The St. Louis Cardinals are becoming more modern. In my last article, I discussed Jeff Albert. His oversight of the entire minor league system as the MLB hitting coach is a modern interpretation of the hitting coach. The way that Albert utilizes data and modern technologies is also eminently modern. The Cardinals have done more than simply install Albert as hitting coach in order to modernize the coaching staff. The organization created the role of “Run Production Coach” in order to build a three man hitting team of Albert, Jobel Jimenez (Assistant Hitting Coach), and Patrick Elkins (Run Production Coach). On the pitching side, the team created the role of “Major League Pitching Strategist”, and hired Dusty Blake to fill the role, to join with Pitching Coach Mike Maddux and Bullpen Coach Bryan Eversgard.
With three coaches being employed on each of the pitching and the hitting staffs, the Cardinals expanded their coaching staff to ten members in 2021. There are reports that the team is also looking to add another member of the hitting staff next season. It is unclear if Mike Shildt wanted this or if it is something that Jeff Albert is pushing for. Regardless, the staff appears set to grow next year, and the team should have a four-person hitting staff for 2022.
After the Giants employed 15 coaches and won 107 games as an underdog this year, the Cardinals will not be the only team looking to expand their coaching staff, nor should they be. It often takes just one team to prove that something works before every other team in the league will follow suit.
It is good to see that the Cardinals are willing to do this because they have not always followed modern trends. For instance, in 2021 the team shifted in just 21.4% of opposing plate appearances (fifth lowest rate in MLB). This was an increase on the 2016 season when the Redbirds shifted 7.6% of the time, but the team has never ranked higher than 25th in shift rate.
The Cardinals tend to do things their way, and they tend to have good success doing that. Still, John Mozeliak himself said that the way he sees baseball is constantly evolving, so he recognizes the need for the Cardinals to change in places where they can improve. The coaching staff is one of those areas. After creating an extra pitching and hitting coach role, the Cardinals want to hire a fourth member of the hitting coach group, and one with MLB experience.
Such a hire would give the Cardinals’ hitting coaches a better ability to communicate ideas and work with hitters. If a hitter is not understanding what one coach is saying, he can hear the idea in a different way from another coach. When trying to communicate various kinds of data, whether related to hitting strategy or biomechanics, this is helpful because such data can be complex. Different voices and more time spent with each hitter should lead to better hitters. As the Giants found out in 2021, there are very few potential problems to increasing the size of a coaching staff.
There could potentially be a problem if these four hitting coaches are not aligned. If there are any “philosophical differences”, then there is the potential for players to hear conflicting things from different coaches. This is not likely to happen, though, especially if the Cardinals are careful with their fourth hire. It is clear that Albert sets the hitting strategy, and the three coaches under him should coach according to that philosophy. With three hitting coaches this season, there was no reported tension in the group, so with a good hire, the Cardinals should reap the benefits of a larger coaching staff.
The next step after hiring a fourth hitting coach may be to restructure the group. Albert is in charge of setting the organizational hitting philosophy while also serving as MLB hitting coach. It would not be surprising to see the Cardinals give him a title that is more devoted to the big-picture, organizational focus while letting the other hitting coaches focus more on the major league level. In my last article when I wrote about Jeff Albert, multiple people suggested in the comments that Jeff Albert may have a front office job in his future. This is how that could happen. Jobel Jimenez could then take the lead at the major league level, while still working below Albert, and the other hitting coaches could work in support.
Another feature of the Giants coaching staff was youth and relative inexperience. The Cardinals will almost certainly not follow this route, because it does not seem to be something that they would be completely open to. Young coaches are fine, but a staff mostly full of young coaches seems like some the team would like to avoid.
The search for a hitting coach with MLB playing experience means that the Cardinals will not be promoting a minor league hitting coach. If they look to do so in the future, one internal candidate could be current Double-A Springfield hitting coach Tyger Pederson. Pederson was brought into the organization in 2019 and not only survived when minor league teams were cut, but was moved to Double-A after beginning in High-A. Additionally, a number of players broke out in Double-A this year under his watch (Nick Plummer, Juan Yepez, Luken Baker, Chandler Redmond, Brendan Donovan). It is not simple enough to give Pederson credit for all of those breakouts, especially since it is Albert who sets the hitting philosophy. Pederson does seem to be well-regarded in the organization, though, and his youth (32 years old) means that he is probably open to Albert’s data-driven approach.
The pitching staff could follow suit soon and bring in a fourth member, although that could have already happened if the Cardinals had not let Chris Carpenter join the Angels. It is unclear what Carpenter’s role would have been, or if the Cardinals wanted him on the MLB coaching side, but he represented an opportunity to add another pitching coach. The team may be content with three pitching coaches, but in the future, this should be an area where the Cardinals try to grow. A larger coaching staff could help the team maximize the abilities of its players, so both the pitching staff and hitting staff should add another coach. It seems that the team is content with its pitching voices for now, but another hitting coach next season would be a step in the right direction.