Every year since 2012, we’ve spent some time after the season looking back at those that wore the Birds on the Bat. Whether it’s a bit player that got into just a couple of games or someone that played almost every day, we’ll look at their stats, their positives, their negatives, and grade them based on what we would have expected from them. The stat line is from their time in St. Louis, though splits and other numbers may include time with other teams, if applicable. Think of this as like the players packing up their locker and then seeing Mike Shildt before they head off for the winter, or in this case talking with John Mozeliak. Once again, our great header work comes to us from cardinalsgifs, who continues to be a master.
Manager: Mike Matheny
Overall grade: C
Overview: We’re too close to it to be sure, but it seems unlikely that folks are going to look back on Matheny’s tenure as a Cardinal manager with fondness or he’ll get a bump when history revisits him in ten, twenty, thirty years. After 6 1/2 years, the issues with bullpen management were still there. The idea that he was a “leader of men” took some serious hits with Kolten Wong and Tommy Pham, among others. The man famously said something in the lines of “we’re not in the development business”, so it’s not surprising that he had trouble trusting young players.
The final straws came this year. I never expected that the Cardinals would make a significant change like this mid-season, but with sloppy play (including that game in Milwaukee that the club was terrible in all facets of the game) and then two Mark Saxon articles, one about Matheny’s relationship (or lack thereof) with Dexter Fowler and one about an old-school veteran-rookie relationship between Bud Norris and Jordan Hicks where Matheny lamented things weren’t as tough as the old days, really did him in. The club had been maneuvering to be in a spot where they could replace him over the last couple of years, putting people like Mike Shildt, Oliver Marmol, Jose Oquendo, Ron Warner, and Mike Maddux on staff, any of which could take over the managerial reins. After doing all they could to massage the roster for Matheny’s limits, such as adding flexibility, removing flexibility, etc., the club finally decided to address the cause instead of the symptoms.
That doesn’t mean Matheny’s term was a complete failure. Give it the weight you want but he did have a winning record every year of his career and ranks fifth in Cardinal history in managerial wins. Numbers one through four and numbers six through eight are all in the Hall of Fame. Matheny won’t get there–though I guess the Cardinal HOF can’t be ruled out–but he did have success while he was here. Four straight playoffs, including a World Series berth, is something. He did do some learning–he bunted a lot less than he did those first couple of years and was a little more flexible with the bullpen, even if that’s a low bar–but he wasn’t at all where you would have hoped he would be even three years from when he was hired, much less seven.
Outlook: The Royals have signed Matheny to be a “Special Advisor for Player Development”, which is really interesting given the comment above about development. There’s also speculation that he’s the manager in waiting as Ned Yost only has one year left on his contract. That’s fairly remarkable as I wasn’t sure any organization would take that gamble again, especially not so soon after him being let go. We’ll see how that turns out but it’s not like the Royals have a long history of good decisions.