My No. 4 Cardinals Concern for 2017: Mike Matheny’s Handling of Personnel

Not to be a grouch or anything, but I’ve written so much on this topic that I’m managing to bore myself … so with that in mind, I’ll try to keep this brief.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny certainly has attributes, and he’s won a lot of games since his pre-2012 hiring. In fact, the St. Louis has the most regular-season wins in MLB since the start of the ’12 season.

Mike Matheny has a 461-349 record in his five seasons as the Cardinals’ manager.

His career winning percentage as the Cards’ manager is the best (minimum five seasons) since Eddie Dyer (.578) held the job from 1946 through 1950.

Matheny didn’t exactly take over a rebuilding project; the 2011 Cardinals won the World Series. But he moved into the manager’s office at a time when Albert Pujols was about to move to Anaheim. And rotation ace Chris Carpenter, who pitched the 2011 team all the way to the victory parade, made only three regular-season starts in 2012 before retiring because of an injury.

For the most part Matheny has done a good job of guiding his teams through injuries and hard times.

For the most part he’s commanded the players’ attention and respect.

For the most part he’s represented the franchise in an admirable away, and is good for Bill DeWitt’s business.

But Matheny would do well for himself and the team if he could just evolve and do away with some bad habits and tendencies.

Now, the Matheny apologists would say something like: well, he’s won more games than anybody since 2012 … so what bad habits? It’s an interesting argument. I tend to be a bottom-line guy, but there are no absolutes here.

I’m going to drop a vague reference on you here, but please follow me along on this one…

My favorite race horse of all time was Spectacular Bid. “Bid” was ridden by a young jockey named Ron Franklin. Bid’s trainer, Bud Delp, was criticized for entrusting the inexperienced Franklin to handle this truly spectacular thoroughbred. Spectacular Bid won the 1979 Kentucky Derby with Franklin aboard. Bid carried Franklin to a triumph in the Preakness. But with this magnificent creature poised to win the Triple Crown, Franklin got overly aggressive in the backstretch, foolishly pushing Bid too hard, too soon in the exhausting Belmont. Though Delp tried to cover Franklin with an excuse — supposedly Bid had a safety pin stuck in his hoof during the race — no savvy person bought the story. The Belmont was lost by a huge tactical blunder that cost Spectacular Bid the Triple Crown.

The point: Winning doesn’t automatically mean that you are great. It’s a little more complex than that.

And the Cardinals prepare for 2017, they’re in a disturbing pattern of having the season end earlier and earlier.

In 2013, the Cards won the 2013 NL pennant and took Boston to six games before losing the World Series. They went down in three straight losses after leading the series 2-1 after the first three contests.

In 2014, the Cardinals advanced to the NLCS, were tied 1-1 with the Giants, then lost three in a row at San Francisco to get shoved out of the postseason.

In 2015 the 100-win Cardinals won the opener from the Chicago Cubs in the NLDS, then got punched into the offseason by getting hammered in three straight defeats.

In 2016, the Cardinals receded t0 86 wins and failed to make the postseason tournament.

You can make the case that the Cardinals are going in the wrong direction.

Some of that is on ownership and management and the cautious spending.

But my hope for Matheny is based on a few simple matters.

Ten quick thoughts:

1. Don’t play favorites when making playing-time and lineup decisions. Maximize your team’s chances of winning by basing decisions on merit rather than personal likes/dislikes.

2. Treat young players with more respect by being more consistent in communicating.

3. Terminate the double standards. You don’t bury a player like, say, Tommy Pham¬†after he has a couple of bad games when he could help your team during the month of September, with Brandon Moss drowning in one of the worst hitting slumps we’ve ever seen.

4. Respect the fact that all players are different. You can’t have a 25-man roster with 25 similar personalities and backgrounds. Carlos Martinez isn’t Adam Wainwright. Kolten Wong isn’t Matt Carpenter. Randal Grichuk isn’t Yadier Molina. This ain’t a cookie-cutter assembly line.

5. Don’t stick with a struggling starting pitcher and put a favorable outcome at risk just so you can get him a “Win” in the boxscore. The only thing that matters is getting an actual win for the team … a team that in 2016 missed making the playoffs by one game.

6. Don’t make decisions based on the desire to give your closer a chance to collect a save. Cheap saves mean nothing if it means pushing a closer that should be resting his arm. Gratuitous use of a closer could cost your team later. And it’s advisable to bring your closer (if he’s fresh and physically ready) in early to douse a dangerous situation with a game on the line. To his credit, Matheny began to do this — on some occasions — last season.

7. You can’t keep pushing and pushing and pushing certain individuals — reliever Kevin Siegrist is an example. Why run him into the ground when you’re often carrying an extra reliever, anyway?

8. The Cardinals must improve their defense in 2017, and it’s important to play guys at their best positions. You don’t go into Wrigley Field and play K. Wong in left field.

9. Please wean yourself from going to small sample sizes. It’s silly to choose a player based on five career plate appearances against an opposing team’s pitcher.

10. Baseball is a serious competition. It’s also supposed to be a joyful endeavor, so loosen up and encourage the boys to have fun.

