With the announcement last night that Dave Duncan would be stepping down from his role as St. Louis Cardinals pitching coach, due to the ongoing illness of his wife Jeanine, we first and foremost wish the Duncan family the best. This being a baseball blog site, we must review the implications his departure has on the immediate future of the team.
The obvious impact is that Duncan has been a integral presence in the locker room in St. Louis for 16 seasons. So, members of the team will automatically miss him being around. A certain comfort level comes from seeing your mentor daily. Duncan is one of, if not the, most respected pitching coaches and mentors in the game. He is not someone who is going to be easily replaced.
Next, he would have provided new manager Mike Matheny strong support just by going about his daily business as pitching coach. It would have been the one area that Matheny would not have had to concern himself with directly. Knowing Duncan was going to be there, would have allowed Matheny to delve into other responsibilities first as he gets acclimated to being a manager. The job is difficult for returning managers, let alone a new ones. Remember, Matheny has never managed anywhere, at any level, before.
Here is the “good” news. The pitching staff is practically the same as it was last season. There are no reclamation projects for Matheny and whoever will take over for Duncan to worry about. Duncan has pretty much put his stamp on these players. Hopefully they remember anything he told them when they get on the mound and continue to pitch as he taught them.
This not to say that having Duncan’s eyes on the pitchers is not going to be lost. This is a big downfall in fact. Duncan, obviously saw things in pitchers that other’s didn’t. There are too many pitchers who benefited from Duncan’s tutelage and became better pitchers to suggest otherwise. Many became much better pitchers in fact. Below is a chart of some of the more recent examples.
Does anyone even remember that Chris Carpenter played elsewhere? Well, he did and not very well with the Toronto Blue Jays. The difference is remarkable. Duncan’s most recent project has been Kyle Lohse. Again, fantastic work. The time he spent with Joel Pineiro was less than the others, but the results are more or less the same. The key was merely pounding the strike zone. All of these players and others not listed, were told again and again to get the ball over the plate and let the fielders do their job. The biggest difference besides ERA is the K/BB ratio. Carpenter nearly doubled his ratio.
The Cardinals are fortunate that there is no one on the pitching staff that needs to be taught Duncan’s ways. However, it would be wise that his replacement (whether temporary or not) be cut of the same cloth so to speak. The Cardinals staff is very used to Duncan’s ways and obviously they work. So, change the man but not the method. I’m sure that general manager John Mozeliak and Matheny are going to be on the same page with this. Don’t change something that isn’t broken.
One last thing to consider. While he is away from the day to day rigors of coaching, he is still considered to be employed by the Cardinals. Don’t think for a second that Duncan is going to stop watching baseball. He is going to make his wife his priority, as well he should, but I don’t suspect he will crawl into a shell when it comes to the game he loves. The fact that this was left open-ended for now suggests that he may want a role with the club down the line.
There is no doubt that Duncan will be missed for various reasons. The Cardinals were lucky to have him for as long as they did. Hopefully, someone was paying attention to his ways and took some notes. Duncan can not be replaced, just emulated.