Sometimes you just have to give a guy credit where credit is deserved. For many years now, Dave Duncan has been Tony LaRussa's pitching coach. And though LaRussa is considered the genius ("Mad Lawyer") behind many seasons of success, his greatest asset might be surrounding himself with good people. Duncan, who almost walked away from the Cardinals this year because of how the Cardinals handled his son last year, is definitely a big reason for LaRussa's success. His success at bringing pitchers with marginal prior results in the past and making them better is amazing. We'll call it the "Duncan Effect" and it's striking...literally.
Let's start with Joel Pineiro. Pineiro was moderately successful for two years with Seattle and then he had three really poor years before bouncing mediocre time with Boston and Oakland. Pineiro then goes to the Cardinals where his career is resurrected and landed him a good contract from the Angels. Should Pineiro give a percentage of his good fortune to Duncan? Well yeah. With Seattle, Pineiro averaged 3.0 walks per nine innings with a strikeout to walk ratio of 2.01. With Dave Duncan, his walks per nine innings shrunk to 1.6 and his strikeout to walk ratio jumped to 3.05.
Chris Carpenter was a decent pitcher for the Blue Jays. He had some ups and downs though and was inconsistent. As such, his record in Toronto was 49-50. With St. Louis, he is 69-24. With Toronto, Carpenter averaged 3.4 walks per nine innings with a K/BB ratio of 1.85. In St. Louis, Carpenter has averaged 1.8 walks per nine innings with a K/BB ratio of 4.01.
Kyle Lohse has a similar improvement where he has gone from averaging 2.7 walks per nine in his career to 2.4 for the Cardinals. But the improvement isn't as dramatic because he started with the Twins who also have an organizational emphasis on throwing strikes.
Braden Looper averaged 3.6 walks per nine innings with the Marlins and then came to St. Louis who converted him to a starter (he was a closer before) and his walks per nine innings with the Cardinals went down to 2.3.
Jason Marquis has always issued more free passes than he should, mostly because he is a finesse pitcher and doesn't try to give in to the middle of the plate. But even so, his walks per nine innings went from 4.0 with Atlanta to 3.2 with the Cardinals. He's made a few stops since his years in St. Louis and his walks per nine was never lower than it was with the Cardinals.
Brad Penny has had some success over the years and has had some off years too. But one consistent was his walks per nine innings which for his career has been 2.9. Despite a killer fastball, Penny has a K/BB ratio over his career of 2.18. While he's only made two starts for the Cardinals so far this year, it's still indicative of this argument. His walks per nine innings so far is 1.3 and his K/BB ratio is 4.00.
Looking at all these pitchers who have improved under Duncan and the key is easy to see: Pound the strike zone and don't give away free passes. That would seem to be a no-brainer for any club. The Twins have used this strategy for years. And with the new emphasis on On Base Percentage around baseball, you would think that every club would be stressing limits on free passes. But Duncan gets it done. He somehow has the knack for getting his pitchers to change their ways and to lower their walks while raising their K/BB ratio.
In 2009, the average National League pitching staff averaged 3.5 walks per nine innings. In St. Louis, it was 2.9, the best in the league. In 2008, Carpenter was hurt and the Cardinals had an off year because they didn't have the right horses (Anthony Reyes anyone?). But the two years prior, the Cardinals were better than league average in the category.
Dave Duncan is a big part of LaRussa's success over the years and it is hard to imagine the two separately. They seem to be able to take marginal to marginally successful pitchers, get them on the program and spit them out as strike throwing machines. You have to give them credit because it certainly works.