Thanks for reading …

Merry Christmas and happy holidays, everyone…


Miklasz: No. 3 On My List of Cardinals Concerns For 2017 – Infield Defense

  • rightthinker4

    Bernie, of your four Cardinals concerns, this may be the most important one. Will or can MM improve as a manager?

  • Tom L

    Matheny is stubborn, most likely he will pay lip service to all this stuff and then do exactly what he wants.
    Hope I’m wrong…

  • geoff

    All great points Bernie. Number three is especially pertinent. What Matheney did in September was beyond the pale. We have seen him just not like some guys. I will mention one guy coming up that I see as a problem for Mike and that’s Sierra. It looks like he is going to be one of those guys Mike just doesn’t like, and if Mike is still around when Sierra is ready, which may not be as far off as one might think, it will be hard for that kid to get on the field for a long enough time to get his feet on the ground. The one returning player who brings me pause is Wong. Mo says “play him” but it is hard to play the kid when he looks so unwilling to make the changes necessary to become a good solid player. In the field, he can be outstanding when he keeps his concentration. Athe plate, as long as he starts with his hands down and that high leg kick, he will remain unable to handle anything above his belt. I am sure some stat factory has actually charted his success rate with pitches in different locations, my eye test which is faulty at best , says he either fouled off or missed entirely, a percentage in the 90’s, of pitches that were above his belt out of that stance. I just hope that this year’s team gets back to playing good fundamental baseball instead of what we saw last year. They have some serious talent and I think they were one or maybe two games back from the Cubs head to head for the season. Spring training should tell us a lot about the learning curve. Hopefully this year they will work on baseball skills rather than weightlifting and golf.

    • Kkkkathmandubirdsview

      Interesting point about Wong. I remember a broadcaster mentioning, I think in 2015, that Tim McCarver had stated that Kolten would not be a successful major league hitter holding his hands low like that in his stance.

  • M W

    The fact that hardly any changes were made to his coaching staff and the contract extension makes me very pessimistic that Matheny will be motivated to change. He should have been forced to accept a former manager as a bench coach.

  • JeremyR

    I think the best analogy is that Matheny is the baseball equivalent of Barry Switzer.

    Still, I think #7 is on Mo. Why do the Cardinals have a roster spot dedicated to a mop-up pitcher?The number of blow outs requiring one is not that great

  • Rich Rauch

    This concern is #1 on my list. Again. His on-the-job training, if it ever got started, seems to be stalled. I wonder what are the chances he reads this.

    I’m sure he’s a good man and an excellent mentor and coach. But he’s no manager.

  • Re #9. It absolutely drives me nuts when the “preview” pages for mlb games list the players with the most success against, say Cueto. “3-for-10 with a double” is a small sample size. It’s idiotic. It’s moronic. So if you’re going to criticize Matheny for this (and he deserves it), Bernie, what about the idiots in the sports information departments whose day jobs actually concern manufacturing this kind of “data?”

    Re #10, I thought that is what Matheny was criticized for last spring, e.g., the Cards were supposed to have fun during spring training instead of getting ready for, I guess, WW III. I never bought the idea that their “relaxed” spring training ruined their approach to the regular season. But why suggest that #10 is a new idea for Matheny when it is EXACTLY what the pundits accused him of doing last spring training?

  • Jeff Behrens

    MM is a problem. He has been on the job five seasons, and has regressed. I wondered why the Cardinals resigned Eric Fryer when MM refused to play him last season. Now MO brings him back. Will MM see that as a challenge to his authority? Will Fryer make the team? If so, what is the over/under on the number of ABs he has by the All Star break? 25?

    What is going to happen with Kolten Wong? He is not an MM guy, Gyorko is. How long does Kolton get? 5 games? 10 games?

    Bernie has wrote that MM is very sensitive to criticism. It has been reported that David Bell’s key attribute is that he is able to suggest things and strategy in a way that MM will consider in a way that it doesn’t hurt his ego. That speaks volumes that a manager doesn’t want consultation on the bench and is suspicious of anyone who may show to be more adept at portions of his job than he is. I strongly suspect that is why Oquendo is gone. Bernie speaks highly of new quality control coach, Mike Schildt. Will MM listen to him or, even worse, see him as a threat like he is rumored to have seen in Oquendo?

  • This manager is overrated, he has proven he cannot win the big game/series. This ownership is ridiculously cheap considering their profits levels. This GM particularly in the last 2 seasons, has more than done his part to contribute to the decline of this team.

    And this fan base for the most part is an assortment of naive yahoos, who treat a trip to Busch like it’s a day at Six Flags equipped with their selfie sticks and pom pons. Best fans in baseball my butt, more like the dumbest fans in baseball.

    This greedy money grubbing owner will NEVER begin to spend what it is needed, as long as this fan base continues to trample through the turnstiles at the current ridiculous rate. He takes more pride in the Ballpark Village expansion non-sense instead of improving this baseball team.

    DeWitt charges Ruth Chris prices while serving what amounts to chopped steak (hamburger) quality. It’s a pretty good scam, provided you have the necessary dummies who are readily willingly subscribe to it–and DeWitt most certainly does.

