Data shows losing hitting coach Jeff Albert undermined the Cardinals' offense

The St. Louis Cardinals lost Jeff Albert following the 2022 season, and along with him went the massive improvements St. Louis was making at the plate.
St. Louis Cardinals v Milwaukee Brewers
St. Louis Cardinals v Milwaukee Brewers / John Fisher/GettyImages

There has been a lot of discourse in recent weeks regarding the St. Louis Cardinals' offense, with one of the fulcrum points of the discussion revolving around their hitting coach situation.

At the end of the 2022 season, the Cardinals made a change with their hitting coach - but not by their own choice. Their hitting coach since 2019, Jeff Albert, decided not to extend his contract with the Cardinals, citing outside criticism of the job he was doing with the club as the reason he wanted to move on from St. Louis.

While handling criticism is a big part of the job description, the months and years following Albert's departure from St. Louis have sparked more and more discussions on whether or not Albert was taking the organization's offensive philosophy in the right direction, or if they were better off without him.

Curt Bishop wrote a story this week for the site detailing why he believed Albert was a part of the problem when it comes to the Cardinals' offensive struggles. I strongly disagree. One of the things I enjoy about our site is that we try to represent a plurality of views on topics. Our writing team does not agree on every topic, and so we allow each writer to make their case in their stories, and then it's up to our readers to form their own conclusions. Today, I want to provide my thought process on Jeff Albert's time with the Cardinals, and why John Mozeliak was not thrilled with the idea of Albert leaving the organization when he did.

The Cardinals have seen a noticeable decline in the best kind of batted ball since Jeff Albert left

One of the things that irked fans regarding Albert was his use of advanced analytics and how his background in exercise science and biomechanics influenced his philosophy. He wasn't an "old-school coach", and yet, he was leading the Cardinals, as an organization, down a path that the best offenses in baseball were headed - pulling more fly balls.

To avoid comments that this look at Albert's impact on the club, and specifically the issue of pulled fly balls, I want to cite two outside perspectives on this arguement and why the industry tends to agree on this topic.

First is a story written by Alex Chamberlin of FanGraphs, where he broke down what he calls the "pulled fly ball revolution", and just how effective pulled fly balls are as an outcome of contact compared to any other form of contact in baseball. The stats in the tweet below are from 2021-2023.

Look at that graphic again. Pulled fly balls ended with a .937 wOBA, far and away the best outcome of the batted balls measured. If you aren't familiar with wOBA, it stands for "weighted on-base average", and puts a weight on the outcome of the hit, rather than just measuring if a player got on base. So basically, a double is worth more than a single and a home run is worth the most. Line drives are king when it comes to consistent batted ball type production, but no one can refute that the best type of batted ball is the pulled fly ball.

Eno Sarris of The Athletic recently put out a tweet tracking the Cardinals' pulled fly balls as a team since 2017 and found some jarring information (note, Albert was brought in after the 2018 season, not 2017).

Remember earlier how I cited that pulled fly balls are the very best outcome for a team? Well, thanks to some incredible data powered by TruMedia, I can show you just how effective that approach is, even when your players are not the best natural pull-flyball hitters.

Cardinals' offense (Ranking)

Pulled fly balls

SLG on pulled fly balls

Overall OPS

Runs Scored


330 (1st)

1.600 (27th)

.725 (15th)

706 (20th)


378 (1st)

1.546 (23rd)

.745 (5th)

772 (5th)

You might be thinking, especially if you look at the 2021 numbers, that the philosophy was not working. It's one thing to pull a lot of fly balls, but you have to have the right players to do that, right? Having Tommy Edman or Harrison Bader or Dylan Carlson pulling the ball won't be as effective as the big time power hitters. Well, that's true, only because the big-time power guys post OPS stats north of 2.000. Using the same data I found on TruMedia, in 2021, 16 different Cardinals players posted an OPS greater than 1.000 on pulled fly balls, and 15 different Cardinals did so in 2022.

You can even see in the numbers above that just the sheer frequency of pulled flyballs improved the Cardinals' offense dramatically. Even though they ranked in the bottom third in SLG on pulled fly balls in 2021 and 2022, their team OPS finished much higher, especially in 2022, because they were making that kind of contact often, and again, it's by far the most effective outcome from an at-bat in baseball.

Our own Thomas Gauvain recently took a look at some of the underlying metrics that have contributed to the Cardinals' steep decline offensively and noticed the pulled flyball issue as well. Ranking dead last in baseball in the absolute best-batted ball type is not a recipe for success, especially when the club has a plethora of hitters who would benefit greatly from pulling the ball more.

