La Russa Returns to St. Louis, Brings a Big Mac with him

After an eight year break, TLR and Big Mac are together in the dugout again

After an eight year break, TLR and Big Mac are together in the dugout again

Unless you were living under a rock these past couple of days, you know that Tony La Russa is back for one more year and that Hal McRae is out as hitting instructor, with former redbird Mark McGwire taking over the position.  The press conference formally announcing these two moves was Monday morning, and although McGwire wasn’t even in attendance, he was the focal point of the interviews with Dewitt, Mozeliak, and TLR.  The questions were a bit of positive and negative, with most of the positive obviously being about the Card’s skipper returning for a 15th season.

Personally, I am very happy about La Russa’s return.  Although it can be frustrating to watch TLR on a day to day basis when he does things that don’t seem to make sense, what TLR is able to do as a whole is outstanding.  In short, TLR on a micro level can drive fan’s crazy, but on a macro level I think it’s pretty safe to say he’s one of, if not the best manager the Cardinals have ever had.

It’s pretty remarkable that the return of the winningest manager in team history wasn’t the biggest news of the press conference, but that was exactly the case when the rumor that Mark McGwire was going to be the new hitting coach was confirmed by TLR and other members of the front office.  Obviously this is a very controversial hire, and I feel the best way for the Cardinals to minimize the media circus that will surround Mark is for him to just address what happened in the past, apologize, and move forward.  We live in a pretty forgiving society, for proof just examine the two Yankee heroes this postseason, Andy Pettitte and Alex Rodriguez.  I think if Mark just explains what he did and sincerely apologizes, the media, the fans, and he himself can all move forward in a more positive direction.

I have no idea how much a hitting coach can actually influence performance, all I hope is that Big Mac will come in and help to change the philosophy of the “grip and rip” approach of this year’s team.  The 2009 Cardinals were aggressive to a fault at the plate, swinging at 26.8% of pitches outside the strike zone, the 6th worst percentage in all of baseball.  For comparison’s sake, the Red Sox and Yankees are baseball’s most disciplined teams, with both swinging at just over 22.5%.  Swinging at pitches out of the zone doesn’t allow the offense to work counts, which means that the hitter is more likely to swing at a pitcher’s pitch instead of getting one he can handle.  It also means that opposing team’s starting pitcher doesn’t have to throw as many pitches, so he can go deeper into the game and the Cardinals don’t get to hit against a team’s middle relievers, the weak spot on most clubs.  This was painfully apparent in the playoffs as the Cardinals chased ball after ball out of the strike zone while more disciplined teams like the Phillies and Dodgers were able to work counts into their favor, and then get a pitch they could handle and do something with it.  The Cardinals will be much better off if McGwire and others can help change the philosophy to be more patient, and to really focus on getting the best pitch they can and then hopefully do something with it.  Big Mac seems like a perfect guy to come in and teach this approach, as he had a .394 obp for his career and walked in almost 18% of his pa’s when anything over 10% is considered good.  Mark also seems to have a good relationship with several current players, with the most notable being Matt Holliday and Skip Schumaker.  A lot is made both good and bad about Holliday listening to Big Mac’s advice about ditching his signature high leg kick early in the year and then struggling, before going back to the leg kick and subsequently taking off again.  I personally believe that it has little bearing good or bad on the Holliday negotiations, and that people who think Holliday won’t sign with St. Louis because McGwire gave Holliday advice that didn’t work are overreacting . I also believe  people who think Holliday respects McGwire enough to change his stance even though he was already a .300 plus hitter  means Holliday will sign to just be with McGwire are doing some wishful thinking as well.

In conclusion, it’s great to have La Russa back.  He seems to have tremendous respect from Pujols and other players, and it would be hard to imagine Cardinal baseball without #10 in the dugout.  I am also on board with the Mark McGwire hiring, on the condition that he deals with his personal business before the year so he doesn’t become a distraction.  It’s tough to quantify how well a coach does, so the only thing to base an opinion on is from the players that play for them, and both Tony and Mark seem to have ringing endorsements.  McGwire isn’t going to make Brendan Ryan hit .350, or suddenly teach Colby how to hit 40 homers, but what Big Mac can do is help the Cardinals change their philosophy at the plate and hopefully turn the hitters into a more disciplined bunch.   The Cardinals have completed the makeup of their 2010 coaching staff, and now the ball goes into General Manager John Mozeliak’s court as he trys to give his manager and his new hitting coach some more talent to work with.

*Be sure to check out the UCB Radio’s interview with Cards Team President Bill Dewitt III.  Fantastic job guys!

-Agree/Disagree? Leave a comment and I will be happy to discuss!