  • ken

    what does it mean, that something is “on” somebody? that’s on him! that’s on her! that’s on you! the only thing i can think is “quick…get it off!!”

    • SW

      You are responsible. The “that” is responsibilty.

  • badgerboy23

    Casey Stengel said “I’ve got 5 guys who like me, 5 guys who hate me and 15 guys that are undecided. My job is to keep the 15 away from the 5 that hate me”. As this team gets younger, MM is going to have a hard time following Casey’s advice.

  • LawrenceKScardsfan

    MM for me is a mixed bag. I feel like I’m watching a boy scout when I see him in the dugout. But at the same time, he never seems to flinch and his poise suggests a steady hand. I agree with all of Bernie’s criticism. But I also believe MM is capable of overcoming them. That said, I think he needs to pay more attention to the metrics of baseball and be more flexible during a game. It’s in the situation where he needs the most work. Too bad there isn’t a coaching school for that.

  • Jody Wassmer

    The three straight losses to end Matheny’s EVERY postseason is important! It’s proof #1 that he won’t change when necessary. He sticks to what he THINKS will work despite evidence to the contrary. His constant rolling out of Moss in his 0 forever streak is more proof. Mo and Dewitt are guilty of letting the talent slip (hopefully the Fowler signing is a signal of change) but MM in the dugout is a liability. He has a lot of wins but his negatives are exposed in a big way in a short series/postseason.

  • Jason Eric

    My question is, how in the world can we expect any positive changes from this “manager” when coaching and roster moves are done so to force him into better decision making? As the roster diminishes in talent, so does the ability of MM to win meaningful games. Now we’ve lost power without replacing it, which was our saving grace many times last season. The starting pitching outside of Martinez and Reyes is highly suspect. And the bullpen will be run down by mid summer as usual. I’m expecting an even worse product on the field next season. Payroll will be lower, tickets and beer/food will be higher, profits will maximize, and fan morale will be in the gutter. But at least we have the most profitable team and the best looking manager. Wins no longer matter.

  • Christopher Toth

    Not sure why anyone is worried about MM. Jeff Fisher is on the way to fix all of the above …

  • Scott Warren

    Can’t say he has done a good job for the most part and then list 10 legit areas he STINKS in. This really should be concern #1 – #100 as he is a DISASTER when is comes to the X’s and O’s of baseball. I watch games and sometimes wonder if he is really trying to be this bad. And let’s stop giving credit for all of those meaningless games he as won since taking over. There are literally 100 managers that could have done the same and most could have done more. That is what everyone is missing. He has WASTED years of opportunity that obviously cannot be retrieved. If possible he has actually gotten worse as time has passed so why would anyone expect 2017 to be any different? And how long is the owner going to put up with his teams not reaching their fullest potential? In some areas the Cardinals are embarrassing and he sits in the dugout and allows it to happen day after day after day. It’s a joke really.

  • Christopher Toth

    I really don’t understand the allure of going in afterburner mode trying to catch up to the Cubs who finished 2016 17.5 games ahead of St. Louis in the Central Division.

    If you do that by spending cash and/or depleting your minor league system, this reality still exists: the Cubs by most minor league rankings are a spot or two ahead of the Cards which means come the 2017 trading deadline, they have moderately more desirable prospects to deal if they find themselves having to fend off the Cards.

    The Los Angeles Angels are a useful comparison and cautionary tale. Not only did they overspend trying to buy a winner when they went after Pujols & company but they also depleted their minor league system which ranks dead last in most expert polling.

    I’d rather the Cards keep their cash reserves while their core players age, force Matheny to have to rely on the team’s younger players that he keeps benching prematurely, and focus on a wild card spot which not only is achieveable, but leaves roster & $ flexibility come trade time.

    Like it or not, this is a team in transition and its core is aging. It just isn’t prudent to throw money at older players save on a one or two year basis at most and mortgage the future chasing a team you won’t be able to catch up to for several years unless they get plagued with injuries or their pitching breaks down.

  • Gavin

    There is no reason why MM can’t improve as long as someone is holding him accountable.

    • maryville

      Isn’t the desire to win enough accountability? Why wuld an individual need to have someone telling him ‘please win’?

      • Gavin Morgan

        The desire to win is not enough accountability. Having someone say “please win” is not holding someone accountable. Bill DeWitt telling him that if he doesn’t continue trying to improve his work as a manager, then they’ll find someone else…that’s holding Matheny accountable.

        For all I know, Matheny is being held accountable. It’s just not clear that is the case.

  • Mark Lee Arbogast

    Personally I expect the team to be just about the same as last year only with one new face. We are supposed to believe that Managements expressed desire to increase team speed, base running, overall athleticism , and improved defense are now supposed to all be achieved by signing one new player.

  • Kyle ShaBram Sharamitaro

    MM is certainly an issue

  • Al Harms

    Please get back from your vacation/days off. I need something interresting to read.

  • Rich Rauch

    If there’s ANY one aspect of the game where the C*bs have their boot on our throat, this is it.