So why have the Cardinals hit fewer pulled-fly balls since Ward took over as the hitting coach? Well, it's not only safe to say that Ward has a different philosophy than Albert, but we have real reporting to back that up. Just look at this quote from Ben Frederickson in the piece he wrote when Albert stepped away from St. Louis.

"It seemed at times during this regular season, thanks in part to assistant hitting coach Turner Ward, that an often bumpy transition had neared something close to a smooth-sailing point. Albert and Ward had different ways to communicate with different hitters. The Cardinals were speaking Albert’s language and using his new-school tools...For the first time, an offensive approach seemed to be clear. Hitters were trying to force pitchers to throw strikes to areas of the zone where damage could be done, then trying to drive those payoff pitches with authority. Plate discipline was key. Hitting the ball in the air with authority was the plan."

I'll address this more later, but it is notable that the Cardinals hitters were adopting Albert's approach and speaking "his language" prior to his departure at the end of the 2022 season. Not only did Albert influence the big leaguers he worked with on a consistent basis, but he was also key in preaching that philosophy up and down the organization, meaning he directly impacted the development of young bats like Jordan Walker, Nolan Gorman, Lars Nootbaar, Brendan Donovan, and Dylan Carlson. Now that these young bats are supposed to be stepping into bigger roles on this club, it's notable that it sounds like the philosophy they learned under as prospects didn't resonate as well with Ward.

It's clear that the Cardinals' offense right now is a mess, and that as a whole, they had a much better approach at the plate during Albert's tenure than they do right now. Let's take a look at Albert's teams from 2019-2022 and see how they performed.

Taking a look at Jeff Albert's Cardinals teams from 2019-2022

Albert was hired by the Cardinals following a rough 2018 season. Their most productive hitters on that 2018 team were Matt Carpenter and Jose Martinez, with almost every other hitter who had significant playing time being around league average or worse.

Now, if you look at the names on that team, it's not all that surprising that they only had two stand-out hitters. They acquired Marcell Ozuna the prior offseason who had a down year, but the other regulars - Kolten Wong, Jedd Gyorko, Tommy Pham, Dexter Fowler, and Yadier Molina, weren't exactly feared hitters. Sure,

2019 comes around, and once again, the Cardinals see a dip in offensive production. Paul Goldschmidt was the only regular with an OPS+ of 115 or higher, but the names mostly remained the same, and again, outside of Ozuna, none of them were guys you expected to be super productive offensively. The shortened 2020 was more of the same.

If you've kept track so far, I'm not really selling you on the idea that Albert was a good hitting coach, but the 2021 season is where things really took off for the club.

A couple of important shifts happened heading into 2021. First, the Cardinals brought in Nolan Arenado and finally had two established bats who you felt confident in hitting in the middle of the lineup. No matter who your hitting coach is, at some point, you need talent in order to produce, and the Cardinals were finally adding that.

Second, the Cardinals were finally beginning to integrate some of their top-end position player prospects to their lineup. Much like recent years when the Cardinals' pitching had struggled and never had a young arm they could jolt their rotation with, the lineup had been the same way in the lat 2010s. But now Dylan Carlson and Tyler O'Neill were ready to take on significant roles, and Harrison Bader was continuing his development as well.

In 2021, the Cardinals shot back up into the middle of the pack offensively on the backs of Goldschmidt, Arenado, and O'Neill, with helpful supporting contributors in Carlson and Bader. The things Albert had been preaching at both the Major League level and throughout the farm system were finally coming together, and the Cardinals truly hit their potential as an offense the following season.

In 2022, the Cardinals were top 5 or 6 in most major offensive categories. They saw career years from Goldschmidt and Arenado, as they finished first and third respectively in National League Most Valuable Player voting as well as a resurgence season from Albert Pujols. Those three played a major role in their offense taking off, but so did the continued development of young bats.

Brendan Donovan had a stellar rookie campaign for St. Louis, posting a 124 OPS+ and finishing third in Rookie of the Year voting. Lars Nootbaar had an excellent second half for the Cardinals and he too finished with a 124 OS+ on the season. Tommy Edman had a career year as a slightly above-league-average hitter, while young bats like Nolan Gorman and Juan Yepez become solid contributors as well. Even with drop-offs in production from O'Neill, Carlson, and Bader, as well as a black hole offensively at catcher between Yadier Molina and Andrew Knizner, the Cardinals' offense was finally flourishing.

While the lineup disappointed in the playoffs, it's hard to deny that the offense was taking major steps forward from where it was a few years prior. While the club had a few down years after Albert took the job, there is a helpful principle in change theory that you could see at play here.

If you've ever heard of the "J-curve", it has to do with change, whether it's personal or organizational, and how typically major changes first result in a decline in performance before showing improvements over time. Albert was tasked with organizational change, and the benefits of the "J-curve" were finally showing in 2022.

