Thursday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's website ran a poll:
Whose departure will have the biggest impact on the Cardinals?
The choices: Dave Duncan, Tony La Russa, Albert Pujols.
Surprisingly, Pujols finished last.
This was pointed out (to me) by someone named El Maquino, who writes:
Really? Do people honestly think the manager and pitching coach contribute more to a team than the guy who hits .300 with 30-40 homers and 100 RBI every year? LaRussa, who many of these voters irrationally hate, may be the best manager the game’s ever seen, but even he will only win a maximum of five more games than some front office puppet manager.
Can someone back up that figure? A great manager is worth a maximum of five games? I think that would be an exceptionally tricky thing to study. I mean, it could be done. But I don't know that anyone's actually done it. In his book about managers, Bill James came up with a couple of ways to quantify a manager's impact, but I don't know that even Bill would put much stock in them. I do believe that Billy Martin, at his best, was worth more than five wins per season. At least in his first season.
Five is probably a reasonable enough number, though. For a great manager having a typical season.
So, yes: Albert Pujols probably is more valuable than even a great manager. Or pitching coach. And as Cardinals blogger HitTheCutoff suggests, Pujols's third-place finish can probably be attributed to sour grapes. If he doesn't want us, then by God we're not going to miss him.
Fair enough. What I found most interesting about the poll wasn't that Pujols finished last, but that Dave Duncan finished first, with 42 percent next to La Russa's 30 and Albert's 28.
Maybe that's sour grapes, too. Maybe he won the poll because he's the only one of those guys who actually wanted to keep wearing a Cardinals uniform. But I'm intrigued by the notion that Cardinals fans might actually give more credit to Duncan than La Russa for the team's recent successes. Partly because I'm not completely sure they're wrong.
This isn't an original thought, either for me or the rest of the Internet, but I believe Dave Duncan deserves, if not more credit than La Russa, at least some real Hall of Fame consideration. The guy's been a pitching coach in the majors for something like three decades, and he's made a career of turning mediocre pitchers into good pitchers. How many wins has that been worth, over the years?
A while back, I actually saw a study that compared the affects of some long-time pitching coaches; I wish I could find that now (one of you probably will). In the five years before Duncan got hold of Dave Stewart, he went 30-35 with a 98 ERA+. In the next five years, he went 93-50 with a 118 ERA+.
I don't know how much of that was Dave Duncan, how much was Tony La Russa, and how much was just Dave Stewart getting a chance to pitch. But if I were somehow involved with the Hall of Fame, I would like to know.
I would like to know that, and a lot more.