As I’m typing this, the Chicago Cubs are on my television screen playing postseason baseball (UPDATE: gross) and the Cardinals are not, a fair indicator that 2017 was not much fun. There were exceptions, the biggest one being Tommy Pham. I imagine the rest of the baseball universe grew a bit tired of the Cardinals’ side of the aisle constantly screaming about Tommy Pham, but they’ll have to forgive us. This was a 29-year old career minor leaguer/resident of the DL with less than 320 career plate appearances to his name putting up a .300/.400/.500 line in his first full season. It was like something from a sports movie.
And you saw that correctly, Pham had a .300/.400/.500 season, one of only seven for qualified batters in all of baseball. Here they are, via Baseball Reference’s Play Index as sorted by wins above replacement:
Pretty decent company. Also, this is why Pham – a guy who in April wasn’t even deemed worthy of being the fourth outfielder – has a legitimate shot to finish in the top-five in National League MVP voting. And that’s insane.
Further, here’s a tweet earlier this week from must-follow and all-around decent guy @SimulacruMusial:
Similar to above, this had me wondering how these numbers stacked up with recent Cardinals seasons. So again, using the Play Index, I searched for Cardinals who qualified for the batting title going back to 1988 who either equaled or eclipsed all of Pham’s numbers from above (because Baseball Reference doesn’t use wOBA or wRC+, I substituted in Pham’s 144 OPS+), and this is what I found:
First, these are always good exercises to ensure that Albert Pujols’s time in St. Louis is properly appreciated. Second, going back 30 seasons, only two Cardinals have turned in a better slash line across the board than Pham’s 2017, and you have to go back to 1971 to find a third (Joe Torre – .363/.421/.555; 171 OPS+). We weren’t imagining anything, Pham had a phenomenal season.
A quick rundown of a few of the other notable seasons that popped up in my head: The two other MV3s in 2004 were close. Scott Rolen just missed with a .409 on-base percentage (.314/.409/.598; 158 OPS+). Jim Edmonds fell short by hitting .301 (.301/.418/.643; 171 OPS+). Ray Lankford was similarly close in 1997 (.295/.411/.585; 159 OPS+). In 2013, Matt Carpenter missed the .300/.400/.500 mark in both on-base and slugging and had a lower OPS+ than Pham’s (.318/.392/.481; 140 OPS+).
The takeaway is that even when a season doesn’t go as planned, there’s often something positive worth remembering. In 2016 it was the offense coming out of nowhere and slugging their way to the top of the leaderboard. In 2017, it was Tommy Pham.
Credit to the Baseball Reference Play Index for most of the stats in this post. Subscribe to the Play Index here.