What Does Mike Shildt Know That We Don’t?

All season long, there have been some, shall we say, debatable choices made by Mike Shildt in regard to deploying his personnel.  Over the last week or so, that hasn’t changed.  However, as surprising as it is, at least some of them have borne a lot of fruit.  A sampling:

  • Tommy Edman starting in right field for the first two Pittsburgh games, while Lane Thomas sits on the bench.  Edman went 4-8 with a double and a triple in those games.
  • Michael Wacha starting the first game in Cincinnati.  Wacha went five innings and allowed just two runs, his best start since the end of June.
  • Basically the entirety of the lineup yesterday.  Then the Cards go out and score five runs to split the series.

Yesterday’s decisions seemed particularly egregious.  Kolten Wong has been the best hitter on the team for the second half at the very least and has hit lefties remarkably well this season.  I understand sitting him against Clayton Kershaw or lefties of that ilk, but Alex Wood, while good, isn’t really in that category.  Obviously, if you need to give Wong a day off, doing it against a lefty makes sense, but he just had a “day off” (he came into the game in the seventh, which is what he did yesterday as well) last Sunday.  Actually, yesterday was the third time this month that he’s started on the bench and come into the game late.  Paul DeJong has only had two days off (either complete or partial) since the All-Star Break.

Of course, Tommy Edman was in the lineup.  In fairness, he probably should be somewhere now, given that he has hit .389/.421/.556 against Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and Cincinnati.  And, thankfully, he was in the infield.  What seems strange about Edman was the comments Shildt made about him before the game to FOX Sports Midwest:

There are a couple of ways to look at this.  One, while Edman is definitely on a hot streak and, as such, probably has earned that opportunity, it feels like Shildt isn’t talking about just this past week.  Before this stretch of games, Edman was hitting .136 in August.  He hit .216 from the first game after the All-Star Break to the last game in Los Angeles.  Yet in that time he started 20 games, usually at third while Matt Carpenter was out.  Edman is going well, but Shildt shouldn’t be bestowing him that “regular” status if that means Edman is going to play even when he is struggling.  We’ll see what his usage looks like when the production drops off (which may happen as the Cardinals get to better competition this week) but it feels like Edman could go 0-for-the-week and still be run out there somewhere, whether it be third or the outfield.

So we agree that Edman should be in the lineup.  However, he should probably have been playing third and let Wong play second.  Instead, Matt Carpenter, who has not been good at all this year (though, I guess it should be noted, he’s been better against lefties–.740 OPS against them vs. a .675 OPS against righties) played third and, crazily enough, hit second.  I mean, if you want to go by the splits and play Carpenter, that’s an arguable position.  But hitting him second?  Look, as much as Matt Carpenter has been a legend for the Cardinals, a guy that probably makes the Cards Hall of Fame in a few years…..it really feels like this isn’t going to get any better.

Since August 1 of last year, Carpenter has put up a .215/.334/.389 line in 634 plate appearances.  That includes the end of his legendary hot streak, as he didn’t really start cooling off until mid-August or so last year.  His wRC+ is 93 (and if you go strictly from August 18-August 18, it drops to 83 in 556 PA).  There doesn’t seem to be the underlying hit profile that gives you any optimism like there was at the beginning of 2018, when the numbers looked awful but the approach was there, balls were being hit hard, and there was an expectation that things would turn around.  Now?  His barrel percentage is the lowest it has been since Statcast began collecting data in 2015.  Same with his exit velocity, hard hit percentage, and all the X-stats (which somehow has not become the latest Marvel movie).  There is nothing that you can point to that says Matt Carpenter should play except his history and his contract.  John Mozeliak indicated at the blogger event that the contract wasn’t so onerous that they felt it would block people from playing.  Yet he continues to be out there regularly.

If all that wasn’t bad enough, then Shildt threw Yairo Munoz into the mix.  It’s funny, earlier in the year when Munoz seemed to be the best alternative to Carpenter and for getting people some days off, he rarely played.  Honestly, he rarely plays now.  But when he does play, it’s a strange choice, especially since as of late that choice has been the outfield, even though there are a slew of outfielders on this roster, some of which have trouble finding the field.

(In truth, there was a similar sentiment toward Edman, wanting–almost demanding–that he be called up.  Now, people groan when they see he’s out there again taking a spot from Thomas or Arozarena.  It’s not completely fans always wanting the new hotness, but that does play a part.  Of course, the frustrating use of Edman plays a larger role.)

