I’d first like to start this post off by apologizing for the 3-month hiatus from blogging, although having only written two installments for this bit, and having virtually no traction or following on Twitter, I’m probably apologizing to a max 2 readers, and maybe this is just an outlet to let out frustration. Regardless, I’d like to formally welcome you to installment #3 of this year’s top series, Matheny Under a Microscope: The Final Chapter. This piece I wanted to take a step back from stats, because in all honesty, Zach Gifford will always out-do me, and take a deep dive into the briefest, completely subjective attempt to understand and classify each Cardinals loss this season. I began researching and drafting this piece about two weeks ago due to the ever-growing frustration with the Front Office, Matheny and the team’s sputtering altogether, having no idea that Mike and company would be dismissed before I published, which shifted this piece to a final Ode to Matheny.
If you'd like to catch-up on the first two chapters of this series they can be found here:
Having groomed through the stats and game-logs from every game this year, I’m going to be highlighting the losses in which Matheny made questionable decisions. These decisions typically involve leaving a starting pitcher in too long, as we all know Matheny loves his pitchers earning wins, bringing in Greg Holland or Matt Bowman in high-leverage situations when better arms waited in the wings, or even some classic Matheny-moves like having the 8th place guy in the order sacrifice-bunt a runner over with the pitcher due up next.
The first segment is evaluating managerial decisions with the pitching staff that were too egregious not to ‘somewhat’ point a finger at Matheny. As much as the Cardinal fan-base on Twitter typically tried to fault Matheny with the oft bullpen melt-down, it’s hard to blame a guy when the bullpen has underperformed significantly this season or when a guy simply isn’t getting the job done. That being said welcome to the first segment of the final chapter:
Mets – Score 4-9
RP Matt Bowman enters the game for Carlos Martinez, runner on 2B and the Mets had just scored to go-up 4-3. Matt Bowman proceeds to give up:
· Walk to Plawecki
· Sac Bunt to Syndergaard
· 2 RBI Single to Rosario
· Single to Nimmo
· RBI Single to Cespedes
In what was a 1-run game at the time, Matheny called upon his favorite reliever (75 games in 2017, most among Cardinals relievers) to get out of a jam with the 7-8-9 part of the lineup only to have to bring in Cecil 5 batters later with the score now 8-3 and out-of-reach. I hate to blame a bullpen guy not doing his job on Matheny, but to bring in Bowman with a 3.99 ERA (3.65 FIP) in this instance seems to be the wrong decision.
Matheny Loss Counter: 1
Total Losses: 1
Matheny Contribution: 100%
Brewers – Score 4-5
RP Greg Holland makes his highly-anticipated season debut for the Cardinals after a hybrid Spring Training that saw him on a minor league designation in order to rack up some innings for lost time. If I remember correctly it was a cold, and long game, but nonetheless, Matheny finally had his ‘new Ferrari in the garage’ to break out, ‘elite’ closer Greg Holland. The outing went as follows:
· Walk to Shaw (7 Pitches)
· Walk to Santana (6 Pitches)
· Sac. Bunt to Sogard
· Intentional Walk to Pina
· RBI Walk to Arcia (4 Pitches)
Holland walked in the go-ahead run for the Brewers and departed the game having only recorded one out on a sacrifice and throwing 13 of his 19 pitches for balls. I can’t blame Matheny for bringing in Holland in this situation, but to leave him in for as long as he did and intentionally walking a batter when Holland had no control only to allow him to walk in the winning run seems like a poor decision.
Matheny Loss Counter: 2
Total Losses: 6
Matheny Contribution: 33%
Mets – Score 5-6
Luke Weaver enters the inning with 73 pitches already thrown and facing the 7-8-9 of the Mets order. Weaver’s outing:
· Flyout to Rosari
· Flyout to Nido
· Walk to Flores (4 Pitches)
· Walk to Conforto (4 Pitches)
· 3 Run HR to Cespedes
· Walk to Cabrera (4 Pitches)
This is one of those ‘Matheny hates pulling starting pitchers early’ moments. You have Weaver going through the line-up for the 3rd time, a noted struggle of his, and unable to throw a strike with 2 4-Pitch walks, and you let him face the best hitter in their lineup? Not only that, but Matheny then doesn’t pull him to face Cabrera and he 4-Pitch walks him as well. Score jumps to a 4-4 tie now only to be lost later in the game in the 10th inning on a homerun off Matt Bowman.
Matheny Loss Counter: 3
Total Losses: 9
Matheny Contribution: 33%
Pirates – Score 5-6
Greg Holland enters the game in a save situation, Cardinals up 5-2 facing the 5-6-7 of the Pirates lineup:
· Double to Dickerson
· Single to Cervelli
· Moran reaches on error by Jose Martinez on 1B – 1 Run scores
· RBI Double to Mercer – Additional run scores, Mercer to 3B on error by Pham (Score 5-5)
This outing is a bit tougher to blame on Matheny for bringing in Holland as two errors aided in this blown-save, but to save Hicks until extra inning and use Norris for the setup role only to allow the ‘closer’ the chance to earn the save and to continue giving him the long leash that he had is inexcusable.
