Mike Shildt and crew get back to work in just over a month from now when pitchers and catchers report. St. Louis Cardinals fans won’t be satisfied if he is to be measured up to an elite level in just his first full season, but what should we expect from Shildt?
I get that Mike Shildt’s record in 2018 for a decent St. Louis Cardinals team should say something about his managing ability, but that’s also just how bad Mike Matheny made this team look. This will be the year that shows what was more impactful on the 2018 season: Shildt’s appearance or Matheny’s disappearance.
I don’t think Shildt is a bad manager, but I am not sure that he is a good one either. There is no doubt in my mind that he is better than Matheny (which isn’t particularly difficult to do), but there were definitely some moves that Shildt made last season that raised some eyebrows.
Here are a few general things that I am hoping to see from Shildt this season. I won’t think that he’s a terrible manager if he misses on one of these things, nor am I indicating that he didn’t properly cover each of these bases during his short tenure last season.
It would be a breath of fresh air to see these things implemented over a long season in a consistent manner, something that St. Louis Cardinals fans haven’t seen in a long, long time.
Free the Youth Movement
I have been critical of Matheny’s mismanagement of youth for a long time, and it has shown in the squandering of a plethora of talent. I am hoping that Mike Shildt doesn’t make that mistake, allowing younger players with bright futures to work through their struggles.
A player will never become one of true merit if he cannot fight through adversity. Even the greatest hitters in history went through slumps in their careers. Barry Bonds was hitting .235 with a .376 OBP over the first 24 games of his 2001 MVP season. Tony Gwynn slashed .269/.333/.337 over a 27 game span in 1984, a season where he finished with a .351 average. Even Babe Ruth had a less than spectacular .254/.356/.549 slash line over the first 21 games of his 1920 season.
The point of all this exposition is that players struggling over what seems like long periods of time is something that needs to be worked out on their own, through continued opportunities. This is something Matheny just didn’t allow, as he managed for his job more than he did for the future of the team.
I am expecting much different with Shildt at the helm. It shouldn’t be a problem for guys like Harrison Bader and Jordan Hicks, but I am thinking more about guys like Tyler O’Neill. Guys that are either being blocked by vets or are on the cusp of being major leaguers are the ones that need the most care, and the ones that Mike Matheny neglected the most.
Shildt should allow these younger guys some time to work through their own individual adversities. If he doesn’t, St. Louis Cardinals fans might be treated to some more situations similar to the one with Randal Grichuk. And Lord knows that’s the last thing that the Cardinals need.
Be your own man
Bullpen management was another glaring flaw in Matheny’s style that irritated Cardinals fans for years. I always believed that Matheny felt the pressure of being the successor of arguably the most masterful tactician in terms of match ups and pitching changes in Tony La Russa.
I think that the pressure to fill those shoes was part of the reason that Matheny’s bullpen management was so poor. He would dedicate himself to match ups, ignoring the actual situation in front of him. Whether it was taking out a starter that was cruising or seemingly thoughtless reliever switches, the micro management just didn’t work for the St. Louis Cardinals.
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This is the time that Mike Shildt demonstrates that you don’t have to be Tony La Russa to be a successful manager for the St. Louis Cardinals. Mainly, it’s time for Cardinals management to truly trust their players. If a pitcher looks sharp, let him pitch. If he doesn’t, don’t put him in situations where he is set up to fail.
The idea of righty vs lefty can be an important part of working through a lineup, but it can’t be what defines your approach. For Mike Matheny allowed match ups to dominate his actions, which would put him in a compromising position later in games. Hopefully, Shildt will learn from these mistakes, and the successes of the managers before him in order to carve out his own tenure as his own man.
It is these little things that could be the difference between sneaking into the playoffs and another season squarely in third. If Mike Shildt and the St. Louis Cardinals want to launch themselves back into World Series contention in the next couple of seasons, this is probably a good place to start.