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UCB Feb. 14 Cardinal Roundtable

Posted Wednesday, February 15, 2012, at 7:26 AM

As many of you likely do not know, Balls & Strikes (my twice weekly column and blog) is now a part of a large community of Cardinal bloggers known as the United Cardinal Bloggers (UCB). This network is made up of quite a few good quality Cardinals news sites that offer great analysis and sometimes up to the minute news.

Each month the organization does a project. In January we named our top 5 iconic Cardinal moments. This month we are doing a roundtable discussion via GoogleGroups. Each day a blogger poses a question and throughout the day we all respond to it giving our take on the question. At the end of that day we post the transcript. Well, yesterday was my day so here is all of the information. I hope you enjoy the discussion. It is quite lengthy.


The 2012 Cardinals are going to look quite different than the 2011 team. Following the losses of Tony LaRussa, Dave Duncan and Albert Pujols, the Cardinals have spent the entire re-shaping the club that once pivoted around those three iconic figures. Each contributed in their own way, but all were vital factors in the team's success for more than a decade. So, which loss of the three do you feel will be the most difficult for the Cardinals to overcome?

Corey Noles of Balls & Strikes - My personal opinion, if asked in October, would have been Albert. However, after seeing how Tony managed through the last month of the season and the Playoffs, I really think it's him if for no reason other than we don't know yet how his replacement will do. The level of experience and knowledge that Tony brought to the game is almost unparalleled today. While I regularly questioned his decisions, I also have a great respect for him because I know whatever the move, he has confidence that it's the right one. If it wasn't, Tony would own up to it. I respect that. Lots of people in baseball won't do that. I think Matheny has the potential to be very good, but with nothing to base that on other than his understanding of the game, I don't want to just toss a guess out there.

I think the team has done a good job of replacing a significant portion of Albert's offense, which had to be done. Had they not, he would hands down have had my vote in this question. In terms of Duncan, If there was ever a time for him to move on, I think this was it. Start fresh with a clean slate. It takes some pressure off Matheny because it's hard to blame everything on him with this kind of turnaround. Also, we have a lot of young pitchers in the farm system you'll be seeing in the coming years and that has never been his specialty. Bring in a tired veteran and he'll pull three amazing years out of him, but the kid arms have never been his strongest suit.

Daniel Solzman of Redbird Rants - Pujols. Hands down. Duncan may have stepped away but he told the pitching staff to feel free to call them. Matheny knows the Cardinals system and he'll be able to get in touch with Herzog and the Hall of Famers if need be. Not to mention Duncan.

Ray DeRousse of stlcardinalsbaseball.com - Call me crazy, but I'm not going to miss Pujols on the team at all. There might be an adjustment period as the lineup reconfigures into something less Pujols-centric, but we have some excellent hitters. They'll be fine.

I keep wondering how well this team will do without terrific role players/clubhouse guys like Laird, Rhodes, Punto, and Dotel. They kept everybody loose and happy while filling in admirably. I think those might be bigger hits to this team than we currently imagine.

Rodney Knuppel of saintlouissports.com - I'm going to go with LaRussa. As maddening as he was, I feel like he was much of the reason for our run last year. He always knew how to get the best out of his team's. Not saying Matheny will not know how to do so, but LaRussa is a future hall of fame manager for a reason.

Daniel Shoptaw of C70 at the Bat - Pujols was the only one with a direct impact on the outcomes of games, so I'll go with him. While all will be missed in their own ways, it's going to be interesting to see a team with no one feared hitter. Everyone avoided the third spot in the lineup at all costs, which likely had a ripple effect in how other batters were pitched. Will that happen with Matt Holliday in that slot instead? While Holliday is very good and can hurt pitchers regularly, I'm not sure he affects a whole game plan like Pujols did.

Mark Tomasik of Retro Simba - The loss of Albert Pujols will be the most difficult to overcome. He averaged 42 home runs, 126 RBI, 197 hits and 123 runs scored a season during his 11 years with the Cardinals. Those numbers aren't automatic for Pujols this year, but he has been a consistent run producer at an elite level and the Cardinals can't be expected to replace that this year. The Cardinals are faced with having to find other ways to be successful - and what those ways are will be an intriguing test.