Matheny Loss Counter: 4
Total Losses: 10
Matheny Contribution: 40%
Phillies – Score 6-7
Matheny has flipped the roles of Holland and Norris by this point back, so Holland is called on for a high-leverage hold against the 4-5-6 hitters of the Phillies line-up with a lead of 6-5:
· Groundout to Santana
· Strike-Out to Altherr
· Walk to Williams
· RBI Triple to Kingery
· RBI Single to Alfaro
Norris is pulled into the game for a 4-out clean-up, now down 6-7 instead of up 6-5, and the game results in a loss. In a season where Holland struggles to ‘get right’ I have to be critical of Matheny for constantly finding a way to put him in setup and closer roles.
Matheny Loss Counter: 5
Total Losses: 19
Matheny Contribution: 40%
Royals – Score 1-5
As much as I don’t want this to become a slam-piece on Greg Holland, here we are again, down 1-3 to the Royals entering the top of the 9th; enter Greg Holland:
· Single to Almonte
· Single to Escobar
· Walk to Dozier
· 2 RBI Single to Jay
Royal’s lead increased to 4 runs instead of 2, and Holland pulled without recording an out. Many fans, like myself, constantly questioning why Holland is used in these situations. While this one may have been a non-hold/save situation and the Cardinals were already down, the game had become out-of-reach by this maneuver.
Matheny Loss Counter: 6
Total Losses: 20
Matheny Contribution: 30%
Royals – Score 2-5
This is an interesting one to me, Matheny brings in Norris in the 9th inning of a tie game, and he retires the side on 15 pitches. The Cardinals couldn’t walk it off in the bottom of the inning, so Matheny decides to bring Norris back out for the 10th, which is understandable as he’s a converted starter and multiple inning appearances aren’t out of the question with Norris, but the following played out:
· Single to Soler
· Single to Gordon
· Sac Bunt to Escobar (Reaches on error by Norris)
· 2 RBI Single to Butera
At this point, Norris has given up 2 of the 3 runs that will be scored in this inning, unable to retire a single batter, and Matheny gives him a long enough leash to allow 3 base runners to reach in his second inning of work without pulling him from the game. The common theme being Matheny’s inability to have a back-up plan and overconfidence in his relievers in situations in which they are clearly overwhelmed. Cardinals go on to lose 2-5.
Matheny Loss Counter: 7
Total Losses: 21
Matheny Contribution: 33%
Reds – Score 3-6
This is an instance that I went back and forth on if whether Matheny could be held responsible, but after further consideration I think enough of his stubbornness of keeping starters going longer than they should in games, especially with Carlos Martinez, the ace of the staff, makes him responsible. Carlos enters the 4th inning having only thrown 59 pitches and retires the first two batters now to face Billy Hamilton in the 9-hole and then top of the order:
· Walk to Hamilton
· Walk to Schebler
· RBI Single to Barnhart
· Walk to Votto
· 2 RBI Single to Gennett
· RBI Single to Suarez
After failing to retire 6 batters in a row and giving up 4 runs to erase a lead of 2-1 to a deficit of 5-2, Matheny finally pulls Carlos for Mayers who retires Winker. The damage from this one had already been done though and the game was out-of-hand for this unreliable offense.
Matheny Loss Counter: 8
Total Losses: 28
Matheny Contribution: 29%
Braves – Score 4-11
Luke Weaver enters the 5th inning facing Atlanta’s 8-9-1, and notably about to turn the order over for the third time through. The score was 2-0 Braves at the times and Weaver had only thrown 56 pitches thus far, so there was no reason to already have somebody warming up, but the inning went as follows:
· Swanson Strikeout
· Single to Fried (the pitcher)
· Single to Inciarte
· RBI Ground-Rule Double to Albies
· Intentional Walk to Freeman
· Grand-Slam to Markakis
· Suzuki Groundout
· Ground-Rule Double to Acuna
· Camargo Walk
· RBI Single to Swanson
Come on Mike, how many batters does Weaver have to face in order for it to be time to pull him, and since when is intentionally walking Freeman a great idea when Markakis is having a career year? This inning ended by Brebbia managing to retire Fried in his second at-bat of the inning and the score had catapulted to 8-0 Braves, in what was once a closer and winnable game.
Matheny Loss Counter: 9
Total Losses: 39
Matheny Contribution: 23%
Of the 46 losses under Mike Matheny this season, I found those 9 to be the losses where you could find Mike culpable, thus bringing his final contribution to approximately 20% of the team’s losses this season. Let’s break down some hypotheticals now and create 3 benchmarks: 0, 3 and 6 and explore what the standings look like had the Cardinals lost that many games instead of the 9.
