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St. Louis Cardinals: The case against Mike Matheny

No person divides Cardinal Nation more than the skipper, Mike Matheny. Whether its double-switching Matt Holiday out of the game, or using Kevin Siegrist in every game for  two consecutive weeks (this hasn’t happened… yet), there have been some inexplicable moves made during Mike’s tenure.

On the other hand, Matheny is the only Cardinal manager to make the playoffs four consecutive years. LaRussa never did it. Nor did Herzog.

What are the reasons for the dislike of no. 22? I think there are three.

Managing for stats

There is no disputing that, at times, Matheny’s priority is to put his players in position to accrue stats. He spoke openly with St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Derrick Goold last April about the reality. I can think of nothing more frustrating for fans than the manager putting individual players’ earning power ahead of winning games.

In the article, Matheny talks candidly about managing specifically for saves. It is not outside the realm of possibility that this philosophy reaches other players. It’s likely that, when faced with the decision to remove a struggling starting pitcher with the bases loaded and two outs in the fourth, Matheny elects to stay with the starter because of his desire for the pitcher to get a win.

Precisely this scenario played out in Game 3 of the 2015 NLDS. Michael Wacha matched up against Jake Arrieta of the Cubs. Wacha struggled down the stretch in 2015, posting an ERA over 7 in August. Over the first three innings, Wacha allowed only one run. The Cardinals took the lead in the top of the fourth, and Cardinals fans everywhere – but especially on Twitter – knew Wacha should be done.

He came out for the fourth, and gave up a single run to tie the game at two. Matheny, mercilessly, sent him out for the fifth, in which he gave up two more runs. The Cardinals scored six runs on the road, against the Cy Young Award winner. And yet they lost, in part because of Matheny’s inability to put the team ahead of the individual.

Contrasted with TLR’s quick hook of Jaime Garcia in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, Matheny’s error stands out.

Players make a lot of money, which they deserve. But, Cardinals fans come to see the team, not individual players.  I don’t remember a noticeable drop in attendance after Pujols left.

Bullpen (mis)management

No manager in Major League Baseball get off scot free when it comes to managing the ‘pen. It is undoubtedly the most difficult task of any manager, and the easiest to second guess.

According to Grantland, Matheny is in a class all his own. He was dead last in managing a bullpen effectively over the first four years of his career, and was 19.7 percentage points behind the second worst, John Gibbons.

The most obvious example also involves Michael Wacha. Wacha barely pitched down the stretch in 2014, and disappeared once the playoffs began (a la Shelby Miller, circa 2013). Alas, in the most important inning of the season, with the Cardinals facing elimination in Game 5 of NLCS, Matheny called not on Trevor Rosenthal or Carlos Martinez, but Wacha.

We all saw it coming.

Pablo Sandoval singled. Brandon Belt walked. Then, Travis Ishikawa homered, ending the Cardinals season.

The decision to bring in Wacha was terrible. An egregious mistake by any manager, let alone one in his third postseason.

And not altogether out of character for the Cardinals’ skipper.

Mike’s guys

Perhaps the most inexplicable is the inability for Matheny to play the best players consistently. Instead, he trots out “his guys” day in and day out, regardless of production. Members of Club Matheny, chaired by Jon Jay, consists of, but is not limited to: Daniel Descalso, Pete Kozma, Seth Maness, Tony Cruz, and Allen Craig.

After playing well in September 2012, Pete Kozma made 448 plate appearances while batting .217. While that could be chalked up to a lack of organizational depth at shortstop, Allen Craig made 398 plate appearances while batting .237 in 2014. Mozeliak made the right call, and took the decision out of Matheny’s hands by trading Craig to Boston. This occurred while Oscar Taveras (😢) and Randal Grichuk were options.

It’s possible that all managers make similar mistakes in bunches. After all, the Cardinals are the only team I follow daily, and the mistakes stick out. I think there is a valid case to be made that Mike Matheny should no longer be the manager. I also think there is a case to be made that he should be the manger, which will be the subject of my next article.

Thanks for reading, and feedback in the comments or on twitter is always appreciated!
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Colin Garner
Colin is a catcher at Drury University who's a big fan of pitch calling, bullpenning, and Game of Thrones. Gets very frustrated with nonsense from people around him while attending games.
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