Chris Carelli of Redbird Rants- I'll say Duncan. The Cards are going to go through a change in run production with Pujols gone, no doubt. But they have enough in place to compensate for some of the loss. A loss in run production is going to put a strain on the pitching staff. It is a staff which has its own

question marks in health (Wainwright) and abilities (Westbrook). While

these are veteran players, I imagine it was nice to have Duncan there

in person to lean on. It's great he is going to be available for calls

etc. but the presence makes a difference. His eye and immediate

response to an issue can not be overlooked. Lilliquist was the right

choice to replace Duncan. But, if Wainwright goes down or anyone else

for that matter, do we know if Lilliquist can create a formible

pitcher out of what's in the system or signed off the scrap heap?

Duncan could.

Tom Knuppel of cardinalsgm.com - I am calling LaRussa. HOF managers are difficult to replace and I believe they do make the difference between winning and losing.

Chris Mallonee of Birds on the Bat 82 -I agree with Ray regarding Pujols. Even though all the scribes that cover the team claim he wasn't a clubhouse cancer, I can't help but imagine a much looser team this year. So much hinged on "Albertageddon" that it cast a cloud over the last two seasons. 2012 Pujols will still be very good, but swinging at a lot more pitches outside the zone and walking less/hitting into more double plays reduced some of the protection he afforded the other guys in the middle of the lineup. 2009-2011 Pujols wasn't as feared as 2001-2008 Pujols was. Our 2-6 spots in the lineup will still cause opposing pitching coaches to lose sleep.

As for Duncan/LaRussa, it's hard to say. Who would U2 have a harder time replacing, Bono or the Edge? Both are the absolute best at what they do and rely on each other a ton. And the success of Lilliquist/Matheny will be directly tied to the foundation they laid the last 16 years. Because there is no clear cut obvious choice, I'll go with LaRussa. He was the master of getting the most production out of the most guys, and handling the 162 game grind.

Bob Netherton of On the Outside Corner - I think Ray called this one pretty spot on. While no one individual can replace the contributions of Albert Pujols, the team has enough talent and looks to be a bit more balanced than in previous years - they will be fine.

While we won't see his grim expressions going over the spray charts of the opposing players, I get the feeling that the influence of Dave Duncan will still be strong. Derek Lilliquist did fine in Duncan's absence last September, and will again in 2012.

The person who we will miss the most is Tony La Russa, and in many ways. While his micromanagement drove fans nuts at times, I cannot recall many games when he was out managed, certainly in the NL Central. The pace of the game, the ebb and flow of the regular season, dealing with players personalities and injuries, adapting to the other team - baseball is a complex game. It doesn't matter how smart Mike Matheny is, he doesn't have La Russa's experience, and that will show for the next year, maybe two or three. Playing and commenting on the game is much different from having to be "the guy that makes the decisions".

A more subtle area that we will miss is La Russa's ability to control the discussions. Whether it is taking the focus off his players and redirecting it to him, or the brightness of the advertising light strip when the team is at bat, these are subtle things that most managers don't do. The greatest of these was La Russa's weekly call in show, when faced real fans (carefully screened), not paid writers with an agenda.

We will miss Tony. Hopefully, not for long, but we will miss him.

Dathan Brooks of stlcardinalbaseball.com - I'm going with TLR. No one impacted the game play-by-play, inning-by-inning, and series-by-series more than him. Sometimes it worked out, sometimes not, but twice it brought the commissioner's trophy to St. Louis, so I'll take it. LaRussa's my pick.

Tara Wellman of Aaron Miles' Fastball - This is tough, because these losses impact the club in such dramatically different ways. With Albert, it's the day-to-day production. With Tony, it's the overreaching, mad-hatter, "organized chaos" of the game plan. And Dave, well, he had an unparalleled calm that made pitchers better than they thought they could be.

