In several recent tweets, ESPN’s Buster Olney was sharing the thoughts of a talent evaluator offering his opinions as to why Kyle Lohse is still unsigned. The following quote comes from the evaluator with the conclusion apparently Olney’s.
“When’s the last time you saw a pitcher leave St. Louis and do well elsewhere?” The Dave Duncan effect.
With the recent announcement that Chris Carpenter will not pitch in 2013 and that his career may be over, the question of whether Lohse’s future might re-intersect with the St. Louis Cardinals was re-hashed by some.
While that return still seems most unlikely, the two right-handers – Carpenter and Lohse – seem to have experienced a tremendous benefit from working under the legendary Duncan. In fact, the now-retired pitching guru was credited for turning upward the fortunes of many a pitcher who had not excelled prior to joining the Cardinals.
While I believe that storyline to be true, I decided to try to quantify it. With raw materials provided by researcher Tom Orf, I worked the data to break out the results of the 76 pitchers who threw at least 50 innings for the Cardinals during the La Russa-Duncan years of 1996-2011.
To appear here, the pitchers must also have logged at least 50 additional innings at some point during their career while wearing another MLB uniform. As a result, Cardinals-only pitchers like Jaime Garcia and Adam Wainwright are excluded from the analysis.
For the 76, I compare their ERAs as Cardinals with Duncan to their ERAs over the remainder of their Major League careers.
The average ERA across the group was 0.33 runs per nine innings better under Duncan in St. Louis than otherwise. One third of a run seems significant.
- 46 of the 76, or 61 percent, had a better ERA with Duncan in St. Louis. Their StL ERA improvement was an average of 1.02 runs per nine innings.
- Two of the 76, or three percent, had the same ERA with Duncan in St. Louis as for their entire career.
- 28 of the 76, or 37 percent, had a better ERA elsewhere. Their Duncan-StL decline was an average of 0.76 earned runs per nine innings.
In other words, over 60 percent of Cardinals pitchers who also appeared for other clubs delivered an average ERA of over one run better under Duncan’s tutelage with St. Louis than they did over the remainder of their careers.
In the table that follows, the pitchers are ranked by the difference between their St. Louis ERA under Duncan and rest of career ERA. Those with the greatest improvement as Cardinals are listed first.
|Min. 50 innings||StL Dunc||StL Dunc||Rest Career||Difference|
Few may remember the name at the top of the list, Al Reyes. The reliever had a short, but very successful run in 2004-2005 before suffering an arm injury. Not surprising at number six and the top-ranked starter after Alan Benes is Carpenter, who was reborn in St. Louis after a non-descript beginning in Toronto.
Among the just-over-one-third who logged higher ERAs as Cardinals are those who were at the very early stage of successful careers before being traded away. This includes such hurlers as Chris Perez and Dan Haren.
At the other end of the experience spectrum, others became Cardinals as their long careers were winding down. That includes pitchers like Pat Hentgen and Mike Morgan. Yet others could never fully fulfill their promise with St. Louis due to injury. Mark Mulder may be at the top of that list.
Finally, some were never overly successful over the long haul, whether under Duncan or anyone else. Heading that list has to be Sidney Ponson, though Kip Wells and Brett Tomko receive honorable mention.
And Lohse? Interestingly enough, his ERA during his time as a Cardinal through the Duncan years was only 0.26 better than his non-Duncan career years. The difference of 4.27 with Duncan versus 4.53 without represents only about one quarter of a run every nine innings.
An important footnote, however, is that Lohse’s fantastic 2012, during which he registered a 2.86 ERA, is in the “Rest of Career” column, same as Eckersley’s Oakland years under Duncan, for example.
Even though currently unsigned, Lohse has plenty for which send thanks in Duncan’s direction. Immediately upon initially signing with St. Louis in March 2008, Lohse put together his best season over his first eight. It was his first 15-win season and his first-ever campaign with an ERA under four. Of course, he turned that into a four-year, $41 million deal to stay with St. Louis, signed that same September.
The raw numbers of pitchers with a positive ERA tends to put an exclamation point on something we already knew – that Dave Duncan had a significant impact on these pitchers as well as the St. Louis Cardinals.
When Hall of Fame consideration becomes relevant for Duncan, here is hoping that he will receive support to become the first to be enshrined in Cooperstown for success as a pitching coach.
I am betting that Lohse, Carpenter and hundreds of other pitchers who knew Duncan best would agree.
Update: As the result of the discussion below regarding the impact of Yadier Molina on pitchers’ results, I have added the following poll.