It's very hard for us on the outside to measure the impact a coach has on the game. When it comes to the players, we watch their actual performance, and we have pretty good metrics to measure if our perceptions are accurate. For the manager, it gets a bit harder, but we have the results of the team performance, we can see certain decisions on the field, and since the buck supposedly stops there, it feels reasonably fair to saddle the manager with blame for team failure and praise for success.
The rest of the coaching staff are more or less locked in a black box. For those of us on the outside, there's not a good way to measure their impact, or know for sure when we are watching the fingerprints of their mark on the team. We can only listen to the stories that come from those on the inside.
The Legend of Jose Oquendo has long been that he is a master of teaching the fundamentals, especially on defense. The reality of the 2016 St. Louis Cardinals - the first without Oquendo on the staff in 15 years - is that they are terrible when it comes to the fundamentals.
In terms of base running, Oquendo exerted at least some direct control, plus whatever indirect effect he may have had on the overall player and coach philosophies about how aggressive to be, who to challenge and who not to, etc. As I wrote almost two months ago, the Cardinals have been a terrible base running team this season... even worse since I wrote that piece.
They have now given up 19 runs on the base paths this season. That's not just the worst in the Matheny era, in which they've only once managed a positive value on the base paths (thank you for your service, Jason Heyward). This is now the worst base running team in St. Louis Cardinals history.
Would the Cardinals still be THIS BAD on the base paths with Oquendo in the third base box? It's impossible to say. His presence hasn't been enough to make them a GOOD base running team during the Matheny era. That said, in the Matheny years he was at third, they averaged 6.6 runs below average on the bases, and hit a low -14.5, so without Oquendo they have certainly hit new depths.
Oquendo's value in terms of team defense is even harder to pin down. But again, The Legend of Jose Oquendo has been that he is the team's guru when it comes to teaching defense at the major league level.
This year's Cardinals are 34.7 fielding runs below average, worse than any year Oquendo was with the team except 2013. It's going to get very squishy to try to pin the team's defensive ineffectiveness this season on the absence of Oquendo's invisible hand, but I will say that Kolten Wong's face-plant in left field over the weekend, injuring himself while playing a position he had almost never played before in a crucial late-season game, felt like something that would not have happened were Oquendo in the dugout.
But again, that's just me projecting... imagining what might happen in that black box where coaching makes whatever impact it does on the game.
Can I say with confidence that this year's Cardinals team would have been better fundamentally, saved a few of those runs they've given up on the bases and in the field, and perhaps even be in Wild Card position rather than a game out were Oquendo to have been with the team this season? Of course not.
But I've been hearing stories for years of all the ways Jose Oquendo has impacted the Cardinals behind the scenes, and I can't help but notice those are all the ways where this year's team is lacking.