St. Louis Cardinals: Mike Shildt may be a frontrunner
By Matt Graves
The Manager of the Year finalists are out and St. Louis Cardinals manager is one of the final three. Could Mike Shildt be a frontrunner?
Even though we are in the most boring part of the year, there is always something to discuss. Right now, it is the awards season and sadly, the St. Louis Cardinals only have one team member as a finalist for any of the awards.
Mike Shildt, along with Brian Snitker (Braves) and Craig Counsell (Brewers) are the three finalists for Manager of the Year in the National League. The voting for the is all done before the start of the postseason, so the voting does not reflect how the postseason went.
As the Cardinals’ only representative in awards voting, could Shildt win his first Manager of the Year award in his first full season in the role? Let’s examine the arguments for each manager.
Craig Counsell, Milwaukee Brewers
The 48-year-old Craig Counsell is in his fifth year of managing the Brewers and 2019 will be his third year of finishing in at least the top five. Last year, after leading the Brewers to a 96-win season, he finished second.
This year, the Brewers finished at 89-73, just two games behind the Cardinals and securing a Wild Card spot. If you checked the standings at the beginning of September, you probably wouldn’t have guessed that’s where they’d finish.
The final month of the season very well may have been when Counsell put his name in the Manager of the Year conversation. The majority of the year, the Brewers were led by MVP candidate, Christian Yelich. On September 5th, the Brewers were 7.5 games out of first place. On September 10th (5.0 games back), Christian Yelich suffered a season-ending injury.
At that time, a certain writer may have written that the Brewers season was over, but they rallied and were 1.0 game back of the Cardinals for three of the final four games of the season before finally faltering. Over the final 24 games, the Brewers put up win streaks of seven twice, and four once. This all led to them finishing 18-6 and blowing past the Cubs for 2nd place in the Central.
Over the whole year, Counsell did a great job managing a sub-par pitching staff, both in the rotation and the bullpen. Looking at the names in those spots, he got the best production out of them that you could ask for, which is the whole goal of a manager.
Brian Snitker, Atlanta Braves
Snitker was the 2018 winner of the award and is looking to make it back to back years. Now done with his 4th year of managing at the age of 63, Snitker has the best year yet in 2019. After taking the Braves from a .444 winning percentage in 2017 to a .556 winning percentage in 2018, Snitker improved further by leading the team to 97 wins and a .599 winning percentage.
This was aided by the addition of Josh Donaldson reigniting at third base and the continued growth of the young phenom, Ronald Acuna Jr. For a team with a lot of young guys, Snitker did a great job integrating them into the lineup and pitching staff. Players like Rookie of the Year candidate Mike Soroka and rookie Austin Riley came in and had an immediate impact, and Snitker didn’t get in the way of that by playing veterans just because they were veterans.
While Snitker may have been beaten by Mike Shildt in the NLDS, this regular-season award could easily go to Snitker as the Braves once again returned to the top of the division and held off the eventual World Series-winning Nationals.
Mike Shildt, St. Louis Cardinals
This is where I am going to try and remain impartial but probably won’t do a great job. Mike Shildt far and away deserves this award.
After taking over the team at the All-Star Break of 2018, Shildt stressed defense and baserunning coming into 2019. These warts of the Cardinals in the past ~four years were turned around immediately in 2019. Going from the worst defense in the league to the third-best, the Cardinals only got as far as they did because of their defense.
On the basepaths, the Cardinals were tied with the Washington Nationals with exactly 116 steals and 29 times caught stealing. That is good for the best stolen base success rate in the league at 80%.
The emphasis on defense and baserunning is one of the biggest reasons that the Cardinals made it to the NLCS and because they did it with the vast majority of the same players as the team that was the worst in the league in 2018, it was clearly an effect of having Shildt at the helm.
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Shildt’s job in 2019 was made very difficult by having almost every single player on the offense underperformed. The only overperformers were Kolten Wong and Tommy Edman, neither of whom are even close to the best hitters on either the Brewers or the Braves. I may have had some issue with the favoritism that Shildt showed at times, but in the end he made it work.
Shildt also did an awesome job managing the bullpen. While the players did ultimately make the outs, the person responsible for putting the players in the best position to succeed was solely Mike Shildt.
At the end of the day, the effect a manager has on a team is greatly debated, but with things like defense and baserunning, that’s coach-oriented.
The best way that I can think of to think about who should win this award is to ask, “Who did the most with the least?” As the manager of a team with an underperforming offense, Shildt took the Cardinals to an NLCS. Of the Braves, Brewers, and Cardinals, the Cardinals are the worst team, yet they made it the furthest.
That to me tells me it’s all in the coaching.
Manager of the Year awards, like Gold Gloves and the other end-of-season awards, don’t ultimately decide a player’s worth, but they are nice to have. Mike Shildt should be the clear frontrunner for this award after the year he had in his first full season as manager.