Was Dave Duncan Overrated as Cardinals Pitching Coach?

Jeff SucherContributor IIIMay 9, 2012

ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 24: Pitching coach Dave Duncan (L) and Yadier Molina #4 (R) visit Chris Carpenter #29 of the St. Louis Cardinals on the mound during Game Five of the MLB World Series against the Texas Rangers at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on October 24, 2011 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

For 29 years, Dave Duncan was Tony LaRussa's right-hand man.  They won three World Series titles during their historical run and were in the postseason on a regular basis.  Considered by many the best pitching coach of all time, Duncan retired from the Cardinals in 2012 due to health problems with his wife.  There were grumblings among fans I talked to that without Duncan to oversee the staff, the Cardinals would suffer this season on the bump.

Well Cardinal fans, take a breath and be at ease.  The pitching staff this season has been a small notch below fantastic to start the year.  It would be easily the best staff in baseball if Adam Wainwright would have not had such a rocky start to the year.

Everyone, including myself, expected Adam Wainwright to come out of the gate strong after a very solid spring training after returning from Tommy John surgery.  Unfortunately, it didn't happen, with Wainwright getting shelled in his first three starts, going 0-3 and serving up five homers.

Now, thankfully for Cards fans, Waino has turned things around and is starting to look like the guy who finished in the top three in Cy Young voting in 2009-2010.

The Cardinals staff is second in MLB in team ERA to only the surprising Washington Nationals, coming in with a 3.11 clip in the first 30 games.

The Cardinals have gotten way more than expected from Lance Lynn, who replaced an injured Chris Carpenter in the rotation.  Lynn has jumped out to a 6-0 start, with a dominating 1.42 ERA in his six starts with 37 strikeouts in 38.2 innings pitched.

Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook also have started out strong out the gates, posting a combined 8-3 record with a 1.93 ERA.  Granted both of these guys are pitching for new contracts, but I think it is safe to say no one expected such a dominating start from either of them.

Jaime Garcia has been up and down this season, posting a 2-2 record with a 3.76 ERA in his first six starts. It must be nice for new skipper Mike Matheny to think with his proven commodities with Wainwright and Garcia not performing to their potential, that the Cardinals are tied with the Dodgers with 19 wins for the most wins in the National League.

So it begs the question, was Dave Duncan overrated as a pitching coach?  The Cardinals have not skipped a beat without him this season.  Now there is no question that Duncan has a book of success behind him that many don't dare argue with. 

But if you point the fact that neither Jake Westbrook and Kyle Lohse have ever been so dominant to start a season and that Lance Lynn hasn't been tutored by him this year either during his amazing start, maybe there is an argument to be made for Duncan being slightly over-hyped.

The Cardinals finished last season with the 12th best ERA in baseball and blew an astounding 26 saves in 2011.  Was it all Duncan's fault, absolutely not.  But sometimes a change does a team good and this year so far, the Cardinals haven't missed Duncan's trademark 6" binder of notes he would tote around with him.

Hopefully Duncan is enjoying retirement and taking some satisfaction in the staff he helped to mold and new pitching coach Derek Lilliquist is helping take to the next level.  For Cardinals fans, hopefully this dominating start from the mound keeps up and leads the Redbirds deep into October.