St. Louis Cardinals hitting coach Jeff Albert could be contributing to the team’s offensive woes.
The St. Louis Cardinals have not been tearing the cover off the ball this season. While the pitching has been magnificent, the hitting has been anemic. The team ranks 26th in slugging and 24th in OPS. As the hitting coach for the Cardinals, Jeff Albert is understandably drawing the ire of some fed-up fans.
I don’t like blaming one person for the struggles of an entire team; I think there is usually a much deeper problem. But the fact that the most successful hitters on the Cardinals right now came to the organization from other teams says something about the Cardinals’ approach to hitting.
Paul Goldschmidt is experiencing success similar to his days with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and Dexter Fowler has displayed a bit of a rejuvenation in his offense as well. But there has been a problem with many players who came from the Cardinals’ farm system, especially the younger players: They haven’t been producing on offense.
Logically, the younger players should be more influenced by the hitting coaches because they have more to learn. But other than Tommy Edman, the team’s youngest offensive players — Tyler O’Neill, Harrison Bader, Lane Thomas and Dylan Carlson — have all struggled this year. So if they’re trying to learn from Albert, it doesn’t appear to be working.
Last year, the Cardinals fired assistant hitting coach Mark Budaska. When Budaska was promoted to the team in 2018 after John Mabry‘s firing, the Cardinals experienced an offensive renaissance. But according to an article in The Athletic, Budaska and Albert had conflicting ideas about hitting, so manager Mike Shildt let Budaska go.
In 2019, Albert’s first season as the sole hitting coach, the offense backslid, reaching a nadir in the National League Championship Series against the Washington Nationals. And it hasn’t gotten better. It’s possible that the way Albert teaches hitting doesn’t mesh with the players’ natural styles. Albert’s inclination toward new-school metrics such as launch angle and home runs seems to be at odds with players such as Edman, Bader and Kolten Wong, who play a more slap-and-dash style of baseball.
The Cardinals could attempt to draft and develop players who are more inclined toward Albert’s type of scheme, but it would seem far easier to find a hitting coach who caters to the hitters’ strengths instead.
Another indication that something could be amiss with Albert’s teachings is the success of Marcell Ozuna in Atlanta. Ozuna had the worst offensive year of his career in 2019 under Albert, and as a hitter with pop, he is more of the type of player who one would think would be more in Albert’s wheelhouse.
But after a line of .241/.328/.472 in 2019, Ozuna has enjoyed the best year of his career, slashing .327/.412/.630. Atlanta has clearly unlocked something in Ozuna’s swing that the Cardinals weren’t able to figure out.
With the offense’s continued struggles under Albert, it’s fair to wonder how much longer he will keep the job. I tend to give players and coaches long leashes to attempt to figure things out, but it’s becoming clear that many players, particularly the younger ones, aren’t producing the desired results under Albert, and he could be hindering them more than helping them.
The Cardinals should look for a new hitting coach this offseason. Since this is the last year on Albert’s contract, this offseason would be the optimal time to cut ties. While some might hope for a former star slugger such as Mark McGwire to take the reins, I don’t think that’s the best idea. A superstar player might not make the best coach because he could have trouble helping a player improve a skill that came so instinctively to the coach.
The offense needs to take a step forward, and while the players are obviously the ones with the most influence over their own hitting, the coach should be able to help guide each player to get the most out of his unique skill set. So far, that doesn’t appear to be happening. A new hitting coach and a new perspective could be what the Cardinals need.