Look, say what you want about Randy ArozarenaJeff Jones, in a Twitter conversation with Kyle Reis, noted that Shildt had said that they were still figuring out what they had with Arozarena.  I’m not completely sure how they can really get a handle on what Arozarena can do without him getting some playing time, but we’ll put that aside for the moment.  What you do know is that Lane Thomas has produced every time you’ve turned to him.  He’s got all of 33 plate appearances but he’s hitting .367 with an OPS of 1.158 in that limited time.  He has three home runs, including a huge grand slam that won a game last Sunday.  The Cardinals have played six games since then.  How many has Lane Thomas started?  Two.  The next night in Kansas City and yesterday against the Reds.  (He went 3-7 in the two starts.)  Thomas has been on the roster since July 30, with some appearances before then.  He was here for a week back in April.  If you don’t realize what you have with Thomas by now, you aren’t likely to ever know.

I get that the outfield situation is a jumble.  Marcell Ozuna is going to start regularly and he should.  He’s second on the team in home runs and leads the team in OPS.  Dexter Fowler is also going to start regularly.  Fowler’s season hasn’t been outstanding save in comparison to last year’s disaster but it has been solid.  He’s got 14 homers, a 102 OPS+, and has played good if not outstanding defense.  Mix in his contract situation and it’s not a surprise to see him out there almost every day as well.  You could make a better argument that he could be benched occasionally for some of the other folks, but I don’t think that anyone else has shown that they have to play over Fowler.

That leaves you one spot in the outfield.  Right now, it shouldn’t be a problem to rotate Thomas and Arozarena through it, but instead the manager continues to put Edman and Munoz out there instead, causing more of a traffic jam than there needs to be.  In September, when Tyler O’Neill, Jose Martinez, and Harrison Bader are also part of that mix, I would understand less use of Thomas and Arozarena.  Right now, though, they should be playing.  If not, what are they there for?  Especially Arozarena.  They added him to the 40-man and called him up for a reason.  John Mozeliak has said that they don’t call people up just to sit them on the bench.  It was an issue with the prior manager that probably in some part led to the decision to move on.  Now we are seeing it again with Shildt and that makes even less sense, given that he understands the minors and should realize that you don’t bring up your best minor leaguer to be an occasional bench bat.  Every manager has their guys and, again, Edman is hitting right now so it is less egregious, but he was forcing Edman into the lineup even when he wasn’t hitting and that is what was so questionable.

While we’re on the topic of things I don’t understand that Mike Shildt does, his bullpen usage yesterday didn’t make sense to me.  Now, I barely got to see any of the game, what with church, lunch, and going to see my grandmother, but the little I did see was the seventh inning, when upon my TV screen was Giovanny Gallegos pitching in a 5-1 game.

Gallegos pitched in Friday night’s game, that 13-4 rout, but that made some sense.  He’d had five days off and he needed to get in a little work.  I was surprised to see him out there just a couple of days later in a game situation that didn’t seem to require him, especially when that could make him off-limits Monday with the Brewers coming into Busch, that Brewers team that is right in the NL Central mix with the Cardinals.  It’s going to be a big series and to risk not having one of your big guns available when necessary seemed strange to me.

Either because the situation wasn’t crucial or he just didn’t have it, Gallegos gave up two singles, struck out a batter, then walked Nick Senzel on a 3-2 count.  With a lefty coming up, Shildt of course went to Andrew Miller, which made me (and pretty much everyone) get a little nervous.  Miller has been Shildt’s security blanket and at times it works.  At times it doesn’t.  While you can say that about basically every reliever, for Miller it truly feels like a flip of the coin.  How is his slider today?  If it’s good, all right.  If not, yikes.  It’s almost to where if he gets behind in the count 2-0 or 2-1, you’d rather have Shildt go get him because it doesn’t seem like it’s going to turn out well.

Miller’s also now appeared in 55 games.  In 2017, he appeared in 57 all year, though he pitched 20-plus more innings then.  In 2016, he appeared in 70 between two teams.  The Cardinals have 40 games left and it seems likely he’ll go past that.  Given his recent injury history, that may not be a good thing either.  Yet no matter the results, it feels like Shildt is always going to go to him.  It’s not Matt Bowman levels of usage or of ignoring results, but the rest of Cardinal Nation is much more nervous when Miller jogs in that the manager is.

