Exit Interview: Mike Matheny

For the fifth straight year, we’re taking some time in that time between the end of the season and the winter meetings to discuss each player that made an appearance on the St. Louis roster this season.  Whether they played almost every day or never actually got into a game, they get covered in this series.  All stats are exclusively their time in St. Louis.   Just think of this as them stopping by Mike Matheny‘s (or, in this case, John Mozeliak’s) office for a quick evaluation before heading home for the winter.

This year’s Exit Interview series is “being brought to you by” some of the various Cardinal podcasts that are out there for your listening pleasure.  Our focus this time is Two Birds on a Bat.  One of the more recent shows I’ve found, these guys are a bit of a throwback, just three guys talking about the game (though with a professional-sounding show).  Plus they regularly have Bengie Molina weighing in.  Find them on iTunes or check out their site!

Manager: Mike Matheny

Overall grade: C

Positives: Started to break out of the “closer in the ninth” mold, occasionally deploying Seung-hwan Oh, especially, in the eighth inning if necessary….had only 13 sacrifice bunts from non-pitchers, which was one more than last year but over 10 less than the year before….won his 400th game during the season….had the support of his GM, as John Mozeliak said he would “walk the plank with him”.

Negatives: Barely was over .500 on his instant replay challenges….still has curious timing on those challenges, for instance, his first challenge (which he didn’t win) was in the bottom of the first inning of the first game….did not receive Manager of the Year votes for the first time in his career….finished out of the playoffs for the first time in his career….his “leader of men” reputation took a little hit with Kolten Wong publicly airing grievances.

Overview: There’s very little middle ground when it comes to Mike Matheny, at least on the Twitter.  There are some on there that make it their mission to defend him for any infraction, real or perceived.  There are many more that would actually buy suitcases and then help him pack them.  When a team misses the playoffs by the slimmest of margins, it’s pretty easy to point to the manager as a reason, if not the reason, that the team isn’t playing postseason baseball.

While I’m not enamored with a lot of Matheny’s tactics or decision making (seriously, look at some of the situations that he challenged a call and note their game impact), it’s difficult for me to definitively declare that, with this person or that person at the helm, things would be significantly different.  We see even supposedly great managers making regularly questionable calls.  For all the praise Joe Maddon gets, there were times during the year that he didn’t use Aroldis Chapman in the eighth and saw the game get lost.  His overuse of Chapman in the World Series almost kept the curse alive.  And bunting with the World Series winning run on third with one out?  Even Matheny, for all his flaws isn’t doing that.  Terry Francona looked like a genius earlier in the playoffs, but throwing everyone (not just Corey Kluber) on three days’ rest is a huge reason why Cleveland blew that 3-1 lead.

I get that just because nobody is perfect doesn’t mean we can’t demand a higher standard from the man in the Cardinals’ chair and that’s perfectly fair.  I’m just not completely sold that another person would make that much of a difference.  There is no doubt in my mind that Matheny has grown as a tactical manager since he started this job (or, perhaps, that he’s got a better crew around him to give options) and it’s possible that he’ll develop into an above-average one over time.  He may not, either.  Until things get untenable in the clubhouse or the team needs the kick a new voice would bring, I can’t really agitate for his dismissal.

Outlook: If manager contracts really meant much, Matheny’s recent extension would keep him here until 2020.  The front office likes him and the owner doesn’t seem to counteract that, so Matheny’s chair is as cool as a metal one outside in a Canadian winter.  It would likely take two sub-.500 seasons for him to be dismissed early and even that would be allowed if there were suitable excuses (such as injuries).  As long as Matheny keeps the clubhouse, he’s probably leading the Cardinals.

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