Thursday, October 29, 2009

UCB Roundtable - Question for 10/28/09

Well, here is my question for the year-end roundtable. I jumped on recent news and asked:

Is hiring Mark McGwire as the new hitting coach the right move for the organization?

Here are the responses I received, starting with our very own John:

All the PED stuff aside, this seems like a great move. Big Mac is 11th all time in OPS. If that's not enough to make you a great candidate for a hitting coach, I don't know what is. Whether he's able to translate that into a good coach is another story. There are some hurdles: he's a lefty and he's got a bit of an unorthodox swing. However, as Trey pointed out, he's tight with some of the players and TLR. I also like hiring Cardinals.

Yet, taking the PED brouhaha into consideration it just leaves a slightly unpleasant aftertaste. I just don't know what I think of bringing on someone who not only used by repeatedly lied about his use. Perhaps a way to justify it is simply point to the pervasive use of it, and say, "we're trying to move on." I don't know. It seems oddly similar to when there was lots of talk about bringing Bonds on board. Sure, on paper it looks like a great move, but will it cost us our soul?

-CJ (The Cardinal Virtue)

Daniel, from c70 at the bat added:

I don't know that I'd say I like the move, but I at least understand it and think it's a fine move to make.

I do think one of the side benefits to this is that it is going to make McGwire talk about his past, as it were. I know that Mike and Nick disagreed with me last night on the radio show, but I don't think McGwire takes himself out of the shadows and puts himself into the spotlight unless he's ready to deal with the issue.

It's not going to go away. Unless he gives a definitive statement and answers questions, it's going to follow him all year long. If he does do that, then he can more legitimately say, "Guys, I've answered that and I'm not talking about it again."

If he wants to be an effective hitting coach and not just a sideshow, he's got to get past the issue, at least for reasonable people.

As an actual coach, I'm interested to see what he can bring to the table. I know Schumaker's done wonders from working with him, but you also have some that still struggled after his instruction. We'll see what he can do with full-time access to players.

Jay Tierney, from Inside Pulse had this to say:

I've thought of a few things about this:
A. It's a way to try to lure Holliday back. I've heard he's close with McGwire, so what better way to get the top free agent hitter back than hiring him as a coach.
B. LaRussa is trying to get McGwire back in the spot light to clean up his image. Tony firmly believes that he'll be worth the media circus and this may help get Big Mac in the HOF. If it works, it'll also solidify LaRussa's resume. If it doesn't, it's written off as another stunt that LaRussa attempted (a la hitting the pitcher 8th, his funky rotation antics in Oakland, etc).
McRae was gone, there was no doubt about that. Like any hiring, there are good points and bad points: McGwire has worked well with hitters in the off-season (Skip being the best example), but he's also not helped some too (Chris Duncan anyone?). Yes, his OPS is high, but his batting average was only .263.
If McGwire can make it through all the questions, I think it'll be a good risk to see what he can do as the hitting coach.

Michael Reihn, from Whiteyball, finished the discussion with these words:

Mark McGwire is proven to be one of the top hitting coaches on the market. Should the Cardinals hire him? Will there be a fan backlash?

McGwire must address the PED issues from the onset in order to lessen the media scrutiny he will face. Many star players have moved past the issue to where it is a footnote (instead of the main byline) to their career. This is important to his image, his hall of fame chances and (less importantly) my opinion of him. Without addressing the issue, he could easily become a distraction to the team and a target for negative media. If he puts everything behind him, he could be a major coup for this team.

The Cardinals aren’t the first team to try to hire McGwire as a hitting coach and he isn’t some novelty act. He has a proven history of helping players become better hitters and could bring a lot to a team. His credentials are numerous and intriguing. Yes, he was a hall of fame caliber hitter, but a great hitter does not always translate into a great hitting coach (Ted Williams, for example). When people site his career as why he will/or won’t be a good hitting coach they are (respectfully) missing the point.

From what I gather, he brings many admirable qualities to the position. He supposedly has an eye for video and how it translates to each hitter, a varied approach to driving the ball (home run hitters and singles hitters), plate discipline teachings and a respect (from players) that may even be greater than Tony La Russa. You won’t see hitters tuning him out like they did McRae last year.

The fan backlash is overstated by the media (and bloggers). If you read the comment sections on the post dispatch, you would think that McGwire is going to have a rough time with the fans. What is amazing to me is how unrepresentative this form of media is to the masses. Most of the people that comment are the people that feel strongly against him being on the team. The Post Dispatch ran a poll online and found over 80% of the people were in favor of the move.

McGwire’s “celebrity” has its disadvantages, but there is a positive side. He has an added value of taking pressure off of Pujols. For the first time in many years, Albert will not be the main focus of sportswriters during spring training. This can only help our best hitter and make it easier for him to prepare.

The Cardinals are taking a chance on Big Mac, but winning is the main objective. He may have the ability to help them do this. After their first round flameout from last year, what do they have to lose?


Michael Riehn

My own thoughts? I think it all comes down to team performance. Unless Big Mac comes completely clean before the season starts, he is going to be a distraction, but there is a very good chance he could improve our hitters. I big criticism of McRae was that he preached a free-swinging style. The Cards have been among the worst in the majors at drawing walks the last few years, especially if you take Albert out of the equation. Another area I see a need for improvement is hitting with runners in scoring position. If we improve under these two areas with McGwire, we'll win more games, and whatever distractions there are will be worth it. Maybe it's morally corrupt of me to think of it in such a bottom-line way, but that's the way I view baseball. Anyway, I appreciate everyone who participated. There is only a couple of more days left in the roundtable, so I hope everyone checks them out! Till next season......


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