The Reds pinch-hit a righty for the lefty, which really shouldn’t have mattered.  Miller’s splits are pretty solid against either hand, with only a .003 difference in OPS between them.  The coin flipped tails, though, and Miller walked Jose Peraza on five pitches, forcing in a run.  Thankfully, Shildt didn’t stick with Miller (give him credit, the manager doesn’t usually go too long with a reliever) and got John Gant to come in and get the double play to end the threat.

As for the ninth, I don’t think that’s on the manager.  In a 5-2 game, especially when you need to replace Gant and have already used Gallegos, there’s not any real option but to go to Carlos Martinez.  That usually works out OK and it did here, though not until Martinez allowed two runs before getting one out.  Thankfully he gathered himself and got a flyout and two strikeouts to preserve the victory.

Look, I realize that there are a lot of dynamics that we don’t know and information we don’t have when it comes to player usage and lineup construction.  I will say it does feel like we can complain about this or that when the lineup comes out, only to have this or that play key positive roles in the game.  We used to say that Mike Matheny lived a charmed life and maybe some of that comes with the job.  However, until we know specifically why a guy like Lane Thomas isn’t in the outfield more often, why a guy like Tommy Edman gets to play positions he’s not played since he was 12 just to keep a bat that (save the last three series) has been mediocre in the lineup, why the club continues to run out a guy like Michael Wacha and seemingly never use a guy like Ryan Helsley, we’re going to question, we’re going to complain, and we’re going to grump.  And, a lot of times, we’ll be right to do so, even if the results wind up working out.  On a game-by-game basis, a questionable player could get two hits and make the decision look great.  If the process isn’t solid, though, those occasional justifications will only lead to more disappointment down the road.

What does Mike Shildt know that we don’t?  A lot.  That doesn’t mean he’s always right, though.


Friday, August 9 (6-2 win over Pittsburgh)

Hero: Paul Goldschmidt.  Two hits, including the tie-breaking single.

Goat: Paul DeJong.  0-4 with two strikeouts.

Notes: The beginning of Tommy Edman’s hot streak, as he had two hits, though no runs or RBI….multi-hit game for Dexter Fowler as well as the top three in the lineup combined to go 6-12….Dakota Hudson only went four innings as Mike Shildt aggressively went for offense, pinch-hitting for him in the bottom of the fourth.  Jose Martinez struck out, but the bullpen held and the Cards came back to win.  Tyler Webb and John Brebbia combined for three scoreless innings with just a hit and a walk between them.

Saturday, August 10 (3-1 win over Pittsburgh)

Hero: Adam Wainwright.  He allowed a home run on the first pitch, but then threw six scoreless after that.  There’s something about Waino at home, man.

Goat: Matt Wieters.  0-3 with two strikeouts.  Probably felt the impending return of Yadier Molina and knew the playing time was about to decrease.

Notes: Tommy Edman again had two hits, including a Little League home run….Giovanny Gallegos pitched excellent relief of Wainwright, going 2.1 innings and allowing no runners to reach.  Now why he started the ninth instead of letting Carlos Martinez have a clean inning, I really don’t know.  Seems to be one of Mike Shildt’s idiosyncrasies….for the second straight game, Marcell Ozuna came up with the bases loaded and nobody out in the first inning and hit into a double play.  There’s not many more frustrating results than getting just one run in that situation.

Sunday, August 11 (11-9 win over Pittsburgh)

Hero: Lane Thomas.  His grand slam put the Cards on top, but he also had an RBI triple earlier in the game.  To add to what we were saying earlier, why is it these guys (him and Randy Arozarena) can’t hit higher in the lineup in the rare times when they get to play?

Goat: Miles Mikolas.  Six runs (five earned) in five innings.  Mikolas is fortunate the offense came around because often that’s a losing line.

Notes: Paul Goldschmidt went 4-5 with three RBI, hitting a home run in the first inning.  The overall numbers haven’t been great for Goldschmidt, but the power is being a little more regular….three hits for Tommy Edman and two for Marcell Ozuna….Dexter Fowler came in mid-game and socked a home run late to give a little more of a cushion….Junior Fernandez made his major league debut and while he was charged with two runs, they scored when Tyler Webb gave up a bloop hit with two outs….Andrew Miller came in for the save and gave up a home run before locking it down.

