What Grade Would You Give Mike Matheny For 2013?

As we continue to look back at the 2013 season, one area to review is the job done by Mike Matheny in leading the team. We’re all well aware this was just his second year managing anywhere, and the Cardinals improved on their 2012 NLCS performance to make it to the World Series.

MathenyWith the United Cardinal Bloggers off-season roundtable kicking off today, our question to the group focused on the manager: what letter grade would give Mike Matheny for his job managing the Cardinals throughout 2013, regular season through last Wednesday’s Game Six, and why?

Here are the responses — and feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Mark Tomasik, RetroSimba

He gets an A-minus. Just looking at it big-picture, he managed the Cardinals to the National League pennant even though, for most of the season, he lost two starting pitchers (Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia), two closers (Jason Motte and Mitchell Boggs) and a starting shortstop (Rafael Furcal). Plus, he lost his RBI leader (Allen Craig) for a month down the stretch.

This team adapted to adversity and constant change while continually finding a way to win and stay focused. It bought into and implemented the important notion of selfless teamwork. Matheny set the tone and reinforced it, so he deserves the credit.

Daniel Solzman, Redbird Rants

A-. To get back to the postseason for a second year in a row with 36 wins being accounted for by rookies is nothing to be upset about. Not getting the job done in the World Series, well— that’s not on him as much as it is on the guys that chose to stand in the batter’s box without swinging the bat.

If I have to fault anyone, it’s whoever thought Rafael Furcal would be healthy this season.

Tom Knuppel, CardinalsGM

I, too, give him an A-. He receives the A part for getting the team to the playoffs with the best record in baseball in spite of some players not being able to play due to injuries.
The minus past comes from his perceived inability to get past managing with his heart and not his head. Several times he left pitchers in too long to show his “loyalty” to them and it costs the team a win.

Daniel Shoptaw, C70 At The Bat

I downgrade him a bit from the others that have already responded. I think I’d go with a B+ because, as much as he probably did behind the scenes for team chemistry and such, his tactics were still a bit questionable. He seemed to lighten up some on the bunting (though it might take Pip doing his stat work to prove if that’s the case) but that was still there and his bullpen management still had some rough edges.

What I bump him from the A- range for is his construction of the postseason roster. You just can’t use the World Series especially as a loyalty reward. If you aren’t going to use Shelby Miller, don’t put him on the roster. Pat him on the back, tell him he had a great season but you don’t figure you’ll have a spot for him, and send him home. Same with Edward Mujica. One of those roster spots might not have been a big deal, but both was pretty disappointing.

Ben Chambers, The View From Here

I think that for an overall grade, I’d give him a B. It helps his case that the team was good this year, and didn’t put him in a ton of positions to make himself look like a fool. He also was able to help his team have a tie for the best record in baseball and get all the way to the World Series.

I’d say that one of the things that worked in his favor was the look of the bullpen that was completely changed from previous years. Yes, Mo probably had alot to do about it, but it was Matheny’s responsibility to see where they would fit and then get them in situations where they would excel. He helped to get rookies acclimated to the MLB, and plugged in new people when others went down with injuries.

Another thing that I think works in his favor is that he’s handled the media well. When it came to the postseason, we didn’t get any crazy quotes from Matheny like we saw from some other managers. Mattingly’s quote from the NLCS when he said that even the Cardinals fans wanted to see a game 7 made me face palm really hard and is still under my skin. He handled the “sticky situation” from game 1 of the World Series well too. I think that making it a non-issue was the best thing to do, and just move on.

On the other hand, there were quite a few questions to be answered. Down the stretch, Matheny turned Siegrist into basically a lefty specialist when the bullpens expanded, when each time, I was thinking “Why is Siegrist not just getting this whole inning?”.

There were plenty of questions raised from the postseason too. Why was Mujica on the postseason roster? Why was Miller on the roster and then only used once, for 1 inning? A couple of times in the World Series, I felt like he stayed with the starter too long. A couple of other times in the World Series, he pulled the starter too early. A lot of those questions are just because they are fresh on my mind from the postseason. Even so, there will always be questions about reliever usage unless every move that he makes always works out. There were other questions during the year, but none of them are really that glaring or damaging at all.

