My Favorite Dave Duncan Reclamation Projects

As a St. Louis Cardinals fan, I miss Dave Duncan’s wizardry as a pitching coach. For all accounts, Derek Lilliquist has done a fine job since Tony La Russa and Duncan retired but Duncan is the greatest pitching coach ever. La Russa once called him the Albert Pujols of pitching coaches; in retrospect that was an understatement.

Duncan’s specialty was getting the most out of pitching cast offs. He did this with great fame in Oakland but I’m going to focus on Cardinals guys.

5. Darryl Kile

Kile went 8-13 with a 6.61 ERA, 116 strikeouts and 109 walks in his last season in Colorado. His FIP was 5.98 because he gave up 33 home runs. His WHIP was 1.752.

His first season in St. Louis, he went 20-9, with an ERA of 3.91, 192 strikeouts and 52 walks. His WHIP dropped to 1.175 and his FIP to 4.24 even though he still gave up 33 homeruns (striking out way more guys helps that).

Kile’s resurgence was as much about getting out of Denver as Duncan’s expertise. The thin Mile-High air messes with curveballs and Kile’s 12-6er was always his best pitch. The difference in amount of strikes thrown is significant. Pounding the zone was always a Dave Duncan staple.

Who knows if Kile would have kept that up; he died just three years later.

4. Matt Morris

Morris was the first guy I remember ever coming back strong after Tommy John Surgery. He sat out all of 1999 and most of 2000. Next year he rattles off a 22-8 record, 3.16 ERA, 185 strikeouts, 3.05 FIP and 1.257 WHIP.

I’m not sure if many people remember but Morris when he came up threw ridiculously hard, like 98 mph. He had to change the way he pitched after the surgery. He threw way more curveballs afterwards and generally worked the corners with his fastball.

3. Woody Williams

This is the classic case because it involved an in season transformation.

Woody in San Diego in 2001: 8-8, 4.97 ERA, 102 Ks, 1.428 WHIP and 5.02 FIP.
Woody in St. Louis: 7-1, 2.28 ERA, 76 Ks, 1.055 WHIP and 3.76 FIP.

In this case, Duncan taught Williams a sinker, which the red-haired hurler through very often henceforth.

2. Jeff Weaver

Weaver was not a very good regular season pitcher for the Birds. In 2006, he went 5-4 with a 5.18 ERA.

It’s what he did in the post season though as to why he’s included in this list. Second only to La Russa’s mastery of a maligned bullpen, Weaver was the most improbable thing during that World Series run. He won three games that year in the playoffs, including one in the series against Detroit. His overall ERA was less than 2.00.

The Jeff Weaver story is fascinating to me. He was a fireballer with an unorthodox deliver –wild leg kick — and an unruly blond mane when he was young. His best season was 2002 with Detroit and the Yankees: he went 11-11 with a 3.54 ERA and 132 strikeouts. He was 6-8 for Detroit which was an accomplishment for what was one of the worst teams ever at the time.

The Yankees messed him up though. They changed his delivery and made him cut his hair. He bounced around after that and didn’t have an ERA under 4.00 again.

I really think Dave Duncan got him to revert back to the old Jeff Weaver, just wing it up there and we’ll live with the consequences, if only for a short period of time.

1. Chris Carpenter

Carpenter was a decent pitcher in Toronto, but he never had an ERA under 4.00. After he had Tommy John, the Cardinals picked him up. In 2004 he went 15-4 with a 3.46 ERA and 152 strikeouts. The next year he went 21-5 with a 2.83 ERA, 213 strikeouts, 1.055 WHIP and 2.90 FIP. He went on to have one of the best careers of any Cardinals pitcher.

I think the Dave Duncan adjustment here was to get Carpenter to take a little off his velocity, not have every pitch be perfect and then throw a lot more strikes. His last season in Toronto he walked 75 batters. He averaged 48 walks per season as a Cardinal. At the same time, he averaged 177 strikeouts per year with the Red Birds.

And he’s one of the best postseason pitchers ever, crucial in both the 2006 and 2011 World Series wins.

I’m a homer but if you gave me a choice of Chris Carpenter or Roy Halladay, one-time Toronoto teammates, right at the beginning of their careers, I would pick Carpenter even though he did not have as spectacular numbers.


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