St. Louis Cardinals

As Cardinals extend management contracts, other hires signal an emphasis on analytics

The Cardinals held their annual end of season press conference on Tuesday afternoon at Busch Stadium and announced a bevy of personnel moves. The front office faces which appear most frequently on television will be sticking around a while, but many of those behind the scenes will have new responsibilities and be joined by a collection of new colleagues.

It’s a little like moving from a hybrid engine to a purely electric model.

President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak was extended through the 2023 season, while General Manager Michael Girsch and Manager Mike Shildt were each inked through 2022.

The club also announced six promotions within its “baseball development” (read: analytics) group to pair with several new hires which have not yet been announced but which were publicly sought earlier this fall.

“We continue to have more confidence in how we think about our decision making and what that team looks like, and that’s our responsibility,” Mozeliak said. “Our baseball development group, all of these in terms of our leadership and what we’re trying to do has been a welcome change in our group.”

To Cardinals Chairman Bill DeWitt Jr., a proactive investment in the ever-expanding crush of statistical data is as sound a business strategy as it is a baseball one.

“We continue to improve in the analytics department, and we’ve stressed that through the years,” Cardinals Chairman Bill DeWitt, Jr. said. “There’s constant upgrading and change. So where the leadership has been stable, the organization has been stable as well. But there is change. We always bring in smart, young, new talent and I feel like we continue to be pretty cutting edge in analytics and how we operate the business.”

The amount of data “overwhelms,” says Girsch, which has ushered in an era of baseball management that requires entire teams of analysts to make sense of it all.

“When I started (in 2006) we did stuff on spreadsheets because you could, and now you can’t,” he said. “You need cloud-based databases to manage all the data. You need people to deal with the amount of information we have available to us just to have it organized and ready to go before you decide how to implement it and what to do with it.

“Part of this is just sort of building up and catching up to the amount of data that we have coming in.”

The conversation surrounding the Cardinals and the use of analytics is inextricably linked to hitting coach Jeff Albert, whose offense struggled in his first season at the helm. Albert was hired away from the Houston Astros, known for being on the cutting edge of modern technology and data usage, and was tasked with implementing a program at all levels of the St. Louis organization.

Assistant hitting coach Mark Budaska was replaced by Jobel Jimenez in August in a sign of the front office’s commitment to Albert, and Russ Steinhorn was hired last month to replace George Greer as hitting coordinator. Steinhorn, himself a former Astros employee, enthusiastically promoted the baseball development job openings on Twitter at the time they were open, suggesting another link between the numbers and the bats.

“One of the key things I want to remind everybody about when we hired Jeff Albert is having an overarching strategy throughout our system,” Mozeliak said, “and I still think he’ll be very much a part of that.

“He’s someone that understands modern technology, he understands modern analytics, and he understands how to bake that into his teaching strategy. I’m not saying that everybody will hear what he has to say, and I think part of what he has to do is adjust in his messaging, but I think the way he looks at the world is in a lot of ways what we wanted to see happen as we move forward. He puts a lot of tools in the toolbox for young hitters, and he’s going to figure out which ones to pull.”

Mozeliak said he did not envision a major change in the working relationship between the major league coaching staff and the baseball development group – “all they have to do is pick up the phone or send an email and we’ll respond” – but acknowledged the group’s importance as a “resource” for the staff.

That importance will be magnified in the coming year, given that the Cardinals have substantial payroll commitments which they have indicated may preclude their involvement in any major player additions this offseason.

Outfielder Marcell Ozuna was tendered a qualifying offer one of one year and $17.8 million but is unlikely to accept it as he seeks a multi-year contract. That commitment seems unlikely to come from the Cardinals, as Mozeliak said Tuesday that he “(doesn’t) know what that looks like.”

By providing a qualifying offer, the Cardinals will receive draft pick compensation should Ozuna sign with another team before next year’s amateur draft.

DeWitt emphasized that the 2019 Cardinals had the sixth-highest payroll and 11th-highest revenues in Major League Baseball. He anticipates payroll remaining in the same range, which leaves the team searching internally for improvements. That search was framed on Tuesday as an opportunity for players such as Dylan Carlson, Tommy Edman, and Lane Thomas, but it also means that the analytic overhaul is being seen as a prime method for keeping up with the competition.

“I still have a lot of confidence in our baseball development group and always have,” Mozeliak said. “I think now as you look at what our competition’s doing, it’s always hard to gauge exactly what that looks like. We really felt that modernizing the group and giving the group the type of support it needed to just further have growth.

“It wasn’t as though we thought we were broken and needed to be fixed. We just thought we were good and wanted to get better.”