Dave Duncan Finds His Limit

Dave Duncan is a tremendous pitching coach. He’s taken on countless reclamation projects and has somehow turned the scrap heap of the major leagues into legitimate, MLB quality pitchers. This season, Duncan received the ultimate test of his resurrection abilities when the Cardinals brought back Jeff Suppan, a member of the 2006 World Series team who won the NLCS MVP that season and has done nothing else of note whatsoever over the course of his entire career. Suppan was finally released of the worst contract in Milwaukee Brewers history in early July after posting a 4.89 FIP and 5.06 xFIP – numbers that are bad, but not jettison worthy, until you consider that they came in 13 relief appearances against only two starts. Basically, Suppan was the definition of replacement level in Milwaukee.

The Cardinals rotation has suffered injuries and had to deal with incompetence from the back-end all season, despite the stupendous trio of Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, and Jaime Garcia at the front. I was sure that Jeff Suppan’s career was over after the Brewers mercifully released him, but the Cardinals decided to bring their former player back into the organization and give him a shot as the #5 starter.

If Dave Duncan had some sort of voodoo magic surrounding him, Jeff Suppan might be pitching well, or at least above replacement level. Instead, it appears that 35 year old, no stuff, no control pitchers are Duncan’s limit. Suppan made his 7th start of the season against the Cubs this afternoon. He entered the start with 13 strikeouts, 12 walks, and four home runs allowed in 30 innings – yet again, essentially defining replacement level. Against the Cubs, Suppan threw six innings, allowing 10 hits, three home runs, three walks, and striking out nobody. Somehow, the Cubs only scored five runs off of this barrage, but that was more than enough, as Randy Wells shut down the Cardinals lineup.

This isn’t meant as a slam against Dave Duncan at all – nobody with any sort of rational expectations for Suppan would’ve expected anything significantly above replacement level, and this terrible performance today should push Suppan’s WAR with St. Louis well into the red. If anything, seeing Suppan continue to perform terribly is a relief. As a fan of an NL Central team, it’s painful for me to see a pitcher sign with St. Louis, knowing that Duncan could turn them into this year’s version of 2009 Joel Piniero. At least this gives me the comfort of mind to know that Dave Duncan can’t fix everybody.

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He is the reason why I believe the Cardinals do not need a Dan Haren or Roy Oswalt this trade deadline. The Cardinals can spend pennies compared to Dan Haren and Roy Oswalt to get a guy like Fausto Carmona. His deadly sinker (what used to be) would be a perfect reclamation for Duncan. Carmona has had the sinker before, and is still young enough, to become a very solid #3 pitcher for the Cardinals (even though he would be a #4). If Duncan could figure out the sinker and give him his expert analysis, I think this is a realistic expectation.

Duncan saves millions for the Cardinals. The Cardinals have the luxury of not paying for “aces” on the trade market and free agent market because of Dunc. Take advantage of him while you still can. Oswalt and Haren are not needed, use that money on Pujols.