When I first read this question, it took me a while to even think of anything to respond with, and that’s probably the best defense that I could give Matheny. There were no huge mistakes in the season which made me want to burn him at the stake and there were no huge successes that made me want to lift him on my shoulders. A decent season by a decent manager.

Dan Buffa, Dose of Buffa

Grading Matheny’s season isn’t easy because while the result was 2 wins shy of a World Championship. He made a few mistakes that would have crippled other teams less stocked with such an arsenal of young talent. Matheny was very solid again this season and for me that means a B+ grade. What he lost in injuries to key veterans and young arms was made up for with a late brigade of future pitching power and the full time arrival of Matt Adams. Matheny’s biggest attribute is also the thing that lessens his grade from the A level. His loyalty.  He leaned towards his heart instead of his head and in the end I believe it cost him and the team dearly.

Mozeliak didn’t set him up with the greatest set of cards when he didn’t stock the bench at the trading deadline, but Matheny failing to make key adjustments in the later part of the season and into the World Series was damaging. What started as a severe loyalty to fallen closer Mitchell Boggs(including giving him one extra closing opportunity mid season that blew up a winning streak) ended with his unwillingness to insert fresh players into roles.

His playoff roster construction was simply bad team management. He gave two respect spots to Edward Mujica and didn’t feel like using rookie Shelby Miller more than once. In some crazy way, I expected Ty Wigginton to show up on the roster as well just to make it seem right. Matheny also didn’t turn Tony Cruz loose by putting Rob Johnson on the postseason roster. He depleted his bench by putting players on it he hoped to never actually use. Name another manager that wins a World Series and does that.

Matheny needed to bench David Freese in the World Series. The former Mr. October had done little to deserve every start in the World Series and ended it without an RBI. If Tony La Russa can bench Scott Rolen in the 2006 World Series, Matheny had to find a way to sit Matheny, insert the speedy Kolten Wong (pickoff or not) and switch things around. Playing Jon Jay (also no World Series RBI) instead of Shane Robinson at a time where Jay was the lesser player was also a big mistake. His loyalty to Freese and Jay hurt this team’s offensive chances.

Let’s not forget that if Mozeliak hadn’t basically banished Fernando Salas and Boggs, there was a good chance Mike would have used them more. Matheny’s greatness came from his ability to stick with the right rookies and go with youth over age. He inserted Mujica and Trevor Rosenthal into the closer role for good returns. He engaged Joe Kelly a little too late out of the garage and fired up the Wacha Train in the final stages. His key plus also happened to be his weakness when he failed to recognize a leaking part. The pitching changes, bunt craziness and other little bits of Matheny brokerage was also hard to watch at times.

In the end, Matheny pushed the team 3 wins further than he did in 2012 but may have hindered his team with his moves late in the playoffs. When I think of Mike Matheny, I see a talented young man still learning to be a manager in the majors. This team would obviously run through a wall for him and that won’t change going forward. Matheny simply has to know when to say when with his players and their abilities. If someone else is a better option, go with the solution now rather than their resume. I do expect Matheny to improve as he goes along.

John Nagel, CardinalsFarm.com

I would give him a B+, and that is coming from someone who was one of the biggest Matheny apologists out there. For me, the downgrade comes from the World Series. As has been mentioned, the construction of the WS roster is a huge disappointment for me. Now, how much of it was his doing (and not Mo’s), we don’t really know. To keep two pitchers on the roster that were never really used is inexcusable.

That being said, his regular season management would be an A. He has built the respect of the players and they truly want to win for him. His in-game management will get better. Remember a couple of things. First, he is in his second season as a manager at really any level and also the Cards had one of the greatest managers of all-time before him.

I don’t think there is another team out there that has a brighter future than the Cards. Hopefully, Mike will be around a long time.

Bill Ivie, I70 Baseball

I’ll go B+ as well.

He helped the team overcome various injuries and seemed to plug the right pieces in where needed. He showed an ability to not be TLR by trusting rookies at various points throughout the year. He put the team within two wins of a championship.

