Pitching Coach Duncan Might Be Cardinals’ Biggest Loss Yet

St. Louis Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan might be the biggest loss to the team this off season.

Before the “humidor era” in Colorado, any hitter who accomplished anything in the mountains was marked with a mental asterisk. For those not familiar with the humidor, it’s a device the Colorado Rockies use to essentially weigh-down baseballs to keep them from riffling through the thin Rocky Mountain air in record amounts. Prior to the humidor, other teams looking to acquire hitters from the Rockies would have to ask themselves: “How will his power numbers translate when he plays all his home games a little closer to sea level?”

A similar question should have been asked by teams looking to acquire pitchers who’ve worked with Cardinals’ pitch coach, Dave Duncan, who’s walking away from the Cardinals to tend to his wife, who’s battling cancer.

Dave Duncan’s mastery of getting the very best out of his pitchers may never be fully comprehended by anyone who hasn’t worked directly with him. There’s really no logical explanation as to how he could turn around countless careers of pitchers dwelling in the pitfalls of mediocrity.

Andy Benes:
Benes’ ERA rose four-consecutive seasons, peaking at 4.76 before joining the Cardinals in 1996, Duncan’s first season in St. Louis. Benes’ ERA dropped to 3.83 in 1996, and his 18-10 record was good enough for him to finish a career-high 3rd place in the Cy Young voting. The following season, Benes’ ERA dropped to 3.10. After his ERA ballooned back up when he signed with Arizona, Benes returned to St. Louis in 2000 and had a career best 2.78 ERA in 2002.

Todd Stottlemyer:
During Stottlemyer’s last nine major league seasons, his ERA was over 4.00 every season he wasn’t working with Duncan. The 3 season he spent in St. Louis, his ERA was below 4.00.

Kent Bottenfield:
In 9 seasons, Bottenfield had 46 wins, 22 of which came during his 2 seasons in St. Louis. Duncan helped mold him into an All-Star in 1999, when he went 18-7 with a 3.97 ERA. That made Bottenfield valuable enough for the Angels to trade St. Louis perennial All-Star, Jim Edmonds in exchange for Bottenfield, who won just 10 more games in his post-Duncan career.

Jeff Weaver:
Jeff Weaver’s post season numbers prior to pitching with Dave Duncan were as follows:

2002 – 6.75 ERA
2003 – 9.00 ERA
2004 – 11.57 ERA

You can probably tell where this is heading… but in 2006 with Dave Duncan by his side, Weaver had an ERA of 2.42 during the Cardinals’ World Series run.

Kyle Lohse:
Lohse’s lowest ERA in his first 6 seasons in the big leagues was 4.18, and he was coming off a 4.62 ERA season in 2007 before being acquired by St. Louis in 2008. That season, his ERA dropped to 3.78, and in 2011, he posted a career best 3.39 ERA to go with his 14-8 record.

Jason Marquis:
Jason Marquis had ERAs of 5.04 and 5.53 in Atlanta before being demoted to the bullpen during the middle of the 2003 season. The next 2 season in St. Louis, Marquis posted a 3.93 ERA and 28 wins.

Chris Carpenter:
This one just might be the biggest shocker on the list, because baseball fans everywhere think of Carp as a fiery competitor, driven to succeed, and a pitcher who relies mostly on natural abilities to dominate opponents. Well, believe it or not, Carpenter spent six seasons in Toronto as a sub-.500 pitcher whose ERA was never lower than 4.09. That’s right, Carp’s career record was 49-50, and his ERA ballooned above 5.00 at times. Enter Dave Duncan, and Carpenter’s ERA has never been higher than 3.46. He has a record of 95-42 with St. Louis, the team is 15-3 in his playoff starts, he won the Cy Young Award in 2005, and he’s finished multiple seasons with an ERA in below 3.00.

Believe it or not, these names are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Dave Duncan’s resume. He’s coached 4 different pitchers to Cy Young Awards, and has led the Cardinals to the league’s 3rd best ERA over the past 16 seasons. In those seasons, the Cardinals have been to the playoffs 9 times and have two World Series titles.

Tony La Russa and Albert Pujols will be missed, but one could argue that the departure of Dave Duncan is the biggest blow to the team this offseason.

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