St. Louis Cardinals: Why Mike Matheny is Manager of the Year
St. Louis Cardinals’ manager Mike Matheny finished second in voting for the “Manager of the Year” award yesterday. The winner was Cubs’ darling manager Joe Maddon, surprise surprise. With that said, it is time for us to reevaluate what “Manager of the Year” award really means.
Too often this is thought of as a surprise manager who made the playoffs, or a manager that took a bad team and made them good. However, the award isn’t the “Surprise Manager of the Year” or the “Comeback Manager of the Year”. It is “Manager of the Year”, which hints at the best managerial job of the season.
The Cardinals make the playoffs just about every year and everyone expects them to do so. However, this year was a bit different. The Cardinals suffered a loss very early on that would have sunken most teams’ season. On April 25th, the team lost Adam Wainwright to a ruptured Achilles injury, the Cardinals lost their ace, their leader, and one of the best pitcher’s in the game.
They also lost Adam’s 4.6 WAR* from the season before. There were some that predicted the Cardinals’ would fade into the background and not be what they were. The Cardinals kept up the hot play throughout May and things were going well as the calendar turned to June.
Then the Cardinals’ lost Matt Holliday in early June, without a doubt the Cardinals’ best and most consistent hitter. This was after losing Matt Adams to a more extreme version of the same injury. Adams is not as valuable as Holliday or Wainwright, especially since he was off to an abysmal start to start the injury. So, for that reason we will not bring Adams into this conversation.
So, in review the Cardinals’ on June 8th have lost both their best hitter and their best pitcher. Looking at last year’s WAR data, shows us that with Wainwright’s 4.6 WAR and Matt Holliday’s 3.6 WAR* the Cardinals’ lost a total of 8.2 wins, by losing those two players. The Cardinals’ made up for the loss of Adam Wainwright when Jaime Garcia came off of the DL and contributed seven starts from May 21 to June 24 totaling a 1.69 ERA in those seven starts.
What happened next is that Jaime Garcia then back on to the DL for another month. Again, another crushing blow to the Cardinals’ right? Mike Matheny surely can’t keep this ship going over the next month. Surely the Pirates and Cubs will catch up to them, right?
Wrong. The Cardinals’ kept winning and kept finding that “next man up”. Carlos Martinez and his strong first full season as a starter were a large part of that. As was the emergence of Randal Grichuk who totaled a 3.1 WAR* in 2015 and also missed significant time due to injury, Stephen Piscotty (1.1 WAR)*, and Tommy Pham (1.5 WAR)*. Let’s not forget Mike Matheny also had to guide this team around the loss of a teammate (Oscar Taveras) and help Carlos Martinez throughout the offseason deal with the death of his best friend.
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When you look at the Cubs’ season, they had a great year no doubt. Not many expected them to make it as far as they did this fast. However, on second thought, why not? They made a key offseason acquisition of Jon Lester who had a 5.0 WAR* for them this season, had arguably the best prospect in baseball (Kris Bryant, 6.5 WAR*) make his anticipated debut and not disappoint, the best farm system in baseball (sorry Cardinals’ fans), had an MVP candidate in Anthony Rizzo (5.5 WAR*).
Not to mention CY Young candidate Jake Arrieta (7.3 WAR*), who pitched like a man possessed in the second half. These four players alone, were worth 24.2 WAR* this season, on paper you may think “wow Maddon did such a great job!”.
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However, looking at the players’ previous seasons shows that Maddon played no such role in rallying these players to these performances, as this was pretty much the norm for these players. If we are going to parade anybody with accolades, it goes to Cubs’ President Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer for bringing this roster together. The Cubs had arguably the best roster in baseball and Maddon managed them to a third place finish in the toughest division in baseball.
Meanwhile, Mike Matheny lost at least 10-12 WAR this season with the injuries to Holliday, Wainwright, Grichuk, Garcia. Madd0n did lose Jorge Soler for a time, but Soler was not having a good sophomore season at the time.
It’s not that this is an important award, or that it is important that Mike Matheny gets honored by the writers. It’s just that we are missing the point here in baseball. Yes, the narratives and stories help progress the game and help fans get excited again. But, we simply cannot let the narratives distract us from what the statistics and the overall season show us. To say that Maddon did a better managerial job than Matheny is relying way too much on the past than the present.
Nobody is giving Bryce Harper the MVP award because he didn’t win the award last season or because he surpassed all expectations. He will win the award based on his amazing 2015 season. If we had seen Harper have a bad season last year and then come back this season with a solid season but not quite better than Rizzo or Paul Goldschmidt, then we would be patting him on the back and saying he is a good player who had a good comeback, but not quite the MVP.
If Maddon had managed the Cubs’ to a first place finish in the division and Matheny’s Cardinals had finished third, I would have no problem with Maddon winning the award. Isn’t the “Manager of the Year” the MVP of Managers?
The Cardinals and Matheny relied on a bunch of relatively unknown commodities to save their season, and it worked. The point here is not that Matheny is a better manager than Maddon or that Maddon did a terrible job with the Cubs. The point is that Maddon cannot be considered “Manager of the Year” for the Cubs’ season. No, I am not saying the Cubs were predicted to be 97 game winners at the beginning of the year, but when you look at 24.2 WAR coming from a group of four players alone that didn’t necessarily raise their game much. These aren’t your “lovable loser” Cubs.
It is inconceivable to think Maddon did a better job this season than Matheny. Maddon is a great manager no doubt, but he was not “Manager of the Year”. If you think Terry Collins should have won the award, then I guess you didn’t watch the first half of the season. Or, you didn’t watch Yoenis Cespedes and the Nationals’ collapse lead to the Mets’ unbelievable run. So, my urge to the more popular writers out there, stop falling in love with the narrative and pay attention to the real season and the statistical data it presents.
Next: Five bullpen targets for the St. Louis Cardinals
*WAR data gathered from Fangraphs