Is There A Double Standard in St. Louis?

I like Mike Matheny, I really do.  He seems like a good man, I appreciate his openness about his faith, he’s obviously got the respect of at least a good portion of the team and you can’t argue too much with the results of the past couple of years.  While he’s still got room to grow as a manager, on most levels I’m glad he’s in St. Louis.

However, I’ve got a bald spot starting from all the times I’ve had to scratch my head this season over moves and decisions on his part.  None more than what happened yesterday in relation to the lineup.  While the moves weren’t unexpected (sadly), the rationale–even 12 or so hours later–still isn’t working for me.

And even that’s an overstatement.  Take why Daniel Descalso was in the lineup yesterday.  Matheny said that he didn’t want Descalso to go too long without a start and, since Mark Ellis had struggled against Gavin Floyd and Descalso had a couple of hits against him, yesterday looked like a good day.  I even predicted a similar reasoning on Twitter in a conversation with Joe Schwarz.  I get that.  It’s classic Tony La Russa theory there, keeping the bench as sharp as possible.  I don’t know that I’d have used the small samples there and it’d be much better if DD was coming in for Kolten Wong after Wong had a nice run of starts, but again, that’s defensible.

What had me scrambling for rationalization was this.

“We’ve got to find a way to get Jon Jay locked in.  We’ve got to get him clicking.”

Oh no you didn’t.

When Peter Bourjos (and Wong also, to a lesser degree) can sit for ages on a cold streak, there’s no discussion of “getting them clicking”.  Why does Jay get the extra consideration?  If anything, he was expected to be the fourth outfielder.  It would seem more reasonable to try to get Bourjos going than Jay.  As someone on Twitter said, when did Jay become the focus of the offense?

Let’s just take a quick look at the last few weeks.  Here’s from April 15 through Monday’s game:

Player Games Starts PA OPS
Jay 19 13 62 .706
Bourjos 13 6 27 .347

When you shorten up that span to the more immediate last 10 days (April 25, let’s say):

Player Games Starts PA OPS
Jay 10 6 30 .516
Bourjos 7 2 12 .533

Whatever measure you use, Jay’s had plenty of chances to get locked in, while Bourjos has gathered dust.  So when Bourjos gets two hits and is instrumental in a win, wouldn’t it make sense to play him again, then get him a game against a lefty on Wednesday and see if the extended time doesn’t help him?

Usually I can understand what a manager or a general manager is saying.  Not that I agree with it, but you can see their point of view.  This, though, is fairly mindboggling and does nothing to counteract charges that Matheny is playing favorites with his lineup construction.

It’s also contradictory.  When Jay started his resurgence, Matheny talked about “playing the hot hand.”  Which, given the offensive struggles of the team, I could understand.  We’ve seen people in the past earn jobs when they can be hot at just the right time.  However, now that Jay is colder than Hoth and Bourjos had a good game, he’d seem to be the hot hand or at least the closest approximation of it this center field rotation seems to have.  Yet instead of riding that, Jay gets back in there.

You wonder how this is affecting the relationship with the front office as well.  John Mozeliak hand-picked Matheny at least in part because he came with no preconceptions, that he could more easily stay on the message that Mozeliak was preaching.  Is that still the case?  Is Mo on board with what we are seeing?  I know he’s saying so publicly, but he’s unlikely to undermine his manager in the press no matter what he personally thinks.  It seems strange, though, that he’d make such a major move for Bourjos and then be fine with him being shunted off to the side after just a couple of weeks.

As Bernie Miklasz has pointed out a number of times (most recently on his podcast with Derrick Goold), the general manager is in charge of the roster and the manager is in charge of the lineup.  Mo’s not going to tell him who to play and who not to play, but he can take people out of the equation.  (No, he’s not going to go Jack Bauer on them, though Mo as an assassin could make for good TV.)  We saw it last year, when Matheny couldn’t grasp that running Mitchell Boggs out there regularly wasn’t helping the team.  Mo demoted, then traded, Boggs so that Matheny could be saved from himself.  You wonder if something like that will happen again this year and, if Mo has to keep doing such things, how long it is before that comes to a head.

