While it’s debatable just how much impact a manager — and especially a hitting coach — can have, it became apparent that the situation under Mike Matheny had deteriorated to the point of a clear negative impact on player performance, and ultimately wins and losses. Additionally, John Mabry, though he had some merits as an MLB hitter, rose to and retained his position mostly because of his widely-known-about friendship with the manager. His 5 1/2 year run is littered with regressive team and player trends that underlined the overall regression under Matheny.
This winter, although they haven’t explicitly said as much, we can see the Cardinals almost treating the promotion of Mike Shildt — and the establishment of his system — similar to the acquisition of an impact player. Other side of that coin, the hiring of Jeff Albert has been touted to also bring on positive results. (Personally, I am in love with the Albert hire. I wrote about my wish for the hitting coach position immediately after they announced it’s vacancy and he checked all of my boxes.)
Over the last 8 months, the contrast between the old and new regime is well defined.
And so, with that lengthy prologue, I ask: How much of an impact do you thing that Mike Shildt and Jeff Albert can truly have on the on-field product? What areas, specifically, will you be looking at most closely to find their fingerprints?
Daniel Shoptaw (C70 At The Bat): I think that Shildt and Albert will have an impact on the wins and losses of the team, but it’s going to be on the margins. Perhaps a close game turns because Shildt goes to the bullpen a batter before Matheny would have. Maybe a batter gets a hit in a big spot because of his preparation with Albert that he wouldn’t a have with Matheny (and Mabry). Here and there, I think the knowledge and preparation from these guys are going to help the players produce better. I don’t believe they are worth 10 wins or so, though. The overall product will be better, but it’s likely Paul Goldschmidt will have more impact on that.
Josh Gilliam (Pitchers Hit 8th): To be completely honest, I had two very different thoughts after hearing who the Cardinals had hired as hitting coach. Initially it was shock, because that meant Buda had been passed over for the permanent spot.
Once we all saw how the pieces fit, however, STL pulled off the potential steal of the winter with bringing Albert back to the organization. Buda is still on staff, but moving the page from Mabry to to a whole new method can only help the younger players.
Obviously, results have to be seen before conclusions can be made. But the Cards pulled out all the stops to make 2019 a much different outcome, with Albert as an important addition.
Mark Tomasik (RetroSimba): Regarding hitting coach Jeff Albert, I’m looking to see whether he can get the Cardinals batters to reduce their strikeouts and do a much better job of moving runners from first to third, from second to third with less than two outs, and from third with less than two outs.
Regarding Mike Shildt, I’m looking for a manager who gets players to buy into a team concept of play, who gets them to put team before self in their approach to the game and who has a clear philosophy that he’s able to communicate. The model for me is Kevin Cash of the Rays. Cash is an innovator, who has a philosophy of how to play with the talent available and, most of all, he gets players to buy into his approach. What I don’t want from Shildt is Pollyanna happy talk and I don’t want a team that is run like a chapter of the Promise Keepers. Time will tell.
Kyle Reis (Birds on the Black): Great question, Rusty! I don’t really know how to answer that when it comes to Mr. Albert. I find that I’ve been telling people that I want to see more contact with two strikes, but I don’t know if that’s something that Mr. Albert will be responsible for. During PaD (Prospects After Dark), I usually spew something about believing that how an adjusted approach for both Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill will be a litmus test, but it seems a bit presumptuous to think that a hitting coach is THE person that can remedy fundamental issues with a hitter’s approach.
So what I’ll say instead is, I don’t know what to expect out of Jeff Albert, and I hope that I’ll know it when I see it!
Mr. Shildt is a different story.
A lot has been made of Mr. Shildt’s record after taking over as manager for Mr. Matheny. Going 41-28 is one heck of an accomplishment!! But that accomplishment, to me, is enhanced by an August that saw the Cardinals go 22-6. Entering August under Mr. Shildt, the Cardinals were 7-7. After August, the Cardinals were 12-15. They entered September in a Wild Card spot and with the second best record in the NL. It all fell apart because Mr. Shildt started to use the bullpen like Mr. Matheny did, and he continued to deploy a lineup that was struggling without mixing it up, even though the rosters had been expanded.
So, what I’ll be looking for with Mr. Shildt, in an effort to understand the type of impact that he will have on his team, is if he uses his entire bullpen and the other options available to him on the 40-man, and if he’s able to make the tough lineup decisions that are ahead of him. A lot has been made about Dexter Fowler and what should happen to his spot if he struggles. That’s fair, but what if Mr. Bader struggles? Should he get two free months to work out his problems? What if Ozuna can’t throw the ball or range because of his extra weight? Does he get nine innings every game, or is there a way to maximize his effectiveness with late inning defensive subs? Does he stick to the same lineup even if Carp and Goldy are the only players hitting? Will he have a quick hook with Cardinals legend Adam Wainwright if Mr. Wainwright is the early-2018 version of himself? What I’m saying is, I don’t know what kind of manager Mr. Shildt is yet. But I know that there are tough decisions ahead of him to be made. How aggressive he is with those decisions, following a manager that was slow to make a change, is going to be the big test for me.
And THAT’S how you answer a question without answering a question!
And with that, we’ll close the door on this session. Be on the lookout for other UCB Roundtable posts from other contributors.
Thanks for reading!