Tag Archive | "Seven Months"

Experience Can Be Overrated: Matheny Is The Right Choice For Cardinals’ Manager

To be experienced, or not to be experienced, that was one of the many questions facing the St. Louis Cardinals’ upper-management over the past couple of weeks as they whittled down their list of candidates looking to fill the huge managerial vacancy left by future Hall of Famer, Tony La Russa. Frankly, there would have been some unrest within the Cardinals’ fan base no matter who the team went with, but I find the “Mike Matheny is inexperienced” argument completely irrelevant. He’s inexperienced? At what? Sure he hasn’t managed a single professional baseball game in his life, but that’s not a prerequisite for “experience” in my book. First, let’s take a hard look at what a major league manager truly does and then see if Matheny is qualified or not.

Major League Managing 101 –

1) Leadership – This is hands down the most important quality a Major League manager must have. He’s leading a group of men for seven months through Spring Training and then a 162 game regular season. Guys can lose focus and get burnt out pretty easily under those conditions. The manager needs to be a guy who’s been through the same thing and knows how to keep that focus throughout the long summer months.

2) Knowledge of the Game – We’re not just talking about hitting the ball and running counterclockwise around the bases, here… we’re talkin’ what pitch to throw to the cleanup hitter when you’re behind in the count and the bases are loaded. We’re talkin’ knowing when to pull your pitcher… and who can come in and get the next series of critical outs. We’re talking tie game, bottom of the 9th, runners at 2nd and 3rd with one out… do you load the bases to set up an inning ending double play or bring the infield in and trust your pitcher to get the out?

3) Knowledge of the Team’s Talent – Does the manager know his guys’ strengths and weaknesses, and can he utilize them accordingly.

Ok, so those are some of the basics. Now ask yourself the question: Is Mike Matheny “experienced” in any of those areas? Well, let’s take a look:

1) Leadership – Matheny was a manager on the field during his major league career, which spanned over 13 seasons with 4 different teams, including 5 years with the Cardinals. During those years, he gained trust and respect from his pitching staff (including Chris Carpenter), his other teammates (including Albert Pujols), and his coaches (including Dave Duncan). And he certainly knows what it’s like to go through the 162-game grind, doing it himself for more than a decade.

2) Knowledge of the Game – Mike Matheny won four gold gloves as a catcher. Translation: in addition to calling every single pitch selection of the game, he was also focused and talented enough to make all the physical plays necessary to be considered the best in the game at his position. He had an understanding of what opposing hitters strengths and weaknesses were, and helped his pitchers get them out.

3) Knowledge of the Team’s Talent – We already mentioned Mike Matheny has played with Pujols and caught for Chris Carpenter. He has also had a role in coaching and developing talent in the Cardinals’ minor league system, so he’s familiar with guys like Fernando Salas, Eduardo Sanchez, Daniel Descalso, Tony Cruz, Allen Craig, Jon Jay, and others. In addition to that, he’s also served time as an analyst for Fox Sports Midwest, dissecting the players and games through a critical eye.

Obviously, there’s a lot more to managing a Major League Baseball team than what we’ve discussed thus far, but of the three areas we’ve hit on, Matheny does have the upper hand on all the other candidates with the exception of Jose Oquendo. I can only assume that “intangibles” put Matheny ahead of Jose in the club’s decision. How would the soft-spoken Oquendo handle the umpires? That’s something Matheny, as a catcher, was able to master over his 13 year career… lobbying his way over balls and strikes probably every single game he caught. How would Oquendo handle the media? That’s something Matheny had a big more experience at as well, playing in the media-crazed 21st century version of MLB and working himself as an on-air analyst.

All things considered, I think Mike Matheny is the right choice for the job as Cardinals manager. Is he “deserving” of the role, who’s really to say? He played minor league ball, worked his way up to the majors, and helped out with the minor league system over the past couple years. Clearly he hasn’t paid as many dues as Jose Oquendo has, but why should that matter? This is professional baseball… the best of the best work and play here. Ryan Franklin paid the most dues and had the most “experience” of any of the guys in the bullpen to start the 2011 season… and all of you, I repeat, ALL of you, were calling for him to be removed from the closer role by the 3rd week of the season. The Cardinals eventually obliged.

