Roughly a week ago, we learned the St. Louis Cardinals were moving from some of the coaches in 2017.
By now I’m sure you have seen the St. Louis Cardinals‘ end of the season press conference featuring John Mozeliak, Mike Girsch , and manager Mike Matheny. If you haven’t, please check out the KSDK Facebook page. It’s the type of press conference that will get you fired up at times, but make you ask a lot of questions.
Last week, I asked a couple of questions in part one of my presser reaction series. I examined one of the more intriguing quotes from the press conference regarding position players for next season. If you missed my reaction to Mozeliak’s comments, click here.
In continuation of the series, I looked at the firing of now former pitching coach Derek Lilliquist and former bullpen coach Blaise Ilsley. On the surface of this move, many of us here at Redbird Rants immediately pointed to the St. Louis Cardinals not firing John Mabry.
I think it would be fair for any fan to ask that particular question, but what about Lilliquist and Ilsley? I mean, was this move designed to take the heat off Matheny or did they really need to go?
Last night, on the Official Redbird Rants podcast, Christian asked Dr. Miles and me just that.
While I think some may struggle with this question, debating on whether it’s Matheny or Lilliquist’s fault for the pitching’s poor performance in the last couple of season, I think there is a very straightforward reason for the firing of the two coaches. Lets look at what Mozeliak said on his search for a new pitching coach for 2018:
"“The new pitching coach has to understand modern strategy, modern analytics, and how we can leverage that to optimize our staff. Clearly when you look back at the success of our pitching, it’s been good. But I felt like the process was not ideal for future growth. This is a unique spot. We have to get this right.”"
A couple of things jump out at me right away from this quote. The first is the expectations of the new pitching coach. I think it’s fair to say, the St. Louis Cardinals were not confident in Lilliquist’s ability to understand the full scope of advanced numbers. I’m not saying Lilliquists was misinforming Matheny in certain scenarios, but I think there may have been some new school vs. old school mentality clash in the dugout.
It’s well documented Matheny uses every bit of information he can to assess his options before making a move. Here is how he approaches making a decision:
"“Who is seeing what? How are they seeing it? And what can they give me? Between the conversations and the (numbers), I want to know, for example, what’s our best chance for a strikeout the third time through the order against this particular hitter with this pitcher compared to this other pitcher? Because the pitching coach and I need to get someone going. Get his opinion, and then I make the decision.”"
Somewhere there is some disconnect in the approaches of Matheny and Lilli. If Lilliquist is not embracing Matheny’s method or the method the St. Louis Cardinals are wanting, then the team really does not have any reason to keep him, regardless of performance. Even then, performance in the pitching staff has declined to the tune of thirty-five blown saves in the last two years.
The second thing that jumps out to me is Mozeliak’s stance on the future growth. He is not talking about the position, but more so the growth of the players. Perhaps the St. Louis Cardinals felt as if Lilliquist was stunting the growth of certain players or would stunt the growth of players in the future. The one player that comes to mind is Carlos Martinez. We all know he has great stuff, but where is the killer mentality a lot of aces have?
While the manager does play a part in the development of the pitchers, the pitching coach is just as responsible, possibly more responsible, for truly developing their arm. I think it is obvious there is some doubt about whether Lilliquist can harness the full potential of the young arms the Cardinals have.
Mozeliak is right on the money by saying they have to get it right. How much longer can the Cardinals sit on a talent like Martinez and not get a consistent starter out of him? Hint: they can’t.
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With all of that being said, this also doesn’t let Mike Matheny off the hook. Look at the last couple of sentences in his quote above. While ownership has placed their faith in Matheny, at what point do his performances also take into account?
He cannot escape the very thing he said in his quote above. Matheny is the one making the decision for the team.
If ownership will continue to rely on Matheny’s in-game decision making, then he must also be accountable for those moments when things go poorly, especially with the bullpen.
Of course you have those who will come to his defense, and say he had nothing to work this entire year because no one was consistent. While that is true, explain why he carried so many arms in the bullpen only to use the same three or four games every game? No wonder the Cardinals blew eighteen games this year and seventeen last year, right?
In last night’s podcast, I slightly defended Matheny on that last point. Mainly because it’s the pitching coach’s job to prepare arms to go. But, again, at the end of the day, Matheny should know his players and know how often he has used somebody, even when his advanced metrics or numbers say otherwise.
What do you think? Was the firing a saving grace for Matheny or did they really need to go?