At the same time, his in game managing seemed suspect. He stuck with some guys too long, pulled others too soon, and really just seemed to get out managed when he was up against a seasoned skipper. He was good enough to guide a very talented team along the way, but that does not make him a great manager.  He may not be such a great manager without the talent level afforded to him.

Joe Schwarz, stlcupofjoe’s Sports Page

In my opinion, Matheny deserves an A-. You all make great points when it comes to his questionable playoff roster construction and tactical decisions throughout the season, but I think these are unfair to fully pin on Matheny, especially at this point in his career. Matheny was handpicked by Mozeliak because of his leadership ability and his ability to connect with current players–not necessarily because of his tactical decision making. Like John said, I do not know how much of the roster construction is his doing or if it was all on Mozeliak. At this point in Matheny’s career, it seems like Mozeliak is playing a large role in roster decisions. Thus, two years into his managerial career (at any level), of course he will struggle with these parts of the job. He will grow and develop into a better manager–tactically — when he gets more experience at the job. The amount of adversity this team faced — Carpenter, Motte, Furcal, rookies playing large roles — and still were able to get within two wins of the World Series should be under-appreciated.

Josh Gilliam, Pitchers Hit Eighth

This is a tough one to start out with, especially with the World Series roster still fresh in our heads, but the B+ grade makes sense for other reasons as well. I’m right there with what most have been saying concerning the loyalty issues (looking at your Mujica) but still hoping the in-game management improves over time.

I’m most anxious to see how the rookies improve next season and how the make-up of the roster looks, two things Matheny will be graded on even more as the Cardinals become truly his. Overall I’m happy with how things have come together and can’t wait to be stressed for another six+ months in 2014 😉

Chris Mallonee, Bird On The Bat 82

I will give him an A- as well. From a big-picture standpoint, Matheny is 1 win away from two pennants his first two years on the job and 7 wins away from 2 World Series titles his first two years. Yes, he inherited a talented roster in 2012 and added a lot of talented young players this year, BUT he inherited an organization at a crossroads and continued the standard of sustained excellence.

Yes, his in-game management can be infuriating at times, and that’s what takes him from an A to an A- for me. The one thing TLR did a good job of was explaining in-game decisions. Matheny does not seem to view that as a critical function of his job, and in my opinion, adds to his perception as a guy who doesn’t make good decisions with the game on the line.

I do believe there was a marked improvement in 2013 on not sticking to a rigid bullpen formula, and he has absolutely been the right guy to carry on the “Cardinal Way” and guide the Cardinals to continued success under the current youth movement.

The biggest thing I wish would change is Matheny being more forthcoming with the media. I view that as an important piece of a manager’s job, particularly to such a loyal and invested fan base.

Dathan Brooks, Go Crazy, Big Boy

It’s hard to argue with results. Take that however you’d like — either in terms of falling short in back-to-back seasons, or having enough success to be that close twice in a row. It’s no secret that some of his in-game decisions and strategies are perplexing, as were his decisions as to how he set the rotation coming out of the ASB, his postseason roster, and a number of other manager-related situations. I’m still hopeful that going against the plan of giving Yadi regular days off, upon returning from his DL stint with the knee doesn’t come back to bite the team or Molina’s career in the long-term.

I disagreed with several of his decisions throughout the regular (and post)season, but that doesn’t make them wrong. I agreed with a lot of things he did too … but that doesn’t make those decisions any more right. I think I’d give him an “A,” and call it grading on the curve. No Carp, no Motte, issues with Boggs, Furcal, Mujica … etc. He had his share of things to manage around this season, and he also had a pretty good arsenal of weaponry with which to go into battle. It’s hard to imagine playing in a game 6 of the World Series with a lousy manager, though. Sure the players play the games, but 97 wins is no fluke. By nearly all measures, this was a successful season, and 22 played a big part.

Mark Sherrard, Cardinals Fan In Cubs Land

I would give him an A, with the qualification that I don’t get to see him day-to-day, as some of you do, stuck up here in Chicagoland.

