The 100 Greatest Cardinals: 81-90
NOTE: The BND has endeavored to identify an objective list of the top 100 St. Louis Cardinals players of all time, based on statistical formulas developed through sabermetrics. We’ll count down the list daily, player by player, until April 4, the day of the Cardinals’ 2019 home opener. The running list and player bios can be found at bnd.com.
NO. 81: RHP WOODY WILLIAMS
With a 10-game winning streak in May 2001, the Cardinals chugged toward Memorial Day leading the National League’s Central Division. Then they were swept at home by the Brewers, swept at Wrigley Field by the Cubs and battered in Kansas City by the lowly Royals.
By the end of July, St. Louis sat just a game over .500 and in third place, 8 ½ games behind the Houston Astros.
But rookie Albert Pujols had crashed the lineup with a .320 average and needed an everyday position. The Cardinals cleared space in the outfield by trading veteran Ray Lankford to San Diego for right-handed pitcher Gregory Scott “Woody” Williams.
At the surface, the trade didn’t look to have much consequence.
Lankford, 34, was batting .235 and waived his no-trade protection after manager Tony LaRussa said publicly he no longer had a meaningful role with the team. And Williams, just about to turn 34, was an 11-year veteran with a losing record. When the Cardinals picked him up, he was 8-8 with a 4.97 ERA.
But it was clear from the start that something about St. Louis agreed with Williams.
He lost only once more the rest of the season, winning seven with a 0.92 ERA for September. Williams picked up the win in each of his final four starts, including a two-hit win over Pittsburgh on Sept. 30 that vaulted the Cardinals into a first-place tie with Houston.
The Astros had won the season series over St. Louis, however, and eventually claimed the division title by tie-breaker. The Cardinals went on to lose the divisional playoffs in five games to Arizona.
But Williams cemented himself in the St. Louis rotation, which was further challenged in 2002 with the tragic death of pitcher Darryl Kile in a Chicago hotel room. A recurring muscle strain in his right side limited Williams to 103 innings, but he won nine games with a 2.53 ERA and St. Louis clinched the Central with 97 wins. That includes another 3-0 September that helped the Redbirds build a comfortable distance from the second-place Astros.
The following season, he led the Cardinals with personal bests in wins (18) and innings (220.2) and made his only All-Star Game appearance. In 2004, his final season with St. Louis, Williams won 11 games to help the Redbirds win 105 games and the National League championship, though he was roughed up in a two-inning start against the Boston Red Sox in Game 1 of the World Series.
In 11 seasons split between Toronto, San Diego and Houston, Williams went 87-94 with a 4.42 ERA. In four seasons with the Cardinals, he was 45-22 (a .672 winning percentage) with a 3.53 ERA and was worth 9.8 wins above replacement.
He also made all but two of his postseason starts wearing the Birds on the Bat — those two games were both losses to the Cardinals.
SEASONS IN ST. LOUIS: 2001-2004
.672 winning pct. in St. Louis | 9.8 WARl | All-Star in ‘03
TOP 100 SCORE: 2.35