Here we are again, on the precipice of another great St. Louis Cardinals’ season. As I write this, the team is currently 97-56, and in the midst of a five game win streak. In Mike Matheny‘s first four seasons with the club, he has amassed a sparkling record of 372-267, three NLCS appearances, and one WS appearance.
Let me preface this by telling you that at times, I myself can be one of Matheny’s biggest critics when it comes to game management and lineup construction. There have been times this season where I have really questioned Matheny’s decisions (Jon Jay over Tommy Pham).
However, Matheny has led this team through one of the hardest things a team will ever go through in the death of a teammate (Oscar Taveras). Matheny has also rallied a team around a late season trade of popular clubhouse guys in Allen Craig and Joe Kelly, and managed to lead to the team to a division title and trip to the NLCS for the fourth straight season as a team and third straight as manager.
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Pre-season expectations for this team were that they would do enough to win the division. FanSided’s own Cameron Lafontaine pegged the team to go 92-70 and win the central. However, that was before Adam Wainwright, Matt Holliday, and Matt Adams all went down within the first couple months of the season. Nobody thought the Cardinals would be where they are today, 41 games over .500 and on pace to not only win the division, but be the best team in all of MLB.
This team has fought off the scorching hot Pittsburgh Pirates and the upstart Chicago Cubs all season long. The way this team has performed despite all of the injuries has been nothing short of amazing. At this point credit has to go to Mike Matheny. Not only has he and GM John Mozeliak pushed the right buttons and brought in the right guys to lift this team when it is needed most, but Matheny has even improved his downfalls a bit.
Now the one thing about all of this, there really is no statistic out there to quantify exactly what a manager means to his team. Neil Paine had this to say about Managerial WAR (Wins Above Replacement), “Based on my analysis, 95 percent of all managers are worth somewhere between -2 and +2 wins per 162 games.” So, in all actuality the decisions a manager makes or doesn’t make has little impact on an overall season.
However, let’s not discount the ability to bring a group of men together, working towards the same goal.
For example, let’s look at Bobby Valentine who managed three teams (Texas Rangers, New York Mets, and Boston Red Sox) and is largely considered a “baseball savant” or strong analytical manager. For someone to have this type of reputation you’d expect him to have a ring or two as well as a really good managerial record.
Valentine’s overall record is 1186-1165, good for a barely over .500 win percentage. In addition to that, Valentine only has two postseason appearances and just one NL Pennant in 16 seasons. Valentine’s knock has been that he is bad at clubhouse management, in less than one season he lost the clubhouse in Boston and had players questioning him behind his back.
Each season Matheny has been the manager, there has been at decent amount of adversity that has happened.
In 2012 there was the loss of Chris Carpenter early on in the season, only having Lance Berkman for a portion of the season, and the injury to Rafeal Furcal later in the season. That year the team rallied to not only to come from behind to win the Wild Card game, but there was also the come from behind win in Game 5 of the NLDS to propel the team to the NLCS.
In 2013, the team had the injuries of Jaime Garcia, Chris Carpenter, Rafael Furcal, and the starting shortstop hitting .213 for 143 games. The team not only won the division, but as you well know made it to the World Series losing in six games to the Boston Red Sox.
Last season, the team had to deal with Michael Wacha being injured most of the year and not coming back as the same pitcher, Jaime Garcia making only seven starts, an incredible drop off from Allen Craig (a key performer during 2013), and a trade deadline deal of Craig and Kelly to the Red Sox. The team finished with a record of 90-72 and won the NL Central for a second straight season.
Add in this year’s injuries and the record this team has managed to amass, and one can only interpret that there must be something that holds this team together. That something in my opinion; is manager Mike Matheny. Despite his struggles with game management and his tendency to go to veterans over young players at times, Mike Matheny has kept this team together each year he has been the manager. That is pretty darn impressive if you ask me.
I will admit that I haven’t really thought of Matheny winning manager of the year. As a fan I expect this team to perform this way every season. So, manager of the year would mean that it was unexpected, but when you lose two rocks like Matt Holliday and Adam Wainwright and you still manage the team to the best record in the league. That is exceptional.
I am going to make a bold statement here, and this is coming from a fan’s perspective and the perspective of someone who sees the talent coming up from the minor leagues.
This success should continue as the years go by and if Matheny stays with the team for the next 5-10 seasons or longer (he is quite young for a manager). We could be witnessing another Hall of Fame Cardinals’ manager. This is a very bold statement and his career is very young, I understand that.
Like it or not, Matheny is a pretty good at what he does and I am glad he’s the manager of my favorite team.
What are your thoughts?