ST. LOUIS (Baseball StL) -- It’s been well documented of late how Cards manager Mike Matheny’s unwavering loyalty towards Mitchell Boggs cost the team a victory in the wee hours Friday morning to the Royals. It’s been well documented how much Boggs has struggled this season (doesn’t a 11.05 ERA tell enough of the story?) after having a sensation 2012 as Jason Motte’s setup guy.
I won’t sit here and rehash all of that. It will do no good and fans are - quite understandably - furious at Matheny for putting Boggs into a situation where the Cards were simply three outs away from clinching rookie Michael Wacha’s first victory.
What I will do is try and explain why - beyond the simple “well because Boggs is terrible, that’s why!!! - last night’s decision makes little to no sense. Look, being a manager in Major League baseball is hard. No matter what you do, you’re second guessed for everything. If you make a move that works, the credit is given to the player. If you make a move that doesn’t work out, the blame goes to the manager for putting the team in that situation.
That’s why you can’t just blindly rip someone for making a move that - if it did work out - you would have been praising him for. What you need to do is go through that situation again and justify why another decision should have been made WITHOUT using the end result as your argument. Saying Matheny shouldn’t have gone with Boggs because Boggs ended up losing the game for them is a juvenile argument.
So, having said that, my feeling on the matter is simple. Last night after eight innings the Redbirds found themselves in a true save situation. What’s a true save situation you ask? Well, a save is defined in baseball as getting the final out(s) while preserving a lead of three runs or less. Should the lead be four runs, it’s not a save.
You can’t sit here and tell me there’s a difference between a closer coming in with a three run lead and a one run lead. You just cannot. If someone enters with their team up three and they give up two runs, the team might win. The pitcher might get the save. But that was not a good outing for them. With a three run lead you have significant room for error. With a one run lead you have none.
That’s why last night when the Cards led 2-1 in the ninth that was a true save chance. And when situations like that come up it is the duty of the manager to go with the pitcher he trusts the most out of the bullpen. In this case, Edward Mujica. Well, Mujica wasn’t available because he’d thrown four days in a row. So then your go down the list to the next most trusted pitcher you’ve got. Trevor Rosenthal. He also wasn’t available because of recent heavy use. That’s fine. Protecting a pitcher’s arm is paramount to a team’s long term success.
Since Randy Choate had already pitched in the eighth he was out of the equation as well.
Of the arms left in the bullpen, you had Seth Maness (who finished off the eighth for Choate but could easily have gone back out there in the ninth), Joe Kelly, Victor Marte and, of course, Boggs.
Marte hasn’t been here and hasn’t built up enough equity to gain the trust required for such an assignment. So he’s out. Kelly’s got electric stuff, we all know this. But his shaky season in ‘13 (6.75 ERA, .363 opponents batting average) has moved him to a much less pressurized role.
How in the world did Mike Matheny come to the conclusion then to go with - and therefore place more trust in - Boggs than Seth Maness? Folks, Maness has given up just three earned runs in 12 and a third innings this season since getting promoted from Memphis. He’s shown an ability on multiple occasions to get clutch outs with runners on base. He’s got terrific control and, most importantly, he’s confident in himself on the mound. Boggs is not. Well, I’m not a psychiatrist so I can’t claim to know what he’s thinking but there is no way someone with an ERA north of 11 can possibly be confident in their abilities.
A true save situation - protecting a one run lead in the ninth - requires stuff and confidence. Maness is by far and away the next best choice after Mujica and Rosenthal right now.
As for the argument that Maness is just a rookie and it’s not fair to put him in that role, please. This whole season’s theme has been about using rookies in big spots. Heck, 60% of the current starting rotation is comprised of rookies.
This is why Matheny made the wrong move last night. Not because Boggs blew it. But because there was another guy - in the game already - who should be trusted more in tight spots.