All that and we’ve not actually talked about last night’s game.  Though, to be fair, it was basically a repeat of many other games this year.  Great pitching, no offense, one mistake and there’s a loss.  Wasn’t fond of it the first 20 times I saw it, honestly.

Anytime it’s close, there’s no doubt my personal bias is going to lean toward giving Tyler Lyons the Hero tag.  Last night, though, there wasn’t much competition for the Patron Pitcher of the Blog.  Lyons gave up a home run to Justin Upton (no shame there) and that was it, allowing only three other hits and striking out seven over six innings.  If his spot in the lineup hadn’t rolled around in the seventh after Desclaso got a two-out hit, he’d probably gone another frame since he threw less than 90 pitches.  Even if Joe Kelly was ready to return–and that doesn’t seem to be the case–Lyons would have earned another start, assuming you can earn such a thing with good performances under the current management.

The Goat last night goes to Allen Craig, who had another 0-4 with two strikeouts.  Granted, one of those was against Craig Kimbrel, who strikes everyone out, but the point holds.  We continue to say, “Oh, just wait until Craig gets going!” but you have to start to wonder if it actually WILL get going.  We’re basically five weeks into the season–roughly 20%–and Craig’s average, instead of increasing, is sliding down from the high water mark of .220.  Right now on his MLB card, he’s projected for .267 with 18 home runs.  If you assume 550 AB, he’d have to hit .330 the rest of the way to get to .300.  Again, batting average isn’t everything, but it’s a quick and dirty measure of what the mountain is ahead of him.  If Craig’s only going to be hitting .267, that lack of power becomes amplified.

A little bit of questionable umpiring last night didn’t help Pat Neshek, who came into a tough situation and couldn’t quite extricate himself when he didn’t get the strikeout call on Chris Johnson.  When it’s a tight game in the late innings, everything gets magnified and, unfortunately, Neshek couldn’t get the job done after doing so well Monday night.  Neshek’s pitched in three of the last four games, so we probably won’t see him tonight.  There were a lot of arms not available yesterday, but they should be able to shoulder the load tonight and give him a bit of rest.

Speaking of amplified, Randy Choate might have gotten out of the jam he left Neshek had the ball not hit his foot.  Freddie Freeman did hit it hard and it might have gone through for a hit, but it well may have been a double play ball that sent the game to the ninth tied up.  Baseball, as you may have heard, is a game of inches and that was extremely true last night.

After winning two games, the Cards lose again and fall to .500.  Given the mediocre nature of this offense, that’s not a surprise.  The calls for Oscar Taveras are only going to get louder if runs don’t show up on the board, though I do understand Mozeliak’s reticence to do so.  It’s not a decision you make on a whim, though there’s plenty of argument for doing it now.  Taveras went 0-4 in yesterday’s 2-0 loss to Oklahoma City, by the way.

Adam Wainwright looks to shake off that terrible start in Chicago in front of his family and friends.  The Georgia native (who, it might be mentioned tonight, was drafted by the Braves) hopefully got his bad start out of the way and is ready to be Adam Wainwright again.  There’s a good chance of that happening.

PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Dan Uggla 28 25 5 1 0 1 4 2 8 .200 .250 .360 .610 0 1 0 0 1
Ryan Doumit 25 23 5 1 0 0 3 1 6 .217 .240 .261 .501 0 1 0 0 0
Chris Johnson 18 18 6 0 1 0 1 0 7 .333 .333 .444 .778 0 0 0 0 0
Justin Upton 13 13 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Jason Heyward 12 12 3 0 0 1 2 0 2 .250 .250 .500 .750 0 0 0 0 0
Freddie Freeman 11 10 2 0 0 0 1 1 4 .200 .273 .200 .473 0 0 0 0 0
Jordan Schafer 10 7 0 0 0 0 0 2 2 .000 .222 .000 .222 1 0 0 0 1
Andrelton Simmons 8 8 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
B.J. Upton 6 6 3 1 0 0 0 0 1 .500 .500 .667 1.167 0 0 0 0 0
Evan Gattis 4 3 1 0 0 0 0 1 1 .333 .500 .333 .833 0 0 0 0 0
Gerald Laird 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Tyler Pastornicky 3 2 1 0 0 0 1 1 0 .500 .667 .500 1.167 0 0 0 0 0
Mike Minor 2 2 1 0 0 0 1 0 1 .500 .500 .500 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 143 132 27 3 1 2 13 8 39 .205 .246 .288 .534 1 2 0 0 2
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/7/2014.

Not much there for the Braves to work with.  B.J. Upton may be three for six, but his struggles over the past couple of years will possibly negate that.  All in all, it’s at least a favorable matchup for the Cardinal ace.

Interesting to see that Mike Minor is on there, since that’s his opponent for tonight.  Minor, who has made only one appearance this season after starting the year on the disabled list, actually beat Waino last July in a pretty tolerable pitcher’s duel.  He beat the Cards twice last year, which hopefully is a streak that is not going to last.

PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Mark Ellis 15 14 3 0 0 0 0 1 1 .214 .267 .214 .481 0 0 0 0 2
Yadier Molina 10 10 2 0 0 1 1 0 3 .200 .200 .500 .700 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Holliday 9 9 3 1 0 1 4 0 2 .333 .333 .778 1.111 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Carpenter 8 8 4 2 0 1 1 0 0 .500 .500 1.125 1.625 0 0 0 0 0
Allen Craig 8 8 3 0 0 1 1 0 3 .375 .375 .750 1.125 0 0 0 0 0
Jon Jay 6 6 3 0 0 0 0 0 1 .500 .500 .500 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Adams 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Jhonny Peralta 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Lance Lynn 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Adam Wainwright 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 1 0 0 0 0
Total 66 64 18 3 0 4 7 1 12 .281 .292 .516 .808 1 0 0 0 2
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/7/2014.

At least there are no small samples to worry….oh, Jay’s three for six against him.  Given that Matheny’s already said Bourjos will likely play, here’s my guess: Bourjos in center, Jay in right, Craig at first, Matt Adams with the day off.  Keep an eye on Twitter and let’s see how close I get!

  • mrlyngreen

    With Matheny’s propensity for double talk about why he does things, I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts Jay in CF and comes up with some asinine reasoning for it. I don’t trust the man anymore.

    I’m afraid we are in for a very disappointing season if Mo doesn’t find a way to intervene without embarrassing Matheny publicly. Mo is in Atlanta right now, why not just pull Matheny into a meeting and tell him, “This is what you are going to do. Tell the media it was your idea”. If he could just go back to his opening day 8 (bring Wong back) and ride that group for a couple of weeks to see if the lineup consistency would help. Even TLR, as stubborn as he could be sometimes, was willing to chuck the match up crap and ride the same lineup for long periods of time if he believed it would work.

    We are now 3 weeks into “Spin the Ball, pick the lineup” and he can’t see it isn’t working?

    • Cardinal70

      TLR was pretty infamous for his lineup switches, but he didn’t necessarily bury folks like we’ve seen with Matheny this year. As I say, he liked to get people enough work to be sharp, but he also was known to curtail that after the first half of the season, letting the starters take him home. Perhaps we’ll see that out of Matheny, though there’s no real indication of that right now.

      • Buddhasillegitimatechild38

        Yeah I have to agree with “assuming you can earn such a thing with good performances under the current management.”

  • stlCupofJoe

    As I stated on Twitter, in which you kindly linked into this post, I was fine with Matheny starting Jay last night, but that was prior to hearing his reasoning. After hearing his reasoning, I’m frustrated, and like you confused. If he would have said that he wanted Jay out there because of a RH pitcher on the mound, that’s one thing, but this whole “getting him going” response is a bunch of nonsense.

