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Matheny Under a Microscope, Chapter 1: A Broken Bowman

Well Cardinals fans, Game 1 is in the books, Yadi and J. Martínez are on pace to hit 162 homeruns and Carlos to lose 33 games. Jokes aside, this is a new bit I want to pilot, inspired by the fans of Twitter. I’ve been a ‘passive’ Cardinals fan as long as I can remember, but only during that 2011 Cinderella run did I really get attached to this team, which means I truly only know the ‘Matheny-Era’. I will go out on a limb and say I fall into the small population of ‘Matheny-Neutral’, while I believe most former players and members inside baseball fall into ‘Pro-Matheny’ and just about all of Twitter is ‘Against-Matheny’. Therefore, I’d like to analyze 1 to 2 moments of a game that drastically altered the outcome in which the decision was made by none-other than Mike Matheny… Welcome to ‘Matheny Under a Microscope, Chapter 1: A Broken Bowman’.

Before I start, I just had a chance to read Zach Gifford’s piece on Bowman and I highly recommend this insight into an explanation of the potential toll Matheny has caused on young Bowman’s arm.

There were three instances in this game that swung the win percentage more than 15% in the Met’s favor:

  1. 20% on the 2 RBI single by Céspedes in the 2nd inning off Martínez

  2. 17% on the RBI double by González in the 5th inning off Martínez

  3. 16% on the 2 RBI single by Rosario in the 5th inning off Bowman

It can be noted that the Cardinals managed to tie the game up following that 2nd inning and restored the win percentage back as far as 50%. While Martínez arguably should’ve been taken out earlier in the game, he did manage to retire six Mets in a row into the 5th and thus the decision to bring in Bowman becomes the spotlight for this piece.

Martínez had just retired Cabrera via a fly out, walked Frazier and given up an RBI double to Adrián González to give up the lead again at 4-3. The Mets had Plawecki, Syndergaard and Rosario coming to bat. The first thing we can look at here is our Cardinal bullpen candidates’ career numbers against those three hitters.

Plawecki has seen 3 of our current bullpen candidates:

  • 1-1 off Leone (2 RBI 2B in 2015)

  • 1-4 off Norris (2 RBI 2B in 2015)

  • 0-1 off Tuivailala

Syndergaard & Rosario have never seen any of the 8 members in the current bullpen.

Thus, we can rule out pure match-ups, at this point I would suggest looking at how to attack Kevin Plawecki, as two outs with the pitcher’s spot up is a very different inning for the Cardinals than one out and Syndergaard bunting the runners over to start the rally. After some quick digging, and being cognizant of small sample sizes, we find that Plawecki might actually be better attacked with a left-handed reliever:

Again, noting the small sample size, especially against lefties, but for a favorable matchup as a batter against a lefty, he actually hits fairly worse. As the at-bat resulted in a walk, it would thus be better to isolate which pitch types he is more susceptible to strike-out than to walk against:

Although not a perfect science, we can see here from Plawecki’s career numbers that he’s more susceptible to curveballs and changeups, especially from a BB/K standpoint. With this information in mind, we can then dive into the repertoire of the pitcher Matheny opts for: Matt Bowman.

According to Fangraphs, Bowman actually mixed in a Curveball yesterday for the first time in his major-league career, but not against Plawecki. Bowman’s arsenal does not provide the most favorable match-up against Plawecki, a batter who only strikes out against 9.8% of sinkers faced and holds a .238 avg., notably better than his career .224 avg. Who could Matheny have shifted to instead? Perhaps a pitcher who throws a high percentage of curveballs:

Cecil throws his curveball more than any of his other pitches and over 40% of the time he’s throwing the two pitches that Plawecki has shown to be the least efficient against. Here are two charts exemplifying Plawecki’s results against a left-handed pitcher throwing a curveball (a) and a changeup (b).

(a) (b)

Plawecki only managed to tag a hit in 2.3% and 3.3% of pitches seen against a left-handed pitcher throwing a curveball or a changeup, respectively. It can be noted that about 50% of those pitches simply resulted in a ball and taking those out of the equation still projects Plawecki to have less than a 7% chance of getting a hit on either pitch. Although Cecil entered the game later that inning, it was too late, and the fire had already engulfed game one. Baseball is full of what-ifs, and perhaps Cecil could’ve retired Plawecki and thus faced Syndergaard with two outs, potentially leading to the 6th with a 1 run deficit, but who knows.

After Chapter 1, I believe we have some reason to be disappointed in Matheny, a manager who so often appears to select the pitcher that his gut tells him to without consulting the abundance of statistics available at our disposal.

Matheny: 1

Cardinals: 0

*Thanks to Fangraphs, Baseball Savant and @cardinalsgifs for stats and images

**Since this post was written, Bowman has looked solid, Cecil landed on the DL, and Martínez has returned to ace-like form


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