I might be doing my math wrong, but if Dave Duncan ends up coaching through the 2013 mutual option he got in yesterday's contract extension he will have been a pitching coach in the same La Russa regime for 30 years, which is pretty incredible. I think he's earned it, but whether he's helped or not it shows just how important it is for a pitching or a hitting coach to have a clearly defined plan.
Dave Duncan has the clearest plan this side of Leo Mazzone, whose memoirs will be titled Throw It Over There Until They Call It A Strike, and—saying nothing of its effectiveness—it makes it easy to craft a narrative around the team that benefits him when things go well and when they go poorly. When average pitchers pitch well it's because they've bought into the plan, and when they pitch poorly it's because they're off it—sometimes, like with Todd Wellemeyer, these are both true of the same pitcher at the same time. When the Cardinals have a great season it's because he's a meticulous planner, and when they have a terrible one it's because the personnel was either incompetent or unwilling to buy into the system.
That makes me sound more skeptical than I am. Let me say this: I can describe that thought process as though I'm outside of it, but at the same time I completely buy into it myself. When Todd Wellemeyer pitches well, I think: He's always had the stuff, and now Dave Duncan has the gameplan. When he falls apart, I'm convinced he's a blockhead with a good fastball who will never understand what it is that might make him successful. (The only exceptions here are clearly capable young pitchers who flame out inside the Duncan Zone, like Anthony Reyes.)
So I'm glad Dave Duncan's back; I believe he's effective but I can't prove it. If nothing else it gives the Cardinals an organizing principle for their minor league free agents, one-year deal guys, et cetera. I can't know how much Duncan has helped Adam Wainwright or Chris Carpenter or Jaime Garcia, but when Mozeliak have to throw things at the wall for their fifth starter every year I'm at least confident that he has some idea of who might stick.
I was a real Mark McGwire optimist last year, and for the same reason; as someone who had had a much-publicized conversion experience about hitting halfway through his career, and come out of it a much more disciplined hitter, I thought he might have some easily digestible organizing principle for all his hitting instruction. And if the Cardinals had hit as well as we expected they would last year, I might not have noticed it was missing.
Instead, they struggled, and McGwire came out of it seeming unsure of what his main point was—much of what he said seemed conventional and kind of muddled, and the only way in which he distinguished himself in year one was his conviction that the team was over-reliant on watching video. That might eventually be his Pitch-To-Contact!, but as a new coach he didn't seem to own the team's hitting approach in the same way Duncan sets the pitching tone. In that sense, he was difficult to evaluate—and disappointing, really, for that reason alone.
I'm fine with giving him another year, but I will say this: I'm a little pissed that he didn't do any pinch-hitting in September. But a new opportunity has opened up: Next year they can sign Kerry Robinson as the bullpen coach and then bring McGwire in to pinch-run in a crucial situation.