Sometimes, you have to go with your gut. General Manager John Mozeliak’s gut told him: respected by the players and coaches, knows the game, knows the players, knows how to work with the pitchers, knows how to prepare for and call a game. The gut feeling might work out for Mozeliak and the Cardinals, it might not… but out of the finalists for this particular job, the Cardinals chose the right guy.

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Rob Rains Inside Baseball: 2012 Answers Needed

Inside Baseball: Cardinals need to use rest of season to get some answers for 2012

Since all but a few diehard optimists can now agree the 2011 baseball season is over, at least for the Cardinals, it is time to begin looking ahead to 2012. There is perhaps no other team in baseball which knows so little about what their team will look like seven months from now.

With the futures of Albert Pujols, Chris Carpenter, Lance Berkman and others to be decided at some point this winter, there are only three positions in the regular lineup where the Cardinals can predict with any degree of certainty who will be at those spots next season – catcher, if the team picks up Yadier Molina’s 2012 option; third base, David Freese, and left field, Matt Holliday.

The other five positions, either because of free agency or performance questions, cannot be guaranteed. Which is why, beginning now, the Cardinals should use the remaining five weeks of this season to try to find some answers about who is deserving of a lineup spot in 2012.

There are four players currently on the roster, and a fifth in Memphis, who should play on an almost everyday basis between now and the end of the season if the Cardinals truly want answers about how much those players can be counted on in 2012.

Here are the five, listed in no particular order:

Daniel Descalso – He will be 25 before next season begins, and projects as a candidate for either the second base, most likely, or shortstop position. Much of his 71 starts this season came at third base in place of the injured Freese but with Skip Schumaker, Ryan Theriot and Rafael Furcal all possibly gone next year, the Cardinals will be looking for starters at both second and shortstop.

The left-handed hitting Descalso, who Sunday night started only his 15th game since the All-Star break, has a .284 average against right-handers and only a .167 mark against left-handers this season, meaning the Cardinals need to find out if can be a full-time starter or would be better suited to be part of a platoon arrangement.

In nine starts and 17 total games at second this year Descalso has not committed an error. At shortstop, he has two errors in 10 starts and 12 total games.

Jon Jay – Jay will turn 27 next March, so the time is over to stop thinking about him as a young player. What has to be concerning to the Cardinals is how much he has struggled offensively each of the past two years following a trade which almost guaranteed him a starting position in the outfield, Ryan Ludwick last year and Colby Rasmus this season.

In the last two months of the 2010 season, following the Ludwick trade, Jay hit .244 after hitting .383 to that point, albeit in a reduced role. This year, following the Rasmus trade, Jay was hitting the exact same average, .244, before getting his first home run since the trade on Sunday night, as he raised his overall average to .299. He also turned in several nice plays in center field in the win over the Cubs. Before the trade he was hitting .312 with an on-base percentage of .363.

He also has driven in only four runs over that 24-game stretch, while striking out 19 times.

Other than Schumaker, and expecting that Corey Patterson will not be back, the Cardinals have no other centerfield candidates on the current roster and do not appear to have any ready to move up from the minor leagues by 2012 either.

Allen Craig – He started three consecutive games, one at each outfield spot, before Sunday night but realistically if Craig figures in the Cardinals’ 2012 plans it has to be as either the right fielder or first baseman. Whether those spots will be open or not remains to be seen.

Craig missed almost two months of the year with a broken knee, which makes the remaining time very important for him to show the Cardinals they can indeed count on him to be an effective offensive player. He turned 27 in July, meaning he is the same age as Jay and also can’t be looked at any more as a young player.

In the last two partial seasons in the majors, Craig has hit 10 homers and driven in 44 runs in 91 games while hitting .281. In three consecutive years in the minors he hit at least 22 home runs and drove in 80 or more runs, and he deserves the chance to see if he can produce those kinds of numbers in the major leagues.

Fernando Salas – Considering nobody expected Salas to be the team’s closer in 2011, he has done an admirable job, converting 22 of 26 save opportunities. His lack of experience in the job, however, leaves many wondering if the team should look elsewhere for a veteran closer for 2012.

