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Miklasz: Mike Matheny considers use of stats to be “personal attacks”

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101 ESPN’s Bernie Miklasz really laid into Cardinals manager Mike Matