When I watched the St. Louis Cardinals press conference to introduce interim manager Mike Shildt, a consistent theme stood out to me: the Cardinals needed a new message. It sounded like, as many of us on the outside have speculated, that the clubhouse had grown tired of Mike Matheny’s voice and refrain.
One of the main reasons Mike Shildt was chosen is that he is expected to be a steward of analytics in the St. Louis Cardinals dugout. The front office had hopes that Matheny would be that guy, but the message from the front office to the players was lost in translation. Shildt, ideally, will be a much better translator.
Over the long-term, that might be Mike Shildt’s biggest strength. While every player can benefit from more information or better information, every player has a different desire or capacity to listen and understand the existing or new metrics and data; it’s the manager’s job to tailor information to 25 unique players.
It’s always been a good thing to drive the ball when you make contact. If a player is driving the ball but hitting poorly, how can you keep the slump from getting to his head? Do you tell that player to look at his launch angle distributions and xwOBA, or do you show him videos of at-bats where he’s driven the ball into bad luck or great defense? How can you show pitchers that they benefit from the shift if utilized and executed correctly when the extra hits given up on bunts or weak grounders stand out more than the extra outs saved by a third baseman playing in shallow right field? That, in this analytics-driven age, is the manager’s job. Mike Shildt will be a better translator than Mike Matheny.
However, effectively translating between the front office and the players takes time. Mike Shildt was announced as the interim manager Sunday morning at 11:00am and was scheduled to manage a game starting Sunday at 1:00pm. After that, he wasn’t going to see his players for a few days due to the All-Star break. If Shildt wanted to send an early message, it couldn’t be the analytics yet.
Instead, his opportunity arose in the second inning when, after driving a sure-double to the right-center gap, Harrison Bader did this:
It looked ugly. After a few minutes, though, Bader got up and jogged down the right-field line. He seemed fine, and he looked like he wanted to tough it out and stay in the game. Given the way he’s hit relative to the rest of the St. Louis outfield, most watching probably wanted him to stay in the game.
Instead of taking Bader's word for it and letting him play on, Mike Shildt took him out of the game.
News came out later during the game that Bader had hyperextended his left leg. I don’t know if Bader would have made the injury worse by staying in, but Mike Shildt didn’t let him or us find out. Mike Matheny would have. Just like he did with Pham’s groin injury in April, which bothered him for at least another two weeks and, given his health at that time, probably couple weeks longer (if it's ever stopped bothering him). There was also that time that Paul DeJong got hit by a pitch which fractured his hand and Mike Matheny allowed him to stay in the game because Paul wanted to:
“He wanted to part of that game, felt he was going to do something big but he knew it was sore, felt weak.”
That statement from Mike Matheny encapsulates the way he handled injuries and the way he expected players to handle their injuries. Players were expected to “grind it out” and keep playing at less than 100%. When they did, it was often to the team’s detriment: Adam Wainwright and his elbow, Matt Carpenter’s and Marcell Ozuna’s shoulders, or Alex Reyes’ and Carlos Martinez’s lats. All of these are just from this season! We’ve seen it time and time again since Matheny took the reins. This time, with Mike Shildt at the helm, we didn’t see it.
There might not be anything to make of this. It’s one incident with a ready and talented player available off the bench. It is, however, an enormous contrast to the way we've seen the Cardinals managed since 2012. Mike Matheny wanted you to grind through injuries; Mike Shildt doesn't want you to play hurt. The contrast between Shildt’s and Matheny’s managing style, even if for just one game, was a refreshing sight for sore eyes.