:

Jason Isringhausen (Getty Images)

Jason Isringhausen

Like Hernandez, Jason Isringhausen played the bulk of his career with the Cardinals and Mets. Also, like Hernandez, he was a late-round draft pick, chosen in the 44th round of the 1991 First-Year Player Draft.

Originally a starter, “Izzy” came up with the Mets in 1995 as one-third of a much ballyhooed “Generation K” pitching triumvirate with Bill Pulsipher and Paul Wilson. They were expected to lead the Mets to glory with their powerful arms and loads of potential. But injuries hampered the careers of all three, with Pulsipher and Isringhausen both enduring Tommy John surgery.

Izzy went on to be the best of the three. The Cardinals signed a healthy Isringhausen as a free agent before the 2002 season, after he had two strong seasons as the Oakland Athletics closer, saving 33 and 34 games in the 2000 and 2001 seasons. No longer a pure power pitcher, the right-hander then used a devastating curve ball to put hitters away.

Isringhausen was immediately installed as manager Tony La Russa’s closer in 2002, and had a remarkable year, recording 32 saves, with an ERA of 2.48. Fans of advanced stats will note that Izzy was even better than these numbers indicate, sporting an FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) mark of 1.75.  The Illinois native followed that season with save numbers of 22, 47, 39, 33 and 32, before finishing his Cardinals career with 12 saves in an injury plagued 2008 campaign. He had two more Tommy John surgeries before finishing his career in 2012 with the Angels.

Isringhausen’s 217 saves are the Cardinals’ all-time record. He is also the franchise leader in “games finished” by wide margin, 100 more than runner-up Todd Worrell.  Izzy is sixth all-time in pitching appearances, and first among pitchers who were primarily relievers. A member of two all-star teams including 2005 as a Cardinal, he finished his career with exactly 300 saves. Ironically this is the same number Bruce Sutter recorded in his Hall of Fame career.

Link to career stats:

Scott Rolen (Getty Images)

Scott Rolen

Unlike Hernandez and Isringhausen, Scott Rolen was highly touted as an amateur and was the second-round choice of the Phillies in the 1993 draft. After seven seasons in Philadelphia, the latter of which Rolen clashed with manager Larry Bowa and was publicly berated by General Manager Dallas Green, the Cardinals acquired him in a deal that looked to cement the club as a favorite to reach the post-season. Rolen hit 14 homers in 55 games with St. Louis in that 2002 season, and the club did indeed claim the division title in what was an emotion-filled season.

In his first full season as a Cardinal in 2003, the right-handed hitter posted some impressive numbers including 49 doubles, 28 home runs, 104 RBI, and a .910 OPS. Both Rolen and the Cardinals put it all together the following season. The team won 105 regular season games in 2004, one shy of the franchise record set in 1942.  All Rolen did was hit 34 home runs, drive in 124, score 109 runs, and record a 1.007 OPS (158 OPS+).  He finished fourth in the MVP balloting, behind teammate Albert Pujols and just ahead of another teammate, Jim Edmonds (Barry Bonds won the award). After 2 ½ seasons with the Cardinals, Rolen appeared to be on his way to unseating Ken Boyer as the franchise’s greatest all-time third baseman.  Like Boyer, Rolen was a big, solidly -built player who was never-the-less agile and quick. The result was a marvelous defensive third baseman with a powerhouse bat.

Unfortunately, shoulder injuries slowed the Indiana native down and he never approached those 2004 numbers again. Rolen managed only five home runs in 56 games in an injury-riddled 2005 season. He came back in 2006 to play in 142 games, hitting 22 home runs and diving in 95 while putting up an .887 OPS. A late season disagreement with manager Tony La Russa marred what was otherwise an improbable magical finish, as the club limped to the post season with a mere 83 wins. But they caught fire in the post season and went on to defeat the heavily favored Detroit Tigers in five games in the World Series to win their 10th World Championship of the modern era.

The discord between Rolen and La Russa escalated in 2007 and was often played out in the press. Scott again was hampered with injuries and played only 112 games, hitting just eight homers with an OPS of .729. His Cardinal career ended largely due to his irreconcilable differences with La Russa, and he was traded to Toronto before the 2008 season.

A truly great player when healthy, his career has somewhat of an “if only” stigma attached to it due to the shoulder problems that plagued him after 2004.  Still in six seasons as a Cardinal, the team won four division titles, two pennants, and a world championship. Rolen finished in the league’ top 10 in WAR three times with St. Louis, 2002, 2004 and 2006. His career fWAR as a Cardinal of 27.1 ranks him 21st all-time among position players. Rolen made the National League All-Star team four consecutive seasons, 2003-2006, and won the NL Gold Glove Award at third base in three of those seasons.

Link to career stats:

What is next

Next time, we will review the careers of the four new additions to the Cardinals Modern Era ballot for 2018 before closing with recommendations on those we believe are the best of the best.

Cardinals Hall of Fame voting begins March 1 here.

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