You'll probably hear something about "The Cardinal Way" during this World Series. You probably have already. It suggests a secret manuscript, passed down through generations, containing the secrets of baseball. Or, at least, a really well-produced, internal training video. Even though it feels like an old, tired narrative, though, the Cardinal Way is actually a new thing.
That is, the phrase "the Cardinal Way" is new. But it's existed in many forms over the years, the idea that the Cardinals are doing something that's somehow unique. It used to be that former pitching coach Dave Duncan would take the world's slightly dinged pitchers and turn them into good starters. He was taking crap from a yard sale and turning it into a $2,000 coffee table. That's just what he did.
It was the Cardinal Way.
Over the last two years, I've been yammering about the Cardinals' ability to make hitters out of nondescript prospects. Then, suddenly, that became the Cardinal Way. Forget patching up broken pitchers. Just take a guy named Matt and make him hit ball good. Simple. Clean. Easy.
But there's a new new new Cardinal Way: Take a bunch of whippersnappers and teach them how to throw the ball really, really hard.
Trevor Rosenthal turned 23 in May and he's the oldest guy to pitch in this game for STL.— Mike Axisa (@mikeaxisa) October 25, 2013
The other two guys were Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez, who both were literally incontinent when Nevermind was released. And so now the new Cardinal Way has something to do with young, fresh arms. Which is the complete antithesis of the first Cardinal Way we talked about. This wasn't taking Doug Davis and turning him into Cliff Lee. This is taking live arms and making them realize their potential, which isn't exactly a novel idea. Teams have been trying to do it since before the talkies.
So let's look at these young pitchers. We'll set the cutoff at Lance Lynn, who's 26, because that seems about right. Here are the pitchers who are Lynn and younger on the active 25-man roster right now:
That's exactly two-thirds of the World Series staff. And if you want to break those young pitchers down further, this might help:
First-round draft pick: 3
Round 2 through 9: 1
Round 10 through 19:1
Round 20 and beyond: 2
International free agent: 1
It's a well-balanced sprinkling of talent. Considering the Cardinals haven't been bad enough to have a high draft pick lately, it's amazing they have this stockpile without padding it with a David Price, Gerrit Cole, or Tim Lincecum -- the spoils of a truly awful season. And if, say, Kevin Siegrist were in another organization, there's an excellent chance he's not this good, this quick. Same goes with all of these pitchers. The Cardinals helped make them what they are. Don't discount the developmental process. The Cardinals are doing something right.
But are those pitchers really indicative of a Cardinal way? As in, some kind of secret sauce they aren't sharing with the rest of the world.
Dunno. Consider that Carlos Martinez got to the Cardinals through something like a clerical error, and that 18 teams had to pass on Wacha. There were 97 players picked before Kelly, 638 before Rosenthal, and 1,235 before Siegrist. At any point during the draft or signing period, another team could have stepped in and said, You know what? We really, really want this guy, and we're willing to offer $100,000 more. The Cardinals would have backed down in most of those scenarios.
Would the alternative draftees for the Cards have been as good? It's impossible to say, but, well, no. Not a chance. There's something to the idea of a team molding players in their own image, but baseball players aren't that malleable.There was no way the Cardinals were going to take any random 41st-rounder and make him into a late-inning reliever. It has to be the right combination of player and system.
So instead of framing the discussion in a way that hints at an organization with all the answers -- a team that could have turned Delmon Young into an MVP candidate -- or in a way that suggest the Cardinals are simply lucky to be here, it's probably more useful to think of them as an organization that's the equivalent of a team with a .350 batting average on balls in play.
Here's the list of career leaders in BABIP. Most of them are players you'd expect. Rod Carew, Ty Cobb, and Derek Jeter. Wade Boggs, Rogers Hornsby, and Miguel Cabrera. No one is wasting their breath explaining how a high BABIP made those guys lucky. They're the best hitters ever. Of course when they put baseballs in play, they fell in for hits an extra four percent of the time. That's what made them good.
That's the Cardinals right now. They aren't supremely lucky, at least not in the obvious, traditional sense. They're just good. They get a hit 353 times out of 1000 instead of 303 times out of 1000, which is the difference between Derek Jeter and Royce Clayton. And while you can point to something like draft success or BABIP and claim it's all luck, that's an oversimplification, at best. Same goes for the Cardinals and player development.
So I'll hush about the Cardinal Way when it comes to various Matts and hitting prowess. And I won't assume the youth brigade for the 2013 Cardinals' pitching staff is the perfect execution of some complex scheme. The Cardinal Way is loosely defined as "get better players than the other guys." They have a .350ish BABIP in the player-development game right now. They're sort of doing everything right. It's not the young pitching or the hitters who exceed expectations. It's everything.