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How did the Cardinals get such great pitchers?

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The MLB draft is a powerful tool to build an effective, and inexpensive, pitching staff.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

I come to you today to talk of the St. Louis Cardinals. I understand if you are sick of talking about them. Familiarity, after all, breeds contempt. And given that they've finished above .500 in 14 of the last 15 seasons, made the playoffs 11 times in that run, and won four pennants and two World Series, I would say that we're all pretty familiar with the Cardinals.

That said, there's something that we aren't talking about, but definitely should. That something is this: The 2015 Cardinals, as a team, currently have a 154 ERA+. Take a moment with that information. Ponder it. What does that mean, exactly? It means that relative to the league ERA, and accounting for their ballpark, the Cardinals have an ERA roughly 54 percent better than the league average. That, friends would be a record if the season ended today.

No other team in the last 100 years has finished with an ERA+ of higher than 139. Pedro Martinez's career ERA+ is 154, and Jacob deGrom currently has an ERA+ of 156. So, as a collective, the Cardinals' ERA makes them a bunch of Jacob deGroms or Pedro Martinezes. No one who has pitched more than 15 innings has an ERA above 3.68.

Ok, it's not that simple. St. Louis's underlying numbers are not quite that impressive. Yes, they're allowing well under three runs per game, but the relative lack of strikeouts and the team FIP of 3.23 means that their defense is doing an awful lot of heavy lifting through the first two months of the season to support this ridiculous start. Still, taken together, we could be looking at one of the great run prevention teams of all time.

"This is great, Mike," you're saying. "But so what?"

I'm super glad you asked that, imaginary reader in my brain. The so what is that, here we are, on the day of baseball's amateur draft, and I'm telling you that the Cardinals have done this amazing thing almost exclusively through their drafting and amateur free agent signings over the past decade and a half. Cardinals pitchers have thrown 513 innings through the club's first 57 games. Of those, only 63.2 have been thrown by pitchers not either drafted by the Cardinals or traded for using players drafted by the Cardinals. Consider the following chart:

Name

Age

ERA

IP

ERA+

FIP

Acquired

John Lackey

36

2.93

70.2

134

3.23

via trade for Allen Craig (8th round, 2006) and Joe Kelly (3rd round, 2009)

Michael Wacha

23

2.18

70.1

181

3.56

via draft (1st round, 2012)

Lance Lynn

28

3.03

68.1

130

2.97

via draft (1st round, 2008)

Carlos Martinez

23

2.94

67.1

134

3.67

amateur free agent

Jaime Garcia

28

2.67

27

149

3.3

via draft (22nd round, 2005)

Adam Wainwright

33

1.44

25

276

2.04

via trade for J.D. Drew (1st round, 1998) and Eli Marrero (3rd round, 1993)

Trevor Rosenthal

25

0.67

27

596

2.64

via draft (21st round, 2009)

Kevin Siegrist

25

1.9

23.2

209

2.99

via draft (41st round, 2008)

Matt Belisle

35

2.31

23.1

172

2.73

free agent

Seth Maness

26

3.68

22

108

2.62

via draft (11th round, 2011)

Randy Choate

39

3.38

10.2

120

3.87

free agent

Carlos Villanueva

31

0.41

22

975

3.21

free agent

Mitch Harris

29

4.4

14.1

92

5.49

via draft (13th round, 2008)

Tyler Lyons

27

5.54

13

73

3.66

via draft (9th round, 2010)

Jordan Walden

27

0.87

10.1

467

1.96

via trade for Tyrell Jenkins (1st round, 2010) and Shelby Miller (1st round, 2009)

Miguel Socolovich

28

1.17

7.2

351

1.42

free agent

Sam Tuivailala

22

6

3

74

7.45

via draft (3rd round, 2010)

Tim Cooney

24

11.57

2.1

40

7.4

via draft (3rd round, 2012)

Look, no commodity in Major League Baseball is more overpriced than free agent pitching. The Cardinals know this and, through some incredible drafting, one amateur free agent, and four very minor regular free agents, have managed to cobble together a staff that has a chance to go down as one of the best in baseball history. It's what we all hope for when our favorite teams are choosing their next generation of talent. May we all be so lucky.

Happy draft day, everybody.