In Defense of Mike Matheny

As the St. Louis Cardinals enter the final two weeks of the 2015, I ask the hottest question. Does Mike Matheny deserve the hate?

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There isn’t a more popular trend on Twitter during St. Louis Cardinals games than throwing manager Mike Matheny on a white hot grill and dissecting his moves. Every fan base does it, but in St. Louis it’s an extreme activity. Win or lose, it’s all about what did Matheny do wrong.

There should be a new stat for the Matheny critics called Wins Above Matheny. WAM instead of WAR or WIN. When I decided to defend Matheny last month for a controversial move, I was riddled with comments and feedback that saw people questioning my judgement and soberness. You would think I was defending a coach managing a team in last place with 40 more losses than wins.

The situation. Washington Nationals’ Ryan Zimmerman came to the plate in the 8th inning with first base open. He had scolded the Cardinals and the National League for the past week. He cranked two home runs Wednesday and four during the series. The consensus of Twitter wanted Matheny to walk Zimmerman and pitch to Yunel Escobar, who is a fine hitter with a .320 average off right-handed pitchers. Jonathan Broxton had walked a guy to begin the inning. He had a 3-1 strikeouts to walks ratio and was holding right-handed hitters to a .214 average.

I didn’t have a problem with Matheny allowing Brox to be careful or pitch to Zimmerman. Ryan hit an outside pitch down the right field line for a go ahead double. The Cardinals didn’t sweep and therefore fell to a rougher 39 games over .500. People immediately blamed the skipper for allowing Brox to pitch to Zimmerman, aka Mickey Mantle. They didn’t point out the weak offense that managed three runs on 13 hits or Brox for failing to get the man out. This is a usual activity for fans after a loss. How can we blame Matheny?

The same thing happened Friday st Wrigley. The Cards get beat by Joe Maddon’s Cubs and it is all Matheny’s fault. Please.

Let me state that Matheny isn’t perfect. Far from it. Which manager is perfect? He has an attachment with certain players even when they clearly aren’t doing their job or are not healthy(Allen Craig in 2014, Jon Jay in 2015). He does make questionable calls during games. He can be outmanaged by a fellow manager like Bruce Bochy but also runs circles around other player turned managers like Don Mattingley and Matt Williams.

Matheny’s tutelage and ability as a tactician is a great subject for ridicule but it’s also something that is still being honed. Ask any fanbase if they love all the in game moves by their manager and the list will be very short. St. Louis fans just don’t experience this because they are too busy chopping down Matheny. He is not without his faults but he is also doing something impressive with the roster this season.

Anyone who can’t appreciate Matheny’s work this year will probably never appreciate his work. The 2015 Cardinals have been hit with a variety of injuries and setbacks. They lost their ace starting pitcher, their left fielder, their first baseman, their setup man, and their versatile outfield bat in Jon Jay for a huge part of the season. Jaime Garcia went missing for a stretch. Their bullpen has also lost Matt Belisle for half a season. Nothing has gone right. Hot bat Randal Grichuk has been out for two weeks. Still, for the fourth year in a row, the Cardinals are right among the top teams in the National League. They are a remarkable 92-55 with a 5 lead over Pittsburgh.

How does credit not find Mike Matheny for his work with a roster that has been made up of AAA hands for fair portions of the season? How does he not deserve a decent amount of consideration for Manager of the Year when he lost three starters in the first three months of the season? When people have to reference a World Series mistake from 2013 in their criticism of Matheny, isn’t that telling you something? The man has improved dramatically this year.

Many pointed to his usage of Trevor Rosenthal last year as horrible. This year, he has went to Kevin Siegrist for saves throughout the season and even used Rosenthal in non save chances. His usage of his closer has improved this year and the results are there on display. The closer is getting results and looks a lot sharper this year as a result of Matheny’s adjustment.

Matheny has leaned on rookies like Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty in the absence of veteran starters. He only starts Pete Kozma once every two weeks and Tony Cruz once a week. He isn’t calling for as many bunts as he has in the past. The improvements are there while the results are still overwhelmingly positive. Did anybody see this team in this position when Waino went down in late April? The answer is no. If you ask the majority of Cardinal nation on social media, the credit belongs to a pitching staff and not Matheny.

