When was the last time the St. Louis Cardinals had a superstar? Better question. What defines a true superstar? Merriam-Webster defines a superstar as ” a star (as in sports or the movies) who is considered extremely talented…”
It’s short and to the point, but does it tell the whole story? The easy pick for the last St. Louis “Superstar” is Albert Pujols. Pujols wasn’t just a superstar. He became the best player in all of baseball. Pujols while in St. Louis held a .328/.420/.617 slash line. He also held an average OPS of 1.037 during those 11 seasons. He was the NL Rookie of the Year in 2001, won 3 NL MVP Awards (05,08,09), and was a 10 time All-Star in 11 seasons . Pujols was transcendent. But it begs the question? Did having Pujols tarnish the meaning of Superstar? During the time that Pujols was in St. Louis, he also had a terrific supporting cast.
From 2000-2017 here are the position players from the Cardinals who were in the Top 10 in NL WAR. (Years with the Cardinals Major League Club)
Albert Pujols (2001-2011) – 9
Jim Edmonds (2000-2007) – 4
Scott Rolen (2002-2007) – 3
Yadier Molina (2004-present) – 2
Edgar Renteria (1999-2004) – 1
Ryan Ludwick (2007-2009) – 1
Matt Holliday (2009-2016) – 1
Matt Carpenter (2011-present) – 1
Jason Heyward (2015) – 1
Tommy Pham (2014-2018) – 1
There are a few things about this list that surprise me. Firstly, I was shocked that Matt Holliday was only in the Top 10 one time while in St. Louis (was featured as a member of Colorado as well). Next, the Cardinals didn’t rely only on Pujols during the early 2000s. Rolen and Edmonds were two of the best players of the time. There were years where at least 2 of the 3 were in the top 10 NL WAR leaders. More recently it’s been tough for the Cardinals to even feature a player.
At age 32, Matt Carpenter is trying to vie for “Superstar” status. He leads the NL in home runs, slugging, and OPS among other offensive categories, and sits at 2nd in the NL in WAR (1st in oWAR). As you can see Carpenter is no stranger to solid seasons in the Bigs, but is he a superstar? By defintion? Yes. At age 32 he is having the best season of his career and is in the conversation for an MVP award. He is a great player, but here is my personal definition of a superstar.
“A player with sustained personal success at the highest level who plays up to or over his percieved potential in all aspects of the game”
The Major Leagues is full of players who had the potential but could not sustain success long term in the Majors, or became a seemingly average player. A player needs to be an all around good player while being elite in some aspects and never truly having a “weakness”.
So, do the Cardinals have a superstar? It’s really up for debate. I don’t think he quite fits a “superstar” mold, but Matt Carpenter makes the best case for the Cardinals right now. Defensively the analytics show that he is above average. Baserunning is the worst part of his game. He isn’t the fastest runner and consistently finds himself in precarious situations along the basepaths. From an offensive standpoint he is solid. He has great plate awareness and finds ways to get on base, and has added a power element later on in his career. But does that make him a true superstar? Not quite. Not yet.
But how many true “Superstars” are there in the Majors right now? Pujols had a 170 OPS+ during his time in St. Louis meaning he was 70 percent above league average. Are there any players who have had this kind of sustained success?
The first name that comes to mind is Mike Trout. Over his first 8 seasons, Trout owns a 174 OPS+, which is actually higher than Pujols. And as far as my defintion is concerned Trout checks all boxes. He hits for average, hits for power, takes walks, steals bases, and defends in the outfield. He was always considered to have superstar potential and has lived up to it. He already has 2 MVP awards with 3 runner ups to go along with it.
A name that will forever be connected to Trout is Bryce Harper. His numbers have been solid, but certainly not on the level of Trout. In 7 seasons, Harper has a 139 OPS+. Something interesting is that Harper is only 7% higher than Matt Carpenter at 132 OPS+. Many people consider Harper to be a superstar, but I think he has a little more work to do. The potential is there, but the consistency is not. He has only had a couple seasons where he has put it all together. At the same time, he hasn’t had terrible seasons, but there are elements of his game that vary from year to year.
Many more players come to mind such as Joey Votto, Jose Altuve, Paul Goldschmidt, Manny Machado, and Giancarlo Stanton just to name a few. I think “superstar” is used too often in today’s game. In reality, I think there only a few true “Superstar” players and I don’t think the Cardinals should worry. Fans remember a time where we not only had a Superstar, but arguably 2 or even 3, so the idea of not having seems discouraging. But I assure you, not many teams truly have one. The Cardinals have talented players, and maybe one day a new Superstar will emerge. But not having a “superstar” isn’t the end of the world. Players like Carpenter and Molina are leaders of this club, and will play as such.
Thank you for taking time to read this piece. It was a topic that I have had on my mind for some time now. Please share your thoughts on my Twitter @AaronArchCity!