Saint Louis Cardinals: The Secret Weapon Being Disabled is Killing the Cardinals

Jul 8, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals third base coach Jose Oquendo reacts against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 8, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals third base coach Jose Oquendo reacts against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

The St. Louis Cardinals are absent one big piece of their puzzle this season: their third base coach.  This is severely hurting them.

The biggest loss this season hasn’t been losing Jason Heyward to the Chicago Cubs, John Lackey to the Cubs as well, or Lance Lynn not being able to pitch all year due to Tommy John Surgery. The biggest loss for the Birds on the Bat has been Jose Oquendo not being on the coaching staff.

The “Secret Weapon” has been at home dealing with recovery after a surgery on his right knee. Jose has been known as the “Secret Weapon” since 1987 which was coined by the then-Cardinals’-manager Whitey Herzog. That’s 29 years, so the weapon isn’t so secret anymore, but that doesn’t make the weapon any less dangerous.

Jose has been in the Cardinals’ organization, as a coach, since 1997. He started as the bench coach but was moved to the third base coach position just after one year. Oquendo has many different duties as the third base coach besides just deciding when or when not to send runners rounding third base.

Oquendo has always been a focal point with the Cards’ defense. Before his injury, he would be the coach hitting the main work load of the ground balls during warm ups before games. He also focused on positioning and shifting position players during the games.

Of even more importance, when a player changed positions during their time on the Cardinals roster, they went and worked with Jose to learn the ways of their new spot.

With Jhonny Peralta making the shift back over to third base, Matt Holliday experimenting with first base, and Kolten Wong moving to the outfield, the presence of Oquendo would have been huge. Without the presence of the secret weapon, the defense as a whole has been sub-par.

In 2016 the Cardinals rank 28th in the league for total defense. They are only in front of two sub-500 teams, the Cincinnati Reds and San Diego Padres. Sitting at 38-34 the Birds have 53 errors on a .981 fielding percentage.

The fielding percentage is 7 points higher than the National League average but have 9 more errors than the average for the NL. Let’s take a look at the years where Oquendo was in uniform compared to the start of the 2016 season.

2000: Ranked 15th with 111 errors and a .981 fielding percentage (Jose’s first year as the third base coach).

2001: Ranked 17th with 110 errors and a .982 fielding percentage

2002: Ranked 14th with 103 errors and a .983 fielding percentage

2003: Ranked 2nd with 77 errors and a .987 fielding percentage

2004: Ranked 9th with 97 errors and a .985 fielding percentage

2005: Ranked 13th with 100 errors and a .984 fielding percentage

2006: Ranked 12th with 98 errors and a .984 fielding percentage

2007: Ranked 28th with 121 errors and .980 fielding percentage

2008: Ranked 6th with 85 errors and .986 fielding percentage

2009: Ranked 17th with 96 errors and a .985 fielding percentage

2010: Ranked 12th with 99 errors and .984 fielding percentage

2011: Ranked 27th with 116 errors and .982 fielding percentage

2012: Ranked 22nd with 107 errors and a .983 fielding percentage

2013: Ranked 4th with 75 errors and .988 fielding percentage

2014: Ranked 8th with 88 errors and .985 fielding percentage

2015: Ranked 22nd with 96 errors and .984 fielding percentage

Averages: Ranked 14th with 105.27 errors and a .984 fielding percentage

On Pace 2016: 119.25 errors and a .981 fielding percentage

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In the Oquendo era, the Cardinals only had more errors one time than the projected number of errors for this year. They only had a fielding percentage at or lower than .981 twice.

Look at the years after an Oquendo team struggled defensively, they came back with a vengeance.

In the fifteen years with Oquendo as the defensive Wiz, the Cards have had 9 seasons with fewer than 100 errors and 12 years with a fielding percentage at .984 or better. I think it is more than safe to say that the loss of Oquendo has affected the defense more than people think.

Yes, I realize that the numbers are mind-bogglingly different, but when a major league team commits an error, more often than not that runner comes across to score. The runs given up because of errors are what is putting the biggest burden on this Cardinals team defensively.

There is one other place that Jose has been missed and that is on the base pads. Oquendo has always been known as overly-aggressive but usually-successful third base coach. I realize that Chris Maloney has had experience at being a third base coach at other levels of the game, but it is a big difference compared to lower levels of baseball.

To that point, MLB outfielders have stronger arms and better accuracy on their throws from the outfield than lower levels obviously. Maloney has been the opposite of Oquendo so far this year: super conservative.

I think because of his lack of confidence to send and force things, the Cardinals have left some runs on the base pads that would have been runs over the last 15 years when Oquendo was the one waving his arm.

Next: Rosenthal and the Closer Problem

There have been whispers that Jose may not even be able to be back next year because of the rigorous rehab he will have to go through to get back to full strength. The numbers don’t lie, the Cardinals need their not-so-Secret-Weapon back as soon as possible.