For much of last season stat-heads pointed to the Cardinals’ amazing .330 batting average with runners in scoring position–the highest mark ever since the stat has been tracked–as unsustainable because it was based as much on good fortune as good hitting.
This season the Cardinals have hit just .243 with runners in scoring position, which has played a big part in St. Louis’ offense going from leading the league in runs last season by more than 10 percent over the second-place team to ranking 13th in runs per game this season.
Because of that dropoff fans and media members have been critical of the coaching staff, which in turn has manager Mike Matheny firing back at the critics. Here’s what Matheny told Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post Dispatch:
You’re putting as much work if not more now than what you did last year when things were going so well. You’ve got people taking cheap shots all the time. You’re human. You wear that. Plus you know that the [players] are not happy with where the guys are right now. If you have coaches who don’t care, then they’re just putting in their time and chalking it up to a number of issues. That’s not what we have.
When an entire team hits .331 with runners in scoring position for an entire season it’s going to make everyone involved look like genius. And when an entire team hits .243 with runners in scoring position it’s going to have the opposite effect. As usual the truth is probably somewhere in between, but if Matheny and the coaching staff were willing to accept the endless praise for last year’s remarkable RISP numbers then it seems like they should also be willing to accept some of the so-called “cheap shots” this time around.
Infielder Javier Baez is back in camp with the Cubs after helping Puerto Rico to a second-place finish in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. He was the focal point of what was, to many, the most memorable play of the entire tournament: Baez pointed at catcher Yadier Molina, who was attempting to throw out a would-be base-stealer, before applying the tag for the final out of the eighth inning.
While Baez didn’t receive much criticism for his theatrics, aside from an insignificant handful of spoilsports, he is one of the players who most exemplifies the emotional, celebratory culture that foreign players bring to Major League Baseball. U.S. (and Tigers) second baseman Ian Kinsler is on the other side of that spectrum, as he said prior to the WBC final that he hopes kids mimic the solemn way U.S. players play the game rather than the emotional, passionate way players from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic play the game.
Baez isn’t about to apologize for the way he and his teammates play the game. Via CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney, Baez said, “We do a great job playing and having fun out there. That’s what it’s all about. This is a game. It’s not as serious as a lot of people take it. but, you know, everybody’s got their style and their talent. I have a lot of fun.”
He continued, “It’s their choice to look at how we play, how excited we get. To us, it’s really huge what we did, even though we didn’t win. All of Puerto Rico got really together. We were going through a hard time over there and everything got fixed up for at least three weeks. Hopefully, they keep it like that.”
Angels outfielder Mike Trout came up with an idea that would allow less experienced umpires an opportunity to call some major league spring training action. As ESPN’s Buster Olney reports, Trout thinks the veteran umpires should only call five or six innings as they get back into regular season shape. The rest of the innings could be called by minor league umpires.
According to Olney, baseball officials loved Trout’s idea when they heard about it last week. One official said, “It makes a lot of sense for a lot of different reasons.” Another said, “That’s Trout — he’s always paying attention to stuff beyond what he’s doing.”
Of course, I have to agree that the suggestion is a great one. As Olney notes, the turnover rate for umpires every year is relatively low, so younger, less-experienced umpires have few opportunities to get a feel for what it’s like calling major league action. Even beyond the actual interpretation of the rules, interacting with big league personalities would also be helpful for minor league umpires.