Overall, making it to within one game of the World Series last year and then taking the next step this year, despite all the injuries that occurred, deserves an A+ in my book.

While I do not necessarily agree with all of his moves in the World Series, some losses you cannot pin on him (are you going to pull Wainwright in the first or second inning of game one?).

In any case, if he continues to improve each year, that can only mean a World Series championship next season.

Matt Whitener, Cheap Seats Please

I give Matheny a B+

It would be perhaps a bit higher, because I believe that he effectively learned the majority of his lessons well from the same points in 2012 to 2013….until the playoffs.

I believe that the club follows his rhythm a lot closer than is realized in most instances. In most cases, this plays well: he definitely helped to carry them through the early parts of the year when the rotation was uncertain, his confidence in the rookie arms grew their maturity by leaps and bounds from where it could have been and he did a good job of keeping the every day guys fresh, which was a major struggle last year.

However, it seemed that he once again got lost in the jungle in the playoffs. His rigid usage of the lineup and the confusing MIA turn he gave Shelby Miller in the playoffs contributed in same parts to why the team stagnated. The players have to play, but its tough for me to give an A of any level to a manager that doesn’t use his entire arsenal when its needed the most.

But overall, he did very well and seemed to progress and learn. And if he keeps at this curve for the next few years, I expect him to be among the very best in the business in a few years.

Kevin Reynolds, STL Cards ‘N Stuff

I would have to go with a B+. I know it seems odd to grade any manager who brought his team to the World Series in just his second year lower than an A, but if the question is to evaluate Matheny as a manager, then I take that as an evaluation of his skills doing the managing thing.

First, the positives are many, and have mostly been mentioned here already. He took an injury-riddled group of vets and rookies to Game 6 of the World Series. In short, that’s incredible. The atmosphere and mood of the clubhouse, by all reports, was a perfect fit for the integration of experience and youthful exuberance. And beyond that, Mike did show evidence of learning from his mistakes in 2012.

He didn’t bunt as much, at least not in ridiculous situations. He showed an ability to deviate from the bullpen script and piece together match-ups when pre-programmed options weren’t available or working. And he seemed generally more comfortable in the dugout during games, rarely — if ever — looking too overwhelmed to make a timely managerial move.

So for all of that, let’s start him at an A+ and work from there. Time for the negatives.

First and foremost, to me, he still showed that he is dominated by a sense of loyalty — and player persuasion — a bit too much. Yadier Molina was clearly overplayed during the regular season. Everyone knew it, but Matheny still continued to play him until he had to leave with a knee injury. Yes, Cruz was dealing with a micro-fracture, but the priority should have been placed on preserving Molina. Down to an A.

Second, that loyalty continued to impact lineup and pitching decisions, especially in the playoffs, by leaving starting pitchers in too long or allowing other pitchers to face hitters they shouldn’t have. Oh … and Edward Mujica on the playoff roster. Down to an A-.

Third, he still occasionally struggles with using his roster correctly. In the postseason, Randy Choate was the potential solution to David Ortiz, but rarely faced him. That’s a critical match-up that Choate was brought in for, but Matheny all-but ignored it. Down to a B+.

I still think he is learning how to motivate a team in dire situations. He’s great with the even keel approach, but he needs to learn how to shake things up a bit and get creative when it’s not working. But, since those philosophies are hard to master and seem contradictory, I’ll give him a wash on that one.

B+ overall.

Great season and much learning present, but he has room to grow.

Tara Wellman, Aaron Miles’ Fastball

Postseason excluded, I’d easily give Matheny an “A” for his sophomore season at the helm. To manage a roster jam-packed with rookies to the best record in baseball deserves massive credit. However, there were a number of things throughout the postseason that simply didn’t work out as well as similarly curious decisions did throughout the year.

Certainly, the “loyalty factor” seems to be his biggest knock, though I would argue contrary to many others, that I don’t think it’s simply a heart vs. head thing. I firmly believe, based on Matheny’s comments throughout the season, that there is absolutely a method to his madness and that no decision is made without clear (in his mind) intention. That intent, though, may not hold as much merit in the moment as it does for the future. Sometimes leaving a pitcher in may have more to do with establishing confidence for the next time as much as winning the battle this time.

