Mike Matheny’s performance as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals has been a very highly debated topic over his five-year tenure. However, I think most people can agree that his in-game strategy is his most glaring weakness. I couldn’t even count the amount of times that my Twitter feed went nuts about a pitching change, or a double switch this past season.
There is one particular decision of Matheny’s that I haven’t been able to forget about.
It was May 29th in a game against the Nationals in Washington D.C. I was watching the game at a Memorial Day barbecue with my family. The Cardinals are losing 3-2 going into the bottom of the seventh. Matheny brings in Jonathan Broxton to start the inning. He immediately gives up a home run to Anthony Rendon to make it a 4-2 ballgame followed by two singles and a strikeout.
Matheny decides to make a pitching change and bring in the lefty Dean Kiekhefer with one out and two runners on. The next four batters are left-handed, so this makes some sense. The pitcher, Felipe Rivero is due up second though, so he is likely to be pinch hit for.
Kiekhefer walks the first batter to load the bases and bring up the pitchers spot. This is where it gets interesting. The Nationals send Jayson Werth to the plate.
I remember saying to my brother that Matheny absolutely could not leave Kiekhefer in against Werth. I didn’t know any specific numbers off the top of my head, but I knew that Werth kills lefties and Kiekhefer has always been bad against righties. Matheny left him in anyway.
You could just feel it; there was no way this game wasn’t going to be put out of the Cardinals reach with this at-bat.
Werth crushes the second pitch of the at-bat to deep center field for a grand slam. The game is now 8-2. It’s essentially over.
Jayson Werth has a career slash line of .295/.394/.541 with a 148 wRC+ against left-handed pitchers. To put that in perspective, newly inducted Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell slashed .297/.408/.540 with a 149 wRC+ in his career.
Right handed batters had a slash line of .326/.404/.489 against Dean Kiekhefer in 2016. Those numbers are not good enough to keep a pitcher in the majors. Getting left-handed batters out was Kiekhefer’s purpose on the team. Not to face good right-handed hitters with the bases loaded in a close game.
To sum this up, Matheny put Kiekhefer in a position where he would be expected to perform very poorly and put Werth in a position where he would be expected to perform like a Hall of Famer. All of this happening with a close game on the line.
When it comes down to it, the only way that we as fans can evaluate a manager is by whether he puts his players in a position to succeed or not. This is just one example in which Matheny did the complete opposite.
Thanks for reading!