It’s no secret the Cardinals have had offensive troubles in recent years. But is hitting coach John Mabry to blame?
It’s certainly a topic of debate; armchair managers everywhere have fought for the last two seasons to impeach Mabry from his position of hitting coach, which he assumed following the 2012 season. He replaced Mark McGwire in his promotion from assistant hitting coach.
The hiring was a bit of a mystery at the time and to some still is; just take a look at some other Major League hitting coaches. Mark McGwire is now with the Dodgers, who certainly have their share of players who can hit. The Mariners hired Edgar Martinez, the greatest designated hitter to ever play, and arguably a Hall-of-Famer. Martinez has been praised as the one to turn around Robinson Cano’s season after an awful start at the plate.
Those are pretty much the only instantly recognizable names on the list, but a bit of research will uncover that several Major League hitting coaches share one shocking trait; they were good hitters! Hard to believe, I’m sure.
Then there are those that aren’t good hitters and those who hardly got a glimpse of the show, or teetered along the Mendoza line for a few years. Clearly they’re doing something right, whether it be good chemistry with the team or solid mechanics upon which to lay a foundation to teach players how to hit.
So let’s take a look at Mabry’s career hitting stats; .263/.322/.405 AVG/OBP/SLG, 96 home runs, 89 OPS+ (league average is 100) in 14 years. That’s… not very good. In fact, one could even say that it’s quite poor. So why was he hired in the first place?
It most likely just boils down to the fact that Mabry happened to be the assistant hitting coach at the time McGwire headed to the Dodgers. It’s fairly well known that Mike Matheny and Mabry are quite good friends, so it’s not outside the realm of possibility that there was a recommendation or two thrown John Mozeliak’s way.
And he isn’t going anywhere anytime soon; in fact, Mozeliak said that he, along with all other Cards coaches, will be offered a contract for the 2016 season.
This begs the question; what’s the big deal? He’s only a hitting coach, right? How much can one man affect that many hitters? Honestly, there’s no real way for us to know without watching every player’s every practice and workout, but there’s certainly connections that can be made.
In the three seasons that McGwire was hitting coach (’10-’12), the Cards had not only a good offense, they had a great one; one that led the league in hitting and OBP, and was second in runs.
Now let’s look at some team totals since the beginning of the Mabry era in 2013. The ’13 team was 3rd in runs scored, until dropping to 24th in the following years. I won’t bore you with endless stats, most of them aren’t so dramatic a drop, but the decline is there. However, that one stat, runs, it’s a bit of an important one. Without runs, you can’t win games.
You may say, the Cardinals did win games! They won quite a few, actually; 100, to be exact. And that’s true, there’s no denying that. But there’s also no denying that it was the pitching that played a hand in this; a dominant rotation and bullpen that had the lowest ERA in the majors.
But what happened when that pitching power began to fade in September and the postseason, when we began to run out of gas? The offense couldn’t keep up.
So, is all of this Mabry’s fault? Probably not. But there’s a better-than-good chance that a portion of it is.
Jon Jay’s sudden drop from a .300 hitter to barely above .200? Sure, it could be attributed to injury, but there must be something else there that causes such a dramatic drop.
Kolten Wong’s lack of pop that we so longed to see after the ’14 playoffs? Practically nonexistent.
Dramatic increases in strikeout numbers from nearly all our hitters, including the plate discipline savant Matt Carpenter? It’s unlikely to be every guy going cold at the same time. Of course, when you put Mark Reynolds and Brandon Moss on the same team, you’re going to be producing impressive amounts in that category.
It’s still unclear three years into his hiring if John Mabry is at the core of the issue, but I think it’s safe to say he has certainly played a part of the anemic offense we’ve seen from the St. Louis Cardinals, even if it’s a minor part. So is it Mabry? Is it injuries? Or is it just our hitters? Whatever the case, we can only hope it will improve, and we can see some runs next year.