St. Louis Cardinals: MLB and moves without meaning

ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 11: Manager Mike Matheny
ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 11: Manager Mike Matheny /

Today we’ll start with a logic puzzle: What do Commissioner Rob Manfred’s moves to “modernize”  MLB and St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny’s use of the team’s roster have in common? (You can think about it for a minute.)

Stumped? Ok, here’s the answer:  They both have an awfully hard time putting forth supportable rationales for their actions. Manfred’s recent decision to put a number of games (two featuring the St. Louis Cardinals) on Facebook and bypass local telecasts comprises form over substance, as do Matheny’s choices quite often.

Manfred has been on a public mission to respond to statistics, surveys, pundits and fans that say MLB’s market, especially among younger audiences, is in peril. And this seems to have some truth to it — the relatively leisurely pace of baseball doesn’t appeal to as many in today’s attention-deficit culture.

So the commissioner has sought to experiment with various aspects of the game, focusing heavily on pace-of-play initiatives and even with rules changes, such as the minor-league initiative to put a runner on second base to start extra innings.

While the time-reducers seem to make some sense — not to purists, but to those seeking to get out of the ballpark in less than three hours — a variety of Manfred’s ideas appear to represent change for change’s sake.

The extra-innings rule being tested in the minors, for instance, may seem to Manfred superficially like the National Hockey League three-on-three overtime.

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It’s not, and here are just a couple of  reasons why.  The NHL overtime is instant excitement, keeping everyone on edge because of the sudden death nature of OT and the freewheeling adventures of so few men on the ice. Not at all like an extra-inning affair that still unfolds with regular untimed baseball pace.

Moreover, only about ten percent of MLB games go to extra-innings, so what the heck will a runner on base do for attendance? Manfred thinks fans will say, oh, good, I go to five games a year, so none I see are likely to be extended, but if they are, it will really have an impact on me and my view of baseball?

Get serious.

This same silly and faux logic applies to the recent decision by MLB to scratch a couple dozen games from local cable networks to place them on Facebook. Manfred somehow thinks this will expose “new users” to the game, but it’s a marginal bet at best and hurts those who are financially committed to the game.

Just a few of the many reasons: Casual fans who don’t have either cable or “cord cutting” subscriptions can already simply go to a bar, restaurant or friend’s house to watch; and serious fans  who have invested in a carrier with a local baseball package are penalized for doing so as MLB takes away part of what they’ve paid for.

MLB boasted of 4.3 million checking in on the game but didn’t mention that comprised no more than 85,000 at any one time. And honestly, who cares if notoriously fickle Facebook users check in on a game for a few minutes? Does anyone seriously think that will build lifetime viewers? Can’t they already do that on free national Fox telecasts?

Identifying an issue but addressing it with faulty and flimsy reactions is common to the Matheny-run Cardinals. Even the first few games have shown issue identification combined with faulty responses or explanations to the challenges. Let’s briefly look at three.

Matheny insists on having eight relievers on his staff, but has almost completely benched Mike Mayers, he of the phenomenal spring. This while seven of his bullpen parts have worked either three or four games. While it’s way early, this kind of over- and underused pattern has typified Matheny’s bullpen management.

Another strange choice is Matheny’s inconsistent use of matchup stats. He left second baseman Kolten Wong, a six-year Cardinal, on the bench for the home opener, installing Matt Carpenter at second, and rookie Yairo Munoz, presumably because a lefty was starting, was at third.

But Wong, a vastly superior defender to Carp, was 1-2 with an RBI in his career against that lefty, Robbie Ray. Moreover, Wong had a .360 OBP against lefties last season, while Carpenter’s .343 OBP versus lefties last year was heavily walk-oriented, as he only batted .202 against them.

It would be fine to give Matheny the benefit of the doubt on an isolated move, right? Sure. Except that two nights earlier, he left in Dominic Leone, who had just given up a homer to Milwaukee Brewer to tie the game in the ninth, to face Ryan Braun. Who to that point in his career had gotten Braun out exactly zero times in three tries, including two home runs. Make that three HR now.

A final example is the peculiar case of Sam Tuivalaila. It’s been encouraging to see Matheny actually call Sam into three games, and to be fair, he’s struggled thus far. But over the years, Tui has been the bench-ender, with the manager leaving him languishing so much that Sam has often been sent back down to Memphis.

Which is strange, because comparing Leone to Tui reveals some interesting contrasts. Such as, Tui saving twice as many minor league games but Leone getting about two and a half times more major-league appearances than Tui in a similar number of years. Even though both are flamethrowers with control questions.

So Manfred and Matheny seem to share some questionable characteristics, acting under pressure but not always finding the most logical of responses to the issues before them. I do commend Manfred for trying to keep baseball relevant, despite going about it in mystifying ways.

Next: Changes for success

Matheny? For me, the mystifying far outweighs the rational. ‘Nuff said.