Tuesday, August 13 (2-0 win at Kansas City)

Hero: Jack Flaherty.  Flaherty continued his run as the best pitcher in the second half–not the best Cardinal pitcher, but likely the best pitcher in baseball–by throwing seven scoreless innings and striking out seven.

Goat: Yadier Molina.  0-4 in his return from the IL, leaving four on base.

Notes: Kolten Wong was the only player with multiple hits….Andrew Miller and Carlos Martinez finished the game off with relative ease on Cardinal hearts….the team mustered five hits total against Glenn Sparkman and the bullpen, which was a sign that offensive woes aren’t solved.

Wednesday, August 14 (6-0 win at Kansas City)

Hero: Paul DeJong. Two hits, including his 20th homer on the year that made the game serious.

Goat: Paul Goldschmidt.  0-4 with two strikeouts.

Notes: The team was no-hit through six innings, then exploded for five runs in the seventh….two hits for Randy Arozarena in his debut, the first of which clipped Yadier Molina but nobody was out since it went past a fielder first….Dakota Hudson went six innings, allowed no runs, and struck out four….Junior Fernandez took the ninth with the game well in hand and threw a scoreless frame, notching a strikeout.

Thursday, August 15 (2-1 loss at Cincinnati)

Hero: Kolten Wong.  Two hits, including a two-out double in the ninth that brought in the only run and kept hope alive.

Goat: Paul Goldschimdt.  Again 0-4, again two strikeouts, and he left four men on.

Notes: Michael Wacha was surprisingly solid, only giving up runs in his last inning of work.  Unfortunately, those two runs were all the Reds needed….the Cardinals loaded the bases in the third with two walks and a hit batter, but Goldschmidt struck out to end the inning….the Cardinals didn’t get their first hit until the fifth inning and only had two all game, though they walked five times….Ryan Helsley threw two scoreless innings and struck out three batters, which would indicate to me that he could be used either more often or, preferably, stretched back out to his starting potential.

Friday, August 16 (13-4 win at Cincinnati)

Hero: Dexter Fowler.  Three hits, including a home run, two runs, four RBI.

Goat: Matt Carpenter.  Even in this offense-rich environment, all he could muster was a walk and went 0-4.

Notes: Four homers, which is a good week for these guys sometimes….Kolten Wong had one of those homers as part of his four-hit night….Marcell Ozuna had three hits, as did Tommy Edman….Adam Wainwright gave up four runs, three earned, in 6.2 innings, but three came in the sixth and one in the seventh.  The Cards were up 12-0 before he allowed anything….this is what happens when you do a podcast Friday morning talking about the lack of offense.

Saturday, August 17 (6-1 loss at Cincinnati)

Hero: Yairo Munoz.  Three hits filling in for Paul DeJong.  Which gave him the start on Sunday, I imagine.  I can understand the theory there, but use Munoz and Tommy Edman at second and third if you have to.

Goat: Miles Mikolas.  Back-to-back terrible outings for Mikolas, which is concerning since he seemed to be finding his stride.  Five runs in five innings wound up working last time but it’s not a great plan to get through the season.

Notes: Situational issues reared their head again, as the Cards had the bases loaded with one out down 5-1 and couldn’t score….Matt Carpenter hit a home run, the only scoring of the night….Ryan Helsley and Junior Fernandez got the last three innings and did well, though Helsley allowed one run and Fernandez loaded the bases before escaping.

Sunday, August 18 (5-4 win at Cincinnati)

Hero: Tommy Edman.  Three hits, including a home run, is what you like to see out of a leadoff guy.

Goat: Matt Carpenter.  0-4 hitting between Edman and Paul Goldschmidt, who had two hits of his own (including a home run).

Notes: Jack Flaherty got tagged in the first with a homer but other than that was the Flaherty we’ve come to know over the past month or so.  Just five innings, but he struck out five and allowed three hits, though three walks as well….we’ve talked about the bullpen usage in this one, but again a hat tip to John Gant who did a great job keeping the game from getting out of hand….two hits for Lane Thomas in another start.  Maybe it won’t take until Sunday until he gets another….Shildt had a perfect opportunity to put Thomas and Randy Arozarena in the lineup at the same time and instead went with Munoz, which is extremely disappointing.  Also, Munoz went 0-4.

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