Since there’s been so much chatter about Cards pitching coach Mike Maddux and hitting instructor Jeff Albert, I thought I’d dig in and have a go at it.
It’s been a disappointing showing by the pitching staff so far in 2021, and yes, injuries are a factor. But injuries don’t justify the absurdly high walk rate, the barrage of hit batters, and the underachieving ways of too many pitchers.
It adds up to a 4.21 ERA overall, 10th in NL. That encompasses a 4.31 rotation ERA (11th NL) and 4.21 bullpen ERA (10th NL.) I’ve always believed the good pitching coaches can make their pitchers better. That hasn’t happened enough this season.
But if we’re willing to take the longer view here, there isn’t nearly as much to bark about. Since Maddux became PC before the 2018 season the Cardinals rank third in the NL in starting-pitcher ERA (3.78) and are sixth in bullpen ERA (4.13.)
If I have one gripe about Maddux, it concerns something I mentioned earlier: the ability to fix pitchers and help them improve. Or it just could be that I have unrealistic expectations after watching Dave Duncan get tremendous results with a long list of reclamation projects from 1996 through 2011.
Duncan revived so many lost or broken pitchers over his 16 seasons here — at times it was just remarkable — and his outstanding work was a primary reason in the team’s success under manager Tony La Russa.
Maddux’s astute eye for pitching mechanics and game preparation have earned praise from accomplished pitchers including Yu Darvish, Max Scherzer, Adam Wainwright and Stephen Strasburg.
Jack Flaherty has done his best pitching with Maddux as his PC. Maddux was in charge for Wainwright’s late-career revival. Rookie Johan Oviedo is a special case for Maddux; this kid has a chance to be special. And Maddux clearly can play a role in shaping Oviedo’s growth.
Alex Reyes and Genesis Cabrera have exceptional talent, but that doesn’t always translate into elite performance. But both are thriving under Maddux. Giovanny Gallegos was just a guy in the NY Yankees’ system, a marginal MLB reliever, when the Cardinals acquired him. In St. Louis, “Gio” has emerged as a bullpen force.
Does Maddux get credit for that? You can make your own decision on the question. But if you’re going to rip the PC for pitchers that fail or disappoint, it’s hypocritical to withhold credit when his pitchers excel.
Maddux isn’t to blame for injuries to Miles Mikolas, Dakota Hudson, Jordan Hicks and Flaherty. But as pitching coach he’s had to get others ready to step in. I’d say Maddux has done a pretty good job with that — but yes, the challenge is more demanding this season. And solutions are slow to materialize. That’s disappointing. And so is the Maddux tendency to downplay the walks/HBP damage.
While it’s true that Duncan set a standard in St. Louis that no subsequent pitching coach can match, it’s also unfair to hold other pitching coaches to that Duncan standard.
Even though I’ve yelped about Maddux at times during his three-plus seasons with the Cardinals, I think he’s done a good job overall, and the entire body of work confirms it. This opinion will disappoint many of you, and that’s OK.
This staff’s wildness with walks and HBPs can be infuriating. But we’re also talking about the first 72 games in 2021 that represent about 16 percent of the total number of regular-season games played by the Cardinals since the Maddux hiring.
The Cardinals hired Albert before the 2019 season to take over as batting coach at the MLB level and implement an overall hitting approach within the Cardinals’ minor-league system. He’s into advanced technology and metrics. On the surface that’s a positive, because baseball has been evolving — and evolving quickly.
A significant part of Albert’s work will be judged later on — specifically the fate of the young, developing hitting prospects that are learning in the minors, utilizing the Albert methods.
But in terms of the MLB product, the results aren’t there for Albert. And if you believe a hitting coach is important, then you can hold the numbers against him. If you think that we overstate a batting coach’s value, that’s fine too.
Either way, it hasn’t worked at the MLB level. And it really isn’t working this season. These are simple, fact-based truths based on the Cardinals’ National League rankings in vital offensive categories since the beginning of the 2019 season.
Here’s where the Cardinals stand among the 15 teams:
- Tied for 12th in runs per game, 4.42
- Tied for 12th in batting average, .239
- Tied for 10th in onbase pct., .317
- 13th in slugging pct., .398
- No. 13 in OPS, .714
- No. 13 in home runs
- Last in doubles
- 11th in triples
- 14th in extra-base hits
- Last in total bases
The strikeout rate has gone down under Albert … but so has the walk rate, especially in 2021.
The Cardinals under Albert are tied for 10th in park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+.) Translated, it means they’re 7% below league average offensively since the start of 2019.
And though the Cardinals have slightly better hitting statistics on the road than in Busch Stadium, the difference isn’t meaningful. They actually have a lower OPS on the road than at home.
And using wRC+ — adjusted for ballpark effects — the Cardinals are just 1% percent below league average offensively at home, and 13% below average on the road.
Since Albert became hitting coach the Cardinals have traded for Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado. They’re receiving a break-out 2021 season from Tyler O’Neill. The talented and mature rookie Dylan Carlson entered onto the scene late last year, and he’s provided a good OBP so far this season.
Despite the positive additions and a couple of promising performances by young hitters, the 2021 Cardinals have scored the second-fewest number of runs in the majors since May 1. Their .355 slugging percentage is 29th in MLB since May 6.
Shortstop Paul DeJong has cratered offensively. Leadoff hitter Tommy Edman has stalled. Carlson is slugging only .351 since moving to the No. 2 slot.
Again, it isn’t working. It’s up to Cards management to determine the reason …
But there is no reason to praise Albert for the state of the team’s offense.
Thanks for reading …
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For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.