How many seasons does this guy have to win in order to gain more respect from his fans? If we go off the great football coach Bill Parcells’ saying that you are as good as your record, then Matheny is very very good. When managers are fired in baseball, the fans and media point to their record. In St. Louis, it just doesn’t matter how good Matheny’s teams are, he doesn’t deserve the credit. Hey look at what Clint Hurdle is doing in Pittsburgh! Look at Terry Collins in New York! Joe Maddon’s Cubs are great!

Hey, neither of those teams are as good as the Cardinals and neither of those teams have dealt with the amount of injuries Matheny has been forced to juggle in St. Louis. Doesn’t that apply when assessing a manager? How else do you assess a coach or manager in sports?

Mike Matheny has 20 playoff wins in 39 career postseason games, but people will point to his losses to the Giants and Red Sox(eventual World Series winners) as his downfall. Well, of course. That doesn’t make him a bad manager. It just doesn’t make sense.

Matheny’s record as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals is 367-266. Matheny has done that with numerous injuries and breakdowns. Give a roster to Matheny and he wins. Weak bench or not, he wins. Every year. For some people, that’s not enough. The Cardinals can win 8 of 10 games here to finish August and start September, but the loss to the Nationals will be nitpicked. He gets all the blame for the losses and little credit for the wins. Sounds like a losing argument to me.

Matheny can win a World Series and people will complain. That’s a bet. Some managers and coaches can’t escape blame. If Randy Choate comes in and doesn’t do his job once, Matheny is blamed for using him. When Choate does it, it was just Choate making a pitch. When Seth Maness coaxes double plays like a magician, it’s not Matheny knowing when it use him or not, it’s just Seth magic. When pitchers fail, it’s Matheny’s fault. If Brox gets Zimmerman out, nothing happens or at least, Brox bailed out Matheny. If Zimmerman walks and Escobar cranks an RBI hit, Matheny is blamed for pitching around Zimmerman. Win or lose, the narrative on Matheny never changes.

I think he is the right man to manage this team. When Ryne Sandberg was canned in Philadelphia, Jimmy Rollins pointed to some guys not feeling 100% convinced Sandberg was the man for the job in 2014. They talked about not playing all out or go for broke for their manager. You NEVER hear that in St. Louis. The players on this roster would go through walls for their manager. His connection with these players and their trust and belief in him can’t be quantified by a stat on Fangraphs or Baseball Reference, but it’s a real thing that beats throughout his clubhouse. Matheny is the right man for this team, which is why I was happy with John Mozeliak hiring him after the 2011 season. There isn’t a manager out there who could elicit a better performance from this team. Sorry Terry Francona fans.

While the narrative will support Collins and Maddon for the award, I think Matheny deserves serious consideration for the Manager of the Year award. The injuries, expectations and hurdles he has faced this year may have gotten the best of a lot of young managers, but not Matheny. There has to be a value in there. A value to go with his 361 regular season wins and 20 playoff wins.

It’s easy to throw blame on Matheny. The crowd is huge for that. While I will complain about some of his tactics, that’s par for the course in this game. Maddon, Hurdle, and Collins all get grilled by their fanbase just as hard. I can recognize an improvement in Matheny’s managerial performance this season. He’s growing as a manager while being the best leader in any clubhouse in baseball. No players trust their leader like the Cards trust Matheny. The results are there. The little things are catching up fast.

While he is far from the people’s favorite, Mike Matheny is the man for the job in St. Louis. His record and improvement in a treacherous season have earned him serious consideration for the Manager of the Year award. Have they not?

What is your take on the manager?

Author: D. Buffa

A regular guy who feels a journalistic hunger to tell the news. I blog because its wired into my brain to write what I think in print. I offer an opinion. A solo tour here. Take regular stories and offer my spin on them. Sports, film, television, music, fatherhood, culture, food, and so on. Commentary on everything. A St. Louis native and Little Rock resident who wants to write just to keep the hands fresh and ready.

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