Has the St. Louis Cardinals Coaching Churn Stabilized?

photo: Mike Maddux and Mike Shildt (Brett Davis/Imagn)

While most of the current focus on Jupiter, Florida is appropriately aimed at the St. Louis Cardinals players assembling for 2019, the team’s coaching staff has once again experienced considerable change, as well.

Jeff Albert (Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)

In his first spring as manager, Mike Shildt will be officially joined on the fields by two new coaches, working with the remaining seven in uniform for the first time as a complete unit. The new hires are hitting coach Jeff Albert, a former Cardinals minor league coach who continued to develop an impressive resume in recent years with Houston, and Stubby Clapp, two-time Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year and two-time title winner.

While the changes made to the Cardinals staff over the last two-plus years have generally been evolutionary – the obvious exception being the stunning in-season firing of manager Mike Matheny and hitting coach John Mabry last July – the aggregate amount of churn since the end of  2016 has been quite astounding.

By my count, there have been 20 moves among the uniformed staff personnel – including external hirings, internal promotions and assignment shuffling – in just over two years.

To twist an old line, “You can’t tell the coaches without a program!”

Jose Oquendo (Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports)

This is quite a change from the years of stability under Tony La Russa, with familiar names like Dave Duncan, Joe Pettini, Dave McKay and Jose Oquendo constants on the St. Louis staff for well over a decade.

The recent flurry of movement begins with Shildt himself, who like Clapp after him was elevated from the top job at Triple-A Memphis onto the big-league staff. This is but one example of how internal promotions can both motivate and reward minor league coaches while balancing change with avoiding stagnation at the top.

Still, just since the end of the 2016 season, Shildt is in his fourth job with St. Louis. He began 2017 in the short-lived quality control coach role, but when Chris Maloney was axed mid-season, Shildt moved into the third-base coaching box. Before replacing Matheny in the top spot last summer, Shildt had been the bench coach for the first half of 2018.

Ron “Pop” Warner (Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)

Honorable mention in the coaching musical chairs derby goes to the new third base coach and another ex-Memphis skipper. Ron “Pop” Warner is in his third St. Louis job since mid-season 2017, plus a brief return to player development, as well.

Looking at it from the assignment perspective, every one of the top nine jobs on the Cardinals staff has turned over at least once since the conclusion of the 2016 season, including one job that has changed in title twice.

The manager and the two pitching coach spots have been most stable, with two different individuals having served in the positions.

At the other end of the churn meter are the bench coach and third base coaching positions, each of which has been filled by four different men since 2016 ended – in other words, three distinct changes.

Willie McGee (USA TODAY Sports)

In between are the first base coach and the two hitting coaches, with three different people having served in each spot over the last two-plus years.

Also, three have filled what I label as the “Other coach”, which began as the new quality control position to open 2017 (Shildt), then shifted to infield (Warner) and finally to outfield/baserunning, with the latter currently filled by Willie McGee.

Following are the details in tabular form. Full staffs are noted for start/end of seasons, with only the specific changes made in the mid-seasons listed explicitly. At the far right is the quantity of individuals to have filled each job since the close of the 2016 campaign.

It is quite obvious that no stone has been left unturned, with many of the stones having been shifted quite frequently.

End 2016 Open 2017 Mid 2017 changes Open 2018 Mid 2018 changes Open 2019 #
Manager Mike Matheny Matheny Matheny Shildt Shildt Manager 2
Bench coach David Bell Bell Shildt Warner Marmol Bench coach 4
Hitting coach John Mabry Mabry Mabry George Greer Jeff Albert Hitting coach 3
Asst. hitting Derrick May Mueller Mark Budaska (temp) Mueller Budaska Budaska Asst. hitting 3
Pitching coach Derek Lilliquist Lilliquist Mike Maddux Maddux Pitching coach 2
Bullpen coach Blaise Ilsley Ilsley Bryan Eversgerd Eversgerd Bullpen coach 2
First base Bill Mueller Oliver Marmol Marmol Stubby Clapp First base 3
Third base Chris Maloney Maloney Shildt Jose Oquendo Warner Third base 4
“Other” coach none “Other” coach 3
– Quality control Mike Shildt – Quality control
– General/ infield Ron “Pop” Warner – General/ infield
– Outfield/ baserunning Willie McGee McGee – Outfield/ baserunning

I close with a few lingering and important questions.

Now that Shildt has tweaked the coaching roster he inherited from Matheny and has built his own staff for 2019, will this group gel as a unit and remain together for an extended period – and if so, how might that stability impact player results on the field?

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Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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