The 2021 St. Louis Cardinals have made the playoffs and will have a shot at their 12th World Series championship in franchise history. 2021 marks the tenth anniversary of the St. Louis Cardinals’ 11th World Series championship in 2011. Looking back at that team and thinking of the guys that made that championship happen, it becomes apparent that the 2011 team was eerily similar to the current 2021 St. Louis Cardinals. The types of players at each position and their statistical production are remarkably comparable between the two teams. All statistics used are current as of October 1, 2021.
Staff Ace: 2011 Chris Carpenter vs 2021 Adam Wainwright
This comparison is crazy because Adam Wainwright was already a five-year veteran on the 2011 team but was sidelined due to Tommy John surgery. He is not only still around, but still performing at a very high level. Both teams had a savvy, veteran presence leading their rotation. Statistically, they performed at a very similar clip, with Carpenter posting a 1.256 WHIP in 2011 and Waino posting a 1.057 WHIP in 2021. Both guys started huge games in their respective years and were key leaders in the clubhouse.
Catcher: 2011 Yadier Molina vs…….2021 Yadier Molina
This one is easy. The career Cardinal will be vying for his third ring this October, as he was not only the starting catcher on the 2011 World Series team but also the 2006 team. In terms of production, 28-year-old prime Yadi slashed .305/.349/.465 with 14 HR in 2011, compared to his age-38 season slash line of .254/.299/.374 with 11 HR in 2021. While the offense has ticked down a bit, the value he provides behind the plate hasn’t diminished at all. Yadi threw out 19 runners in 2011 and 18 in 2021, while throwing out a higher percentage of base stealers in 2021. Additionally, the veteran presence and mentorship he provides are invaluable.
First Base: 2011 Albert Pujols vs 2021 Paul Goldschmidt
Both teams had a stalwart first baseman holding down the top of the order. Pujols, 31, slashed .299/.366/.541 with 37 HR, which as absolutely absurd as it sounds, was a down year for him at that point in his career. Goldschmidt, 33, slashed .295/.367/.517 with 31 HR. Both guys are multi-time Gold Glovers, so they were each important contributors on both sides of the ball.
Second Base: 2011 Skip Schumaker vs 2021 Tommy Edman
These two guys are more similar than they first appear, save for a couple of differences. One important similarity is that they both also play outfield, which provided key depth at different times during their respective years. Schumaker slashed .283/.333/.351 with two home runs in 2011 while Edman slashed .263/.308/.385 with 10 homers in 2021. While Tommy did hit for more power, their slash lines are certainly comparable. However, there are a couple of key differences between the two. Tommy provided much more speed on the bases with 28 stolen bases to Skip’s zero. Also, Tommy played significantly better defense, saving five runs above average per year, while Skip cost the team five runs below average per year.
Third Base: 2011 David Freese vs 2021 Nolan Arenado
This comparison may not be entirely fair to Freese, because let’s be honest, can anyone on Earth compare to Nolan Arenado defensively? In 2011, David saved three runs above average defensively, while Nolan has saved eight above average in 2021. So while Nolan certainly has the edge defensively, these two guys were both reliable everyday third basemen. Offensively, David slashed .297/.350/.441 with 10 HR and 55 RBI, while Arenado slashed .256/.313/.499 with 34 and 105. Nolan certainly has provided more power production than Freese did, but until Nolan singlehandedly wins Game 6 of the World Series, David Freese is his equal.
Shortstop: 2011 Ryan Theriot/Rafael Furcal vs 2021 Paul DeJong/Edmundo Sosa
What is interesting about this comparison is that in both years two guys split time. Defensively, neither duo was particularly impressive. In 2011, Ryan Theriot and Rafael Furcal combined for -9 defensive runs saved above average (Theriot -10 + Furcal +1). In 2021, Paul DeJong and Edmundo Sosa have combined for three defensive runs saved above average (DeJong +5 + Sosa -2). Offensively, each duo produced remarkably similar slash lines. Theriot and Furcal combined for .263/.319/.380 in 2011, while DeJong and Sosa combined for .237/.317/.393 in 2021. Power-wise, DeJong and Sosa combined for 25 HR, with DeJong hitting 19 of them; Theriot and Furcal combined for eight homers in 2011.
