Cardinals: Addressing the Hitting Coach Vacancy

Photo Credit: Jeff Curry — USA TODAY Sports

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Well, the Cardinals coaching staff is going to look vastly different for the 2023 season.

Just days after bench coach Skip Schumaker was hired away as the new manager of the Miami Marlins, the Cardinals announced that pitching coach Mike Maddux, bullpen coach Brian Eversgerd, and hitting coach Jeff Albert will not be returning to the 2023 staff.

It’s not strange to have multiple positions turnover in an offseason, but they are usually assistants and maybe one higher profile job. It’s pretty dramatic that the Cardinals will be putting different faces in 4 of the more senior-level coaching positions. Rick Hummel noted that this is the first time the Cardinals will have a change at both pitching and hitting coach since 1996, when Tony LaRussa installed his coaching staff.

Note: I’ve split this into 2 parts, one focusing on the Hitting Coach and another on the Pitching coaches, as this was quickly getting too wordy.

From the top, I think the bench coach role is a stone cold lock to be filled from inside the organization. Pop Warner or Stubby Clapp appear to be in line for the job. Bernie Miklasz mentioned on an episode of his Seeing Red podcast that Pop Warner has indicated in the past that he prefers coaching 3rd base, so perhaps he remains there. If that is the case, then Stubby is almost assuredly the guy. As far as backfilling the 1B Coach, I see that as a position for Willie McGee, currently the “outfield coach.” Much like Dave McKay did during his tenure, McGee could continue to serve his current role while taking over at 1B. I think his baserunning acumen would also be well served in that position.

Next, let’s unfold what has been reported on the exiting coaches.

From John Denton of MLB.com:

Mozeliak revealed that hitting coach Jeff Albert and veteran pitching coach Mike Maddux will not return in 2023, and bullpen coach Bryan Eversgerd will be reassigned within the organization.

Mozeliak was prepared to offer Albert and Maddux contracts for the 2023 season and beyond, but both decided that they would rather not return. Mozeliak said that Albert cited the blame he took on social media for some of the Cardinals’ hitting woes — early in the season and again in a two-game playoff loss to the Phillies in the NL Wild Card Series — as his reasoning in wanting to move on.

“Both [Maddux and Albert] have their own separate narratives,” Mozeliak said. “In [Maddux’s] case, he’s just done it for so long and he’s looking for a change of pace. If you look at Jeff’s particular case, I think there were some levels of frustration, and he took a lot of the blame when things weren’t going well, and he’s open to change. … I was prepared to offer [Albert] a contract, but before I even got that out of my mouth, he had told me he wasn’t coming back.”

Of the 3, only Eversgerd was truly removed from his role by the club. The other two are leaving of their own accord, coinciding with the expiration of their contracts.

My take away from that is; we probably shouldn’t view this as an initiative by the team to significantly change direction, as their intention was to return both Maddux and Albert to their roles, had they been agreeable.

I won’t dwell on why Maddux and Albert chose to step away. For Albert, it does seem that the constant, relentless criticism from the fanbase got to him. Baseball aside, that is unfortunate.

So looking towards how the Cardinals will fill his role, let me start by saying this…

Temper your expectations.

If you want Yadi and Pujols to return as the pitching and hitting coaches, I think there is a less than 1% chance of that happening. I just don’t think Yadi or Pujols will be jumping right back into the pool.

There is belief that the team will consider Matt Holliday for a role, but it’s not something I would bank on. As much as I like Holliday, pulling guys straight from amateur ranks into high-level major league jobs carries risk. Maybe I’m not giving enough credence to the Holliday idea, he’s an impressive dude. I guess we’ll see. I’ve also heard fans and radio folks throw Carlos Beltran’s name out there, which I think is more spitballing than anything with basis. He would be interesting. He was (infamously) in the same system in Houston that Jeff Albert climbed through as a coach.

These guys are viable coaching candidates, but I just don’t recommend getting your heart set on any of them.

I tend to think the team will pull from within as part of a desire to not change what is already in place.

As much heat as Jeff Albert got, the numbers say he did his job well.

In 2022, here is where the Cardinals ranked, offensively, in MLB:

wRC+ (114) — 5th
SLG (.420) — 7th
OBP (.325) — 4th
AVG (.252) — 10th
K% (19.9) — 4th (lowest)
BB% (8.7) — 9th
RBI (739) — 5th
Runs (772) — T-5th
HR (197) — 9th
ISO (.168) — 7th
wOBA (.326) — 5th
2B (290) — 6th
Hits (1386) — 10th

By every measure, they were a top-10 team in baseball, offensively. More accurately, they were the 5th or 6th best offense in baseball, overall, this season.

On an individual level, among players with a minimum of 250 Plate Appearances, the Cardinals boasted TEN players with a wRC+ of 100 (league average) or better.

They were the only team in baseball with that many above average performers in 2022.

They produced four finalists for their respective Silver Slugger awards.

I KNOW, THEY WERE INCONSISTENT.

It takes some extremes to rank so high across the board on offense and also be shutout 16 times — trailing only the Detroit Tigers for worst in baseball. We all know the way the offense could completely disappear in a given game. Cliche, but the players have to execute. There were also a lot of times this season where the lineup had several holes due to injury absences. They got next to nothing from their catchers, offensively. And, of course, the falling off of Golsdschmidt and Arenado in September was ultimately going to be a death blow to the team’s playoff chances.

But, from a big picture standpoint, the production was there.  Both individually and as a team.

So, going back to the hitting coach, I think that the team will view these numbers as reinforcement for their current offensive system/strategy. Because of that, I expect the hitting coach and assistant hitting coach roles to be filled as such:

Turner Ward (current asst hitting coach) promoted to Hitting Coach.

One of Russ Steinhorn (minor league hitting coordinator), Brandon Allen (AAA hitting coach), or Tyger Pederson (AA hitting coach) to be promoted as the Assistant Hitting coach.

They might even add an extra assistant job, as they did a few years ago when Mark Budaska was added to the major league staff in-season, and promote 2 of those guys.

Steinhorn was brought on by Albert and was formerly and hitting coach and manager in the Astros system. Allen has been a minor league hitting coach in the Cardinals system since 2017. Ward was formerly the hitting coach of the Dodgers and Reds. And Pederson — brother of Joc Pederson — was a player in the Dodgers organization prior to turning to coaching. Honestly, give me as many guys as you can from the Dodgers system.

Much to the chagrin of the “fire Jeff Albert” crowd, there is a very high probability that his job is backfilled by what some would consider to be “Jeff Albert guys.”

So, prepare yourself. The team might just promote one of these qualified candidates.

Now, I could be very wrong about this. I often am. But that is my two cents.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned my thoughts on the pitching coach position.

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NL Central Standings

TeamWLPct.GB
Cardinals9369.574 -
Brewers8676.5317.0
Cubs7488.45719.0
Reds62100.38331.0
Pirates62100.38331.0

Last updated: 10/06/2022

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