How the Cardinals have developed so many good pitchers
“Our success is based on traditional thinking with strong scouting and player development. We compliment it with modern business strategies and innovation.” —John Mozeliak
The move to acquire Paul Goldschmidt from the Diamondbacks received the most attention this offseason for the St. Louis Cardinals. However, the reason that many experts have chosen this team as a frontrunner to win the NL Central is because of their homegrown pitching staff: Miles Mikolas, Dakota Hudson, Jack Flaherty, Austin Gomber, and Daniel Ponce de Leon, to name a few. From Branch Rickey to Jeff Luhnow, the St. Louis Cardinals have always had success at generating good pitchers through scouting and player development.
Back in 2011, Luhnow created a 117-page manual called “The Cardinal Way”, which breaks down the process of how the team focuses on the individuality of each player to create maximum value. Many teams have tried to replicate this process and failed. One knock on the Theo Epstein era in Chicago has been the lack of homegrown pitching development. The Cubs have had to buy or trade for the majority of their pitching staff almost every year since 2011 (i.e. Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish, Aroldis Chapman, etc.).
So how do the Cardinals draft and develop so many good pitchers like Michael Wacha and Adam Wainwright? In a 2014 Fangraphs interview with then Scouting Director, Dan Kantrovitz, the key was having scouts with diverse backgrounds such as coaching, playing, and analytics. Even though everyone was contributing information that fit into the Cardinals model, Kantrovitz wanted each scout to have a different approach in evaluating players so they could limit the amount of mistakes. According to the Sports Daily, of all the Cardinals first round draft picks from 2012-2018, 23 of them are in the starting rotation for an MLB team in 2019. In a 2016 piece by Mark Saxon, ESPN.com reached out to a few rival general managers about the Cardinals player development system.
The organization has had tremendous mound gurus ranging from Dave Duncan to Mike Maddux. Duncan was Tony La Russa’s pitching coach from 1996-2011 and was the one of the first coaches to utilize real-time advanced scouting tactics from the dugout such as exploiting a hitter’s weakness through data. This resulted in many in-game pitching changes or as Cardinals fans often said, ‘Tony likes to play the matchups’. This strategy by Duncan may have prolonged games but it also spawned seven Cy Young winners during his 32-year career as an MLB pitching coach. Mike Maddux is currently in his 2nd season with the team, but has acclimated nicely to the staff advocating different philosophies for different pitchers, so each of them can effectively pitch to their strengths.
It also helps to have a future Hall of Famer behind the plate. According to a new WAR calculation by Fangraphs, which now incorporates framing metrics, Yadier Molina has the third best catcher framing metrics since 2008.
The organization will continue to develop successful MLB pitchers like Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez, and Joe Kelly because they know what their looking for but more importantly, they understand how to maximize potential in a short amount of time. There really is no secret sauce to the Cardinals pitching development system. It’s a combination of diverse scouting and a willingness to try to new things like having your rookie starting pitcher close out big games.
And even bigger games.
Again, it’s also really helps to have Yadier Molina behind the plate.