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Was McGwire worth six more runs in 2010?

Comparing Mark McGwire’s 2010 St. Louis Cardinals offense to Hal McRae’s 2009 version shows six more runs scored but a 6% drop in home runs.

Last October, in a controversial move, the St. Louis Cardinals hired former home run hero-turned shamed recluse-soon to turn repentant ex-steroids user Mark McGwire as their hitting coach. In the process, his predecessor, Hal McRae, was shown the door after five years.

Among manager Tony La Russa’s many comments at the time:

“The pros overwhelmed the cons… I think I was trusted by our ownership to make the right judgment,” La Russa said, “and I would have been very disappointed if I wasn’t.”

With the 2010 regular season in the books forever, let’s see if the only quantitative measure of McGwire’s results – the numbers posted by his hitters – are pro-Big Mac or con.

Mark McGwire (Doug Benc/Getty Images)During a disappointing season in which the defending National League Central Division champion Cardinals missed the playoffs, the club’s inconsistent hitters were considered by many to have been a key factor in the team’s unexpected shortfall.

Of course, there are a number of variables in any year-to-year comparison, yet the core of the Cardinals offense remained the same from 2009 to 2010. One positive in 2010 was a full-season of $120 million-man Matt Holliday, partially offset by only a half-year of former All-Star Ryan Ludwick.

When all was said and done, across the entire 162-game season, the Cardinals scored six more runs under McGwire in 2010 than they did under McRae in 2009. That works out to a statistically-insignificant rate of 4.54 runs per game compared to 4.51.

Let’s take a look at a number of other stats from the Cardinals offense as well as their rankings within the 16-team National League.

Cards AVG Rank SLG Rank OBP Rank
2010 0.263 2nd 0.402 8th 0.332 T5th
2009 0.263 5th 0.415 6th 0.332 T9th

First, we see the team batting average and on-base percentage remained remarkably stable from year to year. The respective stats’ rankings improved in comparison to the rest of the league in a year when pitching was up and hitting was down across the game.

Surprisingly, the slugging percentage of the former slugger McGwire’s Cardinals was down from the year prior, despite an early-season home run burst. The next table breaks down the difference.

Cards TB Rank 2B Rank HR Rank
2010 2227 T7th 285 8th 150 8th
2009 2268 7th 294 7th 160 6th

As indicated above, McRae’s 2009 charges had hit nine more doubles, ten more home runs and collected 41 more total bases than did the 2010 Cards hitters, with better NL ranks accordingly. Another way to look at it is that the team’s 2010 home run count was down over six percent compared to the previous year.

Cards R Rank BB-IBB Rank SO Rank GIDP Rank
2010 736 6th 463 11th 1027 15th 124 T5th
2009 730 7th 455 T13th 1041 14th 127 9th

Just because McGwire’s hitters didn’t bring more pop doesn’t mean they didn’t show at least some improvement in other areas. As mentioned above, they plated six more runs. The batters also demonstrated a bit more patience, drawing eight more non-intentional walks, fanning 14 fewer times and grounding into three fewer double plays than the year before.  In each case, the Cardinals improved their relative standing against the NL.

Remember that the magnitude of all these differences must be considered over a full 162-game schedule, making most of these year-to-year changes relatively minor.

Considering everything, decide for yourself if all the Cardinals McGwire-related activity was worth the benefit received.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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