On Wednesday, I laid out the case against the Cardinals manager, Mike Matheny. Today, I am putting the shoe on the other foot, and analyzing the positives of Mike Matheny.
Writers across the web have catalogued the Cardinal’s success since Matheny was hired. However, it hasn’t been compared to the success of other managers. Among managers with at least as many years in the STL dugout as Matheny, only three have a higher winning percentage than Matheny’s .569: Charlie Comiskey, Billy Southworth, and Eddie Dyer. Not LaRussa. Not Herzog.
Charlie Comiskey (who would later become the owner of the Chicago White Sox) managed the team form 1883-1891, and posted a .673 W%. That’s not really a fair comparison to Mike, considering the World Series was twelve years at the end of Comiskey’s tenure, and Rogers Hornsby, Ty Cobb, and Tris Speaker had yet to be born.
Eddie Dyer managed from 1946 to 1950. The former pitcher led the 1946 Cardinals to 98 wins and a World Series Title. However, he only won 90 games once more, in 1949, when the Cardinals were narrowly bested by Jackie Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers for the NL pennant.
Billy Southworth preceded Dyer as Cardinals skipper. He managed from 1940-1945, and won two World Series titles and another NL pennant in six years. Three all-time great Cardinals in terms of WAR played for him, and WWII diluted the league somewhat. He finished with a W% of .642.
While Matheny benefits in terms of playoff appearances from the Wild Card era, winning percentage is simple way to compare success. Both Dyer and Southworth managed three players in the Cardinals’ top 20 by WAR, including the best of all-time, Stan Musial. Matheny on the other hand, has managed just one top 20 Cardinal, Adam Wainwright.
A new manager for a new era
Mike Matheny’s leadership style is different from that of Tony LaRussa, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. LaRussa cut his teeth as a manager during an era when the most important job of a manager was tactics. LaRussa himself acknowledged that the game was changing. In 3 Nights in August, TLR discussed the changing jobs of managers. Instead of knowing when to hit and run, the most important job of managers today is motivating players.
Matheny does this extraordinarily well. In fact, its what he’s best at.
At the deadline in 2014, the trade of Allen Craig shook up the clubhouse. Matheny preached that the team was a family, and Craig was a beloved member. Seeing him traded seemed like a referendum on Matheny’s leadership.
The opposite could be true.
While Matheny’s leadership may not have worked well in that case, it is impossible to know how or when his style worked well. Pete Kozma playing out of his mind in the 2012 could be a case of Matheny instilling confidence. Fans will always be able to point out when Matheny errs, because they get reported and talked about endlessly. The positive effects of Matheny’s leadership often go unnoticed, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t happen.
So, while Matheny’s loyalty to Craig hurt in 2014, it could have given confidence to players and allowed them to succeed. That is something that fans would never notice. Nevertheless, it is a vital aspect of the team.
Matheny was hired, in part, because he shared the same vision as DeWitt and Mozeliak. As I outlined a couple weeks ago, Mozeliak and his team decided to prioritize player development. While Tony LaRussa is one of the all-time great managers, player development wasn’t exactly his forte. The three top prospects during the TLR era were Rick Ankiel, J.D. Drew, and Colby Rasmus.
All of them underachieved. Ankiel lost it in the playoffs, J.D. Drew never lived up to the hype (although he was traded for Adam Wainwright), and Colby Rasmus was traded after a disappointing three years. While it’s hard to find fault with TLR with regards to Drew, both Rasmus and Ankiel could have done better under a different manager. Rasmus’ dad voiced his problems with LaRussa, and LaRussa himself second guess his decision to start Ankiel in Game 1 of the 2000 NLDS.
I’m not trying to criticize LaRussa. He is probably the greatest manager of the modern era. However, there’s no perfect manager, and the new direction of the organization required new leadership.
Matheny’s leadership skills translate especially well to younger players. He navigated the Cardinals to the 2013 World Series with a bullpen that consisted of rookies Kevin Siegrist, Carlos Martinez, and Trevor Rosenthal. Not to mention Michael Wacha, a rookie at the time, who out-dueled Clayton Kershaw twice in the NLCS.
Speaking of Carlos Martinez, Matheny’s handling of him over the last two seasons has been masterful. He has successfully taken an emotional, fireballing reliever into a dependable starter.
Matheny has suffered in comparison to Bruce Bochy. However, while with San Diego, Bochy struggled in the postseason, much as Matheny has. The Padres let him go, and haven’t made the playoffs since. It would be very unfortunate if Mike was fired by the Cardinals and went on to become a great manger elsewhere.
Mike Matheny didn’t win a World Series in his first two years like Herzog, nor does his team have a distinctive style of play. He didn’t take the job with the resume of Tony LaRussa. The game is changing, and the job of a manager is as well. Four playoff appearances, three division titles, and a NL pennant cannot be overlooked. Overall, Matheny’s success is reason to retain him. However, if the standard of play continues to regress, as it did in 2016, it may be time to have a serious conversation about Matheny’s future.
Thanks for reading, and let me know what you think!