BaseballStL – Grading a manager is tricky business. Heaping praise on winners is common, but, as veteran coaches say, sometimes you bring the horses and sometimes the horses bring you, meaning sometimes managers succeed because of their guile and sometimes they are swept along by the talent they have.
Therefore, winning is only one metric.
The second is whether the manager got more out of his team than the talent would suggest. As former Houston Oiler football coach Bum Phillips said about a coaching colleague: “He can take his’n and beat yor’n and take yor’n and beaten his’n.” Somewhat colloquial, but you get the meaning.
So how do we assess the job Mike Matheny did this year? Certainly we can’t give him all the credit for vanquishing the Los Angeles Dodgers or all the blame for losing to the Giants. Pitching a rusty, sub-par Michael Wacha in the ninth inning of an elimination game was a very poor decision. Were we in Kansas City and not St. Louis, the media and fans would say we were “Yosted,” a reference to the many bone-headed moves by Royal skipper Ned Yost. (The Royals are, however, in the World Series. Please see the first paragraph.)
That one decision did not cost the Cardinals a chance to play in the World Series. They simply did not play well enough. From a lack of clutch hitting to occasional poor fielding, this was not a typical Cardinal run.
So, then, back to Matheny:
1). Showed unrelenting confidence in his team when a lesser man may have curled up and cried. Wacha and Jaime Garcia went down on the same day. Adam Wainwright struggled, Yadier Molina missed significant time and never returned to form, Kolten Wong and Carlos Martinez were sent back to the minors, Oscar Taveras was a bust (relative to the hype), Shelby Miller was exiled to the bullpen for a time and never, ever, did the Redbirds hit the way they were expected to for any duration. But he came to the park every day expecting to win. And so did the Cardinals.
2). Managed the revolving door of rookies and veterans, juggled multiple line-ups and egos, handled lofty expectations and kept the family together and focused. No public spats or feuds, the clubhouse was collegial and inclusive with little evidence of the caste system many clubs have.
3). The Cardinals won. Somehow, some way, they put together just enough to win the division and beat the Dodgers. In the end, it’s not about whether he was responsive to their emotional needs, but whether the team won. It did, even though it was admittedly hard to watch sometimes.
1). Neither he nor any of his staff was able to figure out a way to generate sustainable offense. The maddening lack of runs or even rallies put enormous pressure on the pitching staff and while they responded admirably, it must have taken years off their lives. The Cards were last in the National League in home runs, last in extra base hits but second in grounding into double plays. They finished 10th of 15 NL teams in offense, scoring just four more runs than the Diamondbacks, baseball’s worst team.
2). Game decisions were sometimes perplexing. The Wacha pitching decision is the most poignant, but there were others. Why did the Cardinals bunt so much to such little effect? They were bad at it and sometimes did it at odd times, like when they had 4-0 lead against Kansas City and bunted Matt Carpenter, one of the Redbirds who doesn’t hit into double plays. On very few plays did Matheny put runners in motion, and this wasn’t a team that could play station-to-station.
3). Overuse of Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright and Trevor Rosenthal. Catchers wear out quickly but even faster when they don’t get a day off. Molina caught way too many games in the past two years. Though Wainwright has thrown 665 innings in the three years since Tommy John surgery, Matheny moved up his start after almost every off day. At 33, he lost his sharpness and survived on cunning. But for how much longer? Rosenthal threw four days in a row a couple of times and by the end of the year, he was largely ineffective and at just the wrong time.
Okay, for what it’s worth, I give him a A- for the results, but a B- for his inability to get more out of what looked on paper like a very talented lineup.
Either the Cardinals’ offense underperformed or they are not as good as we thought.
Either one will be a problem in 2015.