The Dave Duncan Effect

Last week Dave, in his piece on Real Groundball Rates, and Erik, in a piece on Brad Penny’s first start, referenced Dave Duncan’s ability to get his pitchers to generate a great deal of groundball outs. In fact in Dave’s summary of the Cardinal’s organizational ranking he specifically referenced Duncan’s ability to take pitchers off of the scrap heap and turn them into serviceable MLB starters with his pitch to contact philosophy, and cited it as one of the reasons for the Cardinals recent success. With all of that in mind I thought it would be interesting to investigate how the batted ball data supports these positions, and what is the magnitude of the effect.

My methodology was a simplified version of Tom Tango’s WOWY. I found the difference between each pitchers’ ground ball rates for the two years after he joined the Cardinals and the two years before he joined (if available). Then I found the weighted average (weighted by the lesser of the two sets balls in play) of said differences. I limited the sample to just starting pitchers as that is who people reference when discussing Duncan’s “Magic”. With that in mind here’s the sample

Pitcher                With-Without
Brett Tomko             0.8%
Mark Mulder             2.8%
Jeff Suppan             2.4%
Todd Wellemeyer        -10.5%
Kip Wells               2.2%
Jason Marquis           8.7%
Chris Carpenter         11.9%
Kyle Lohse              6.2%
Joel Pineiro            9.1%

The weighted average of the difference works out to ~4.5%, so Duncan’s pitch to contact reputation is backed up by the data. All but Wellemeyer showed improvement in GB%, even Mulder who was a GB pitcher before coming to St. Louis. Clearly this analysis doesn’t speak to overall quality of pitching (for that see this piece by Kincaid) as groundballs and improving groundball rates aren’t the be all end all; however it has been a key component to the Cardinals success in the Tony LaRussa / Dave Duncan era.



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Dan
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Dan
6 years 5 months ago

What ever happened to Leo Mazzone’s reptation as the best pc in baseball? What was his recipe for success?

zipperz
Guest
zipperz
6 years 5 months ago

Mazzone was known for pounding the outside corner away. Seems his “magic” dried up when Questec was fazed into the game…

3fingersbrown
Member
3fingersbrown
6 years 5 months ago

Excellent observation. Glavine’s frustration was palpable in his latter years.

3Com Park
Guest
3Com Park
6 years 5 months ago

This is a remarkable3 record. Penny’s GB% after two games is at 60%, up over 7% from the last two years.

Travis L
Member
Member
Travis L
6 years 5 months ago

Not that he didn’t teach pitchers to throw to corners, but I think Mazzone’s defining characteristic as a pitching coach was his throwing regimen. He was one of the only coaches at the time who had his pitchers throw so much in between starts. Lots of long toss, mound work, etc. Atlanta’s starting 3 didn’t seem to get hurt until they got old, a rarity for any pitchers (much less 3 on the same team).

Big Dog
Member
Big Dog
6 years 5 months ago

What about Braden Looper?

Jon
Guest
6 years 5 months ago

I would like to see him added to this study as well.

Steve Sommer
Guest
6 years 5 months ago

I can add him in without too much difficulty clearly. I originally left him out because all of his “w/o” innings are as a reliever and I didn’t want the role change to bias anything.

Mircea
Guest
4 years 11 months ago

What I find so itneerstnig is you could never find this anywhere else.

iuelmk
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4 years 11 months ago

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gspewcvaynt
Guest
4 years 11 months ago

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Alireza
Guest
6 years 5 months ago

Mazzone’s contributions were all about fitness and conditioning. Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz were all very different pitchers in style and all had tons of talent to begin with.

Duncan’s magic is taking pitchers who have had little or marginal success and recognizing their ability to throw certain pitches, especially sinking fastballs, and getting them to focus on that style as a means of improving their success.

corey!
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corey!
6 years 5 months ago

where’s kent bottenfield!?

The Iron_Throne
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The Iron_Throne
6 years 5 months ago

You should add another two columns to the table, since the philosophy is pitch to contact, you should add K/9 and BB/9 as well, since we would expect to see a drop in K rate and BB rate. It would also be a better answer if Duncan is improving these pitchers.

Sean
Guest
6 years 5 months ago

GB% equals pitching to contact now?

For what it’s worth MGL did a study from 2003-2007 and found pitchers were worse in St. Louis…

Andy Brandt
Member
Andy Brandt
6 years 5 months ago

What’s MGL and how did it find out that pitchers were worse in St. Louis?

Jack Straw
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Jack Straw
6 years 5 months ago

You also need to look at what that 4.5% increase gets you in terms of runs saved or outs produced, if that’s even the case. Without evidence it’s difficult for me to believe that a 4.5% difference is going to translate into that much improvement in runs allowed.

Ender
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Ender
6 years 5 months ago

For all the magic we hear about with Duncan it doesn’t really seem sustainable. None of the pitcher who he ‘fixed’ kept having good stats after their big year. Pineiro might prove to be the best of the bunch though. Usually it is scrub pitcher goes to STL, has one good year, everyone gives props to Duncan and then the next year they stink again because most of the good year was a fluke.

I’m sure he is a good pitching coach but this stuff tends to be a little overblown.

Zach
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Zach
6 years 5 months ago

for what it’s worth, most of his successful projects have taken the money and ran so clearly he is the biggest variable. lohse signed back with stl so we still have to see if that was a fluke

zipperz
Guest
zipperz
6 years 5 months ago

There are some guys who regressed. Wellemeyer as far as I know, is out of baseball. Marquis has had some decent years since leaving. The book is still out on Pineiro.

Still his work with once-retreads like Carpenter, Bottenfield, Woody Williams, and others is well documented. I think Kile might have some bad years before working with DD. One thing that might be overlooked with Duncan, is he has charts and videos of every hitter and is responsible for most of the defensive shifts in the game. Most pitching coaches don’t assume anywhere near that level of control over in game strategy.

Jason
Guest
Jason
6 years 5 months ago

Wellemeyer is in San Francisco. Early returns this year are not good to say the least. 2 starts, 10.1 IP, 11 Runs allowed, 4 HR, 8-7 K-BB.

Alireza
Guest
6 years 5 months ago

As an aside, remember that Penny has pretty much always been a GB pitcher. The reality with that guy is that he stopped striking people out around 2006. Which is ridiculous, seeing that he has a 98 mph heater and a big hook.

FlagrantFan
Guest
6 years 5 months ago

Great minds think alike. I had a post with nearly the same exact title on the same exact date. Your mind is greater though as my post only focused on lower walk rates. Thanks for rounding out (or grounding out) the full story.

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