Left Field: 2011 Matt Holliday vs 2021 Tyler O’Neill
Each team had the same prototypical left fielder: a middle of the order, power-hitting righty. Matt Holliday hit .296/.388/.525 with 22 HR, while O’Neill has gone off for .284/.349/.557 with 34 HR. The biggest difference between these two is defensive. Tyler O’Neill has saved eight runs above average per 1,200 innings in 2021, while Matt Holliday only saved one run above average per 1,200 innings in 2011. Also, O’Neill provided much more speed than Holliday, stealing 15 bases compared to Holliday’s two, which also accounts for at least some of O’Neill’s better defensive numbers.
Center Field: 2011 Colby Rasmus/Jon Jay vs 2021 Harrison Bader
In 2011, Colby Rasmus was traded at the deadline to Toronto, making Jon Jay the full-time centerfielder for the remainder of the season. For the sake of comparison, we will just consider Jay vs. Harrison Bader, because when thinking of the 2011 Cardinals, Jon Jay is in center. Just like most other positions on the field, these two guys provided pretty comparable offensive numbers. Jay slashed .297/.344/.424 with 10 homers, while Bader provided .267/.323/.456 with 15 homers. Also, Jay swiped six bags to Bader’s nine. Defensively, few players could match Bader’s 13 runs saved above average per 1,200 innings, and Jay is not one of them, with three runs saved above average per 1,200 innings. But overall, both of these guys provided clutch hits and a dynamic offensive presence with above-average defense in center.
Right Field: 2011 Lance Berkman vs 2021 Dylan Carlson
This comparison isn’t entirely fair to Carlson, given Lance Berkman was a bona fide veteran at 35 in 2011, while the 22-year-old Carlson is a candidate for Rookie of the Year in 2021. Despite his age, Berkman slashed .301/.412/.547 with 31 HR, a somewhat absurd stat line for a player of his age. Carlson has provided a wholly respectable .264/.340/.438 with 18. Defensively, Carlson has been far better than Berkman was, saving eight runs above average per 1,200 innings compared to Berkman’s -7. But once again to be fair, Berkman was not out there to be a Gold Glover.
Some other interesting similarities:
- Brandon Dickson was a reliever on the 2011 team. He last appeared in the big leagues in 2012 with the Cardinals, after which he played in Japan from 2013 to 2020. In 2021, he was re-signed by the Cardinals and assigned to AAA Memphis. He was called up and appeared in two games with the Cardinals before being sent back down. The fact that ten years after being released he made it back to the big leagues with the same team is just one of those beautiful baseball stories.
- LHP Marc Rzepczynski and LHP T.J. McFarland are the same person — they even look alike. They both sit around 90 mph with a three-quarter arm slot and hard sink, featuring a slider and changeup as their secondaries. Both guys played a large role as lefties out of the pen, and both pitched often in high-leverage situations.
- With Alex Reyes having pitched his way out of the closer role, Mexico native Giovanny Gallegos has taken over as the closer for the 2021 St. Louis Cardinals. The 2011 Cardinals closer, Fernando Salas, was also a native of Mexico.
- On August 27, 2011, the Cardinals had a 1.1% chance of making the playoffs, according to CoolStandings. On August 27, 2021, the Cardinals had a 3.9% chance of making the playoffs, according to FanGraphs. Both teams made the playoffs.
- Both teams were 45–36 on the road in the regular season.
As we head into a stressful Wild Card game on Wednesday, take a minute to reminisce about good times past, and take hope in the fact that the 2021 St. Louis Cardinals team is so similar to a Cardinals team that won a World Series.
Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Yadier Molina, Albert Pujols, Paul Goldschmidt, Skip Schumaker, Tommy Edman, David Freese, Nolan Arenado, Ryan Theriot, Rafael Furcal, Paul DeJong, Edmundo Sosa, Matt Holliday, Tyler O’Neill, Colby Rasmus, Jon Jay, Harrison Bader, Dylan Carlson, Lance Berkman, Brandon Dickson, Marc Rzepczynski, T.J. McFarland, Alex Reyes, Giovanny Gallegos, Fernando Salas