But Cardinals fans had lost their patience, and Albert lost his patience with them, and the rest is history. Albert left his role with the club following the 2022 season, and Turner Ward has been the club's hitting coach ever since.

Notable comments from Cardinals players regarding Jeff Albert's impact

Back in July of 2022, I wrote a piece crediting Jeff Albert for the improvements the Cardinals were seeing across the board offensively. One of the most eye-opening things I found in my digging was just how many current and former Cardinals credited Albert's approach for their success, or lamented not listening to him sooner.

Exhibit #1: Matt Carpenter

I already talked about how Carpenter had a steep decline at the place during the end of his Cardinal tenure. What I have not addressed yet were the comments he made to Ken Rosenthal prior to his resurgence in 2022, when he admitted he had not listened to the advice Albert was giving him.

"At Marucci, Carpenter sought an objective analysis of what he was doing wrong. Jeff Albert, the Cardinals’ hitting coach since 2019, might have been capable of providing such answers, given his deep knowledge of analytics. Carpenter, however, admits, “I just never bought into (analytics) like I should have.” Albert, like all club officials during the owners’ lockout, is prohibited by Major League Baseball from commenting publicly on players."

Carpenter, following his work with Marucci that offseason and adopting many of the things that Albert was trying to teach him, put up a 1.138 OPS in 47 games with the New York Yankees before a season-ending in August. Carpenter was almost out of the league entirely and instead earned a guaranteed contract with the Padres the following offseason.

Exhibit #2: Paul Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt was acquired by St. Louis entering the second season of Albert's time as the hitting coach. While Goldschmidt had a bit of a down year his first year with the Cardinals, he was hyper-productive under Albert in both 2020 and 2021, posting the 4th highest wRC+ (139) of all hitters during that stretch with at least 900 plate appearances. Goldschmidt then followed those two elite seasons in 2022 with the best season of his career, winning National League Most Valuable Player after posting a .981 OPS and 177 wRC+.

In the midst of his MVP campaign, Rosenthal wrote a piece over at The Athletic on Goldschmidt's incredible performance, and once again, Albert was given a lot of praise for the improvements made.

"Goldschmidt told Cardinals hitting coach Jeff Albert he was struggling to get his body into the right hitting position, even in the batting cage. Specifically, he was experiencing difficulty loading his lower half. Albert, who has a Master’s degree in exercise science from Louisiana Tech, helped enlighten Goldschmidt about biomechanics and the importance of body movement."

While it's not fair to say that Goldschmidt's struggles at the plate are directly related to the absence of Albert, I do find it notable that Goldschmidt posted an .892 OPS and 143 wRC+ during his four seasons with Albert, and has regressed to .770 OPS and 114 wRC+ since he left.

Exhibit #3: The development of young bats

It wasn't just veteran bats who found success when Albert was installed with St. Louis. A big reason why the Cardinals wanted Albert in the first place was for him to also help them revamp their hitting philosophy across the board.

Juan Yepez has yet to find his footing at the Major League level but was a lottery ticket prospect when the Cardinals brought him into the system. Yepez credits Albert for changing the trajectory of both his swing and his career. Brendan Donovan was also an under-the-radar prospect in the Cardinals' organization, and once again, pointed to Albert as one of the guys who unlocked his potential at the plate (quote via David Laurila of FanGraphs.)

"We made a change in our hitting department — Jeff Albert, Russ Steinhorn, and those guys came in — and I was someone that made contact, but it wasn’t always quality contact. What we did is put me into a better body posture, better positioning, more tilt over the plate. I learned how to load the back hip a little better and flatten out my path. From there, it’s basically, ‘Let’s just try to get on plane, and see how long we can stay on plane.’ That’s helped me with fastballs up, and given me more adjustability on breaking balls and changeups, because I’m in the zone longer."

Losing Jeff Albert is not why the Cardinals' offense is awful right now, but it certainly contributed to it

At the end of the day, the Cardinals' offensive struggles fall on the shoulders of the players who are getting into the batter's box each game. Carpenter's quote on Albert proved that a hitting coach can only do so much if their players are not listening, and even if they are, it does not mean they'll execute.

Losing Albert was a big blow for this organization though and certainly contributed to the decline in offensive production. You don't go from the best in baseball at something as important as pulled-fly balls to the very worst while changing hitting coaches and not see a parallel.

While St. Louis did have a notable loss after 2022 in the form of another Albert - Albert Pujols - they have also gained Willson Contreras and the continued development of young bats. There is no reason this club should not be at least middle of the pack in baseball in offensive production. I won't try to argue this would be a top lineup in baseball right now if Jeff Albert was still in St. Louis, but I highly doubt they are sitting in the basement of the National League when it comes to offensive production.