One of the reasons some people question Salas in the role is the fact he has given up six homers in 58 innings. Only three current closers in the NL have allowed more –Huston Street(10), Leo Nunez (8) and Drew Storen (7) and each of those closers has 29 or more saves.

There has been some suggesting that even Jason Motte, who has performed so well this year in a setup role, merits a chance as the team’s closer and it would not be a stretch to see him get some opportunities in September on days Salas is not available.

Tyler Greene – After having seen Greene on a part-time basis the previous three years, it is time to make a decision on his future. With almost 1,000 career at-bats at Triple A, he has nothing left to prove at that level, and at age 28, can no longer block a younger player, such as Ryan Jackson, who is ready to move up from Double A.

Greene has a .337 average at Memphis this season, with 12 homers and 15 stolen bases, but has only a combined .213 average in a little more than 300 career games in the majors. He can play shortstop and second base, but has to prove that he can hit at the major league level or else be labeled as a 4A type of player.

The Chicago mess

It will be interesting to see who Cubs owner Tom Ricketts hires as the replacement for general manager Jim Hendry. Hendry’s dismissal can be tied to the poor performance of several players he signed to long-term lucrative contracts, including Carlos Zambrano, Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez – one of the reasons why a lot of people expect the Cubs to proceed very cautiously this winter on pursuing free agent Albert Pujols.

The hottest name in Chicago’s job search will probably be Andrew Friedman, currently the GM of the Tampa Bay Rays. Ricketts has said he wants someone with GM experience who combines old-scout scouting techniques and the new sabermetrics approach to the game, and Friedman has done an admirable job with the low-budget Rays. He also is likely to receive a job offer from the Houston Astros once that team’s new ownership is in place. Friedman grew up inHouston.

One person who wants the Cubs job is Rick Hahn, currently the assistant GM of the White Sox. Hahn is a Chicago native who grew up living and dying with the Cubs. Whether he has enough experience for Ricketts, or if Ricketts is unable to talk a higher-profile candidate into the job, remains to be seen.

Head on over to RobRains.com to read the rest of Rob’s thoughts around the Major and Minor Leagues.

Rob Rains does his “Inside Baseball” column every Monday. “LIKE” us on Facebook for breaking news and features. Check back every day –we offer new content daily.

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The Greatest Day On The Calendar

As the sun rose this morning, hundreds of people were already hard at work. They were checking the details. Like a parent on Christmas morning, they are making sure everything is in place.

Making sure the souviener stands are stocked and ready. Making sure the promotional material is ready at the gates. Seats are clean, aisles are swept, food stands are stocked. Meetings were held to ensure that everyone knew the game plan. All while you were still in bed.

As the sun rises this morning, grounds crews will ensure everything is perfect. The logos painted in the field are meticulously manicured. The grass is perfect. The field is dragged, kicking the sweet smell of the fine dust up and around the field.

The dew on the grass gives way to warmer temperatures. Downtown in your city, rallies are held for teams. People are screaming. Absenteeism at work and school will be at all time highs. Little kids, grown adults, elderly, and teenagers will converge on stadiums wearing team colors and optimism.

As the noon hour quickly approaches, all 30 teams sit in a tie for first place. Every fan has hope and optimistic views. This afternoon, everyone has as much of a chance as any other team. Your favorite player is as much the league MVP as mine or anyone else.

By the time you go to bed, the landscape is being laid. Debates will be held as to why the team won or lost. The division of baseball will begin. Optimism will reach higher, crash to the ground, or be adjusted. The local sports talk stations will break down every detail, every player change, every sacrifice and every error. Sports television will show highlights, low lights, errors, and amazing plays.

If you are reading this, you will love every last minute of it.

Happy Opening Day. It is the greatest day of the year for people like me. The love of my life returns. For the next six to seven months my life will revolve around the game. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball as well as the Assignment Editor for BaseballDigest.com.
He is the host of I-70 Radio, hosted every week on BlogTalkRadio.com.
Follow him on Twitter here.

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