(Because only 1 of the 9 games was against the Brewers, 0 were against the Cubs, and 1 was against the Braves, I will only consider the hypothetical win for the Cardinals a subsequent loss for those teams in the event that all 9 games were flipped.)
The Cardinals drudged into the All-Star Break with a record of 48-46 and sit in the following:
Had they managed to win just 3 of those games the standings would look like this, being only 1 game out of the 2nd wild card spot:
Had they managed to win 6 of those games, the Cardinals would now be in sole-possession of the 1st wild card spot and right on Chicago’s tail:
Lastly, had the Cardinals managed to survive all of Matheny’s 9 blunders and win all of those games, St. Louis would have a lead in the Central:
To pivot from pitching decisions that impacted games, I wanted to tally up some very Matheny-esque observations from throughout the season for segment 2 of this piece:
Mike Matheny utilized 55 double-switches this season
· 10 games featured 2 double switches in the same game
· 25 of the 55 double switches resulted in the new pitcher’s spot having an at-bat
· 28 of the 55 double switches were for the hitters in the 3rd, 4th or 5th spot in the order and among those 15 times that pitcher had to be replaced for a pinch-hitter
On 2 occasions Mike Matheny had Kolten Wong bunt the runner over while hitting in the 8th spot in the order and the pitcher due up (not to be pinch hit for)
· 1 went for a single and 1 for a sacrifice
Mike Matheny intentionally walked a tying run on base who subsequently scored on the walk-off double on June 18th
· 3 other intentional walks came around to score
· Mike intentionally walked a batter to load the bases for Holland to subsequently walk in the go-ahead run as well
Last but not least for this section, Mike Matheny utilized Carlos Martinez and Miles Mikolas as pinch-hitters once each this season with bench players still available. And let’s not forget that time he let Luke Weaver hit for himself only to be relieved without throwing a pitch the next inning on another occasion.
The last segment of this piece I wanted to tackle was Matheny’s lineup construction this season in comparison to the same metrics I used in Matheny under a Microscope: Chapter 2. For anyone who hasn’t read it, the gist of it was essentially analyzing the production of the lineup using wOBA and wRC+ metrics for the lineups Matheny has constructed on a year-to-year basis. Because this piece was written very early in the season, I did not want to look at 2018 yet as the sample size was tiny, but not we should be far enough along in the season to paint the picture of how Matheny’s lineups have evolved from season to season:
For those who haven’t read the last piece, you’ll notice an anemic looking middle of the order in 2016 mostly manned by Matt Holliday and Stephen Piscotty in the 3rd and 4th spot respectively. 2017 saw Yadier Molina manning the 5th spot most frequently with below average production. That being said let’s dive into the 2018 line-up:
What we see here is Carpenter’s value during his recent surge representing the highest production in the line-up and also a surge in the 7th spot which has mainly come from DeJong’s early performance, Munoz’s performance while subbing in for an injured DeJong and Wong’s latest surge. The 2nd spot has been just above average mostly manned by Pham, and the 5th spot has been excellent, mostly in thanks to Molina’s ever-increasing power. The disappointing aspect of this lineup has been the below-average production out of arguably the two most important pieces in the line-up the 3rd and 4th spots most frequently manned by Jose Martinez and Marcell Ozuna, respectively. It can be noted that Ozuna has actually only hit in the 4th spot all season and yet has drastically underperformed in comparison to the career season and numbers he posted a year ago. Matheny had the right idea with the initial setup for this lineup flexing Fowler, Carpenter and Pham in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th spots throughout the season with Jose Martinez flexing between the 3rd and 5th spots and Ozuna anchoring in at clean-up to start the season. However, Mike’s inability and unwillingness to move players who are slumping is quite frustrating, especially when the 3rd and 4th spots in the order can be high-leverage early and often in games.
To conclude this piece, I’d like to say first and foremost, I’ve never been a part of either faction: For-Matheny or Against-Matheny. I’ve always respected the way he managed from a relationship perspective and his natural inclination to always protect his players. His inability to manage the bullpen and lineup construction though have led to a frustrating ride. Unfortunately, sometimes even a ‘winning’ manager (with a downward slope each season) needs to be replaced to reset a team. I’d like to thank Matheny for his 6+ seasons managing the Cardinals, a truly thankless job, for one of the most hyper-critical fan-bases in all of professional sports, and wish him the best of luck in his future coaching career.
For any of you who have not taken the time to listen to the interview he had with Tom Ackerman, I highly recommend you listen to the chops this man has, less than 24 hours after being dismissed, being so cordial and respectful to the organization that built him up and eventually knocked him down.
(Thanks to Baseball Reference, Fangraphs and as always the great @cardinalsgifs)