    If anything, and there really is no statistical basis for this, the one thing to “get Jay going” is by benching him and giving him as few opportunities as possible. Then, when he does get an opportunity, for whatever reason, he plays out of his mind. Look no further than earlier this year before Matheny basically handed him the starting spot or back when he was pushing Rasmus out of town. If Taveras is going to remain in Memphis, which it sounds like the earliest he will be up is in early June (as Ben Humphrey pointed out, Andrew McCutchen made his Pirates debut on June 4, 2009. Wouldn’t it be nice if Taveras turned out to be THAT good?), start Bourjos. Start Bourjos. Start Bourjos. If the team is facing a particularly tough RH pitcher, then start Jay, but ONLY start Jay in that situation. Give Bourjos the opportunity to show if he can hit. I’d argue that he can’t, but at least let him try. Find out if his wrist is having an effect on his swing. No one will openly say it is, but the hitting experts could probably undoubtedly pick up on a change in his swing.

    Finally, and to me most importantly, let’s get off Jay’s back for a second. Thankfully, you noted it in the post above, like you usually do because you don’t really miss anything, but Jay is not the weak link on the club *right now.* Craig is, and it’s not even close. Yes, Craig has been FANTASTIC for the club in the past, but this year, he’s not. If Mo doesn’t think Taveras can play CF to the ability of Jon Jay, then sit Craig on the bench for a while and give Taveras some starts out in right. He’s been playing all three OF positions in Memphis (admittedly only one start in CF), so he’s capable–if not better than Craig and Jay at both positions. This offense is lifeless and as a lifelong fan who luckily has only had a few years of watching bad baseball during my life, this is depressing.

    • Cardinal70

      How do you really feel there, Joe? 🙂

      That article by Joe Sheehan earlier in the week really makes you think. Is Matheny panicking as a manager? If the offense was just humming along as expected, would Bourjos be playing even if he was struggling with the bat because they could afford that and wanted his glove? I know that Craig just signed that extension and has more “political capital”, as it were, than the new guy, but if playing every day isn’t getting him going, then maybe an extended breather might help. Yet that doesn’t seem to be a card in Matheny’s deck.

      Love your point about Jay being best in small doses. He does seem to be able to up his game when he’s not getting overexposed, doesn’t he?

    • mrlyngreen

      I’m no medical person, but if Bourjos’ wrist is the issue why didn’t it affect him in Spring Training? He hit .324 in 41 PAs there. I would argue that the level of competition and the pressure of performing during the regular season had more to do with Bourjos’ slow start than the wrist. I’ve followed Bourjos’ career since 2011 (a friend in LA got me started on him) and he needs regular playing time to hit with any consistency (unlike Jay). That is why he struggled so much when Mike Trout came up and supplanted him in 2012.

      He hit safely in 5 of 6 games from April 7 to April 15 (the first hit on April 7 until the last regular start he made on April 15 when Jay became the de facto starter). If people have patience with him, he can hit enough to justify having him in for his defense and his speed. But he needs consistent, regular playing time, like he had in 2011 in Anaheim.

      • Buddhasillegitimatechild38

        Maybe more just a small sample in both cases than the “pressure to perform” but yeah, the wrist is a concern but that would sap power not contact, which has been Bourjos’s issue

  • Buddhasillegitimatechild38

    Heh, it might be mentioned that Waino was drafted by the Braves.
    I laughed, I cried, and i laughed some more

  • Good stuff here. I guess I need to get around more! The discourse around this club benefits everyone, including the organization. I believe “the plan” to use Bourjos and Wong was a good one. I wonder if it really was the plan, and if there will be a course correction. I think they need to get back on the so-called plan.

  • keenemlb

    And then he went 3 for 4 tonight. Let’s see the next excuse to bench him.

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