Good or bad (I don’t believe we can answer that yet), that seems to be the Matheny way.

He’ll learn from the World Series run just like he learned from last year. My hopes are as high for him as for the rest of the team.

All in all, I suppose I’ll go with a solid B+. That leaves room to improve next year!

Finally, my answer

Before I even asked the question of my fellow UCB members, I had the grade of B+ or B in mind. Lots of well reasoned and well thought-out responses from everyone which have me now leaning more toward B.

For the regular season, I’d give him an A-. Matheny is still learning, given its his second year on the job, and underwent ups and downs based on the everyday situations that develop over the course of six months. But great points were mentioned about him being perhaps too loyal — especially with using Yadi after he came back from the DL and rarely was rested. Yes, great handling of the number of rookies. The pitchers were used well and excelled so often. Yes, skill in handling the players and personalities — although having the depth of talent on the roster and the minors certainly has to make it easier. Still, results speak loudest and having the best record in the majors says a lot.

Then there’s October, and especially a 23-man roster in the World Series. Not all on Matheny, but he had to have had some say in the makeup of the roster and of course had control over who was used and when. And that’s where things just didn’t work like they could have. October is a different ballgame with an increased sense of urgency — and he too often didn’t make moves to reflect that. I’d give him a C+ for October. Too harsh? Probably. But I’m a Cardinals fan with high expectations, right?

So the A- and C+ give me the grade of B overall. Yes, great and amazing accomplishments for just two years of managing. But so close to being that much more, with a few different decisions.

2 thoughts on “What Grade Would You Give Mike Matheny For 2013?

  1. If Mike Matheny had been the manager of the White Sox this year and Robin Ventura the manager of the Cardinals, Matheny would have been out of a job and people would have been praising Ventura for leading his team to two consecutive NLCS appearances (Ventura was third in the AL Manager of the Year voting last year — how many people remember that?).

    Matheny’s love affair with first-inning bunting, his inability to see problems with the closer right in front of him (Boggs, Mujica) until it’s nearly too late, and his concrete adherence to bullpen roles no matter what, make him the second coming of Jim Tracy. He’s a mediocre tactician who could use a crash course in the Run Expectancy Matrix just to educate him about the stupidity of bunting in the early innings, especially. I do not trust anyone who goes by their gut when so much data is so easily available to offer better decision making. Maybe back in the early 1980s when Bill James scored his very first best-seller there might have been an excuse. But certainly not now. Why didn’t anyone ever say: “Hey, Mike, umm, when you bunt a runner from first to second with nobody out, you reduce your chance of scoring even just one run in this inning from 94% to 72%.” I guess the fear of hitting into a double play swamps rational thinking.

    So while his team went to the World Series, they likely would have been a playoff team anyway. His weaknesses as a manager were magnified in the postseason, that’s all. The postseason literally is a different ballgame, where you manage as if there’s no tomorrow all the time, rather than treat it as just another month of the regular season. It takes imagination and boldness in the face of media criticism to succeed in the playoffs, neither quality it appears Matheny has. He’s a predictable game manager who will use the players he is given, and will put the Martes, the Salases, the Boggses and the Wiggintons in the game until those underperforming players are mercifully taken from him.

    At best, he’s a C manager. Not an A- and not a B+. He gets a C grade for the process of 2013, not the result.

    I don’t look at the results to justify the process, I examine whether the process, used consistently, will replicate the results. And his process will result in a consistently underperforming Pythagorean Expectation considering this team’s offense and pitching. The Cardinals were a 101-win team in 2013 that only won 97 games.

    Then again, I’m partial to Joe Maddon as a paradigm of an information age manager. But if Matheny isn’t up to that level, could he at least just be Bob Melvin, following the leadership of his GM and buying into the intelligent organizational wide program as a middle manager should?

  2. Pingback: UCB 2013 Post-Season Roundtable — United Cardinal Bloggers

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