I guess I'm going to answer this two different ways.

For the immediate future, probably Pujols. Do I think the loss will be damaging or that it will render the rest of the lineup useless? Absolutely not. But there is no simple way around filling in those shoes.

However, long term, it will be Tony La Russa. Let me back that up by saying, I fully support Mike Matheny and am excited about the changes he'll bring. But, just like there's no easy way around Pujols, there's no easy way around TLR's shadow. His presence will likely be felt in St Louis for a LONG time, no matter how good Matheny proves to be. This are, without a doubt, going to be different. And while that isn't necessarily bad, it will be a while before we're used to the new way.

Kevin Reynolds of Cards 'n Stuff - My initial reaction is TLR, simply because I believe he, more than anyone, defined the modern day identity, direction, and edge of this club. But I think I'm going to settle on Pujols. You don't lose perhaps the greatest right-handed hitter of the century and not notice it...a lot. From just about any angle you want to take - marketing, production, competitiveness, etc. - he was this team. Now, all of that must be re-imagined.

Christine Coleman of Aaron Miles' Fastball - I too am going to say La Russa -- and will add in pitch-by-pitch to what

Dathan said about no one impacting the game play-by-play, inning-by-inning and series-by-series more than him. His influence was undeniable, whether you liked him as Cards manager or not, and so was his success. Which isn't to say that La Russa is irreplaceable -- no one is -- but his loss is going to be felt the most in all those little things, those little micromanaging details that drove all his detractors crazy yet more often than not turned out to be the right moves. Matheny, as well liked and respected as he is, is still going to be learning on the job in a position that was held by a future Hall of Famer for a very long time.

With all that said, Chris Mallonee had an excellent question: who would U2 have a harder time replacing, Bono or The Edge? Just when I think I can say one, I come up with a reason why it would be the other ... Who defines their sound more?

In my opinion this is really a multi-pronged question, but if we're meant to answer purely in terms of on-field performance and helping the team to achieve more wins than other teams, it's Pujols and it's not really close.

Nick of Pitchers Hit Eighth - Quantifying it is a challenge, but depending on which numbers you're willing to believe, I did some digging around when voting for the 2009 NL MOY for the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and found a study by The Hardball Times (read: folks much smarter than I) that indicated the range of wins that a manager added or lost in a season was +2.29 to -1.88. So the best manager in a season adds 2.29 wins. Albert Pujols just finished his worst season to-date in 2011, and contributed 5.1 fWAR. His impact was more than twice the impact of the best manager possible. If a manager can only muster 2.29 wins, the pitching coach isn't even sniffing either one.

For me, it's not about resentment or wishing Pujols was still around or any emotional feelings, it's just that he is likely still the best hitter in baseball, and even if he's only top ten, that's still worth more than any manager.

Yes, the Cardinals have tried to compensate for those wins by signing other players, bolstering other weaknesses - and they've done a heck of a job. But again, look at it a different way - now the Cards have to worry about three players staying healthy instead of one in order to come up with the same production.

I still think that long-term, letting Pujols walk was the right decision for the club - and I'm not angry at Pujols for taking the best deal. But the Cards will miss his production the most.

Frankly, I think how Dan Kantrovitz follows up Jeff Luhnow's departure may have more impact on the organization than Matheny/Lilliquist after TLR/Duncan...

J.E. Powell of STL:Fear the Red - Pujols. Even in, statistically, his worst year Pujols put up a line of .299/37/99. Those are numbers that many other players would love for their BEST year. No, one players doesn't make a team, but even on off nights, pitchers were still hesitant with him because he would make them pay if they made a mistake.

I think the team will still do fine, but having Pujols really changes the complexion of the line-up and of the three mentioned, with all due respect to TLR and Dave D, I think Pujols is the biggest loss.

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Corey Noles, staff writer for The Daily Statesman and Editor of The North Stoddard Countian, is the author of a regular baseball/St. Louis Cardinals column and also uses his blog to sound off on various happenings in sports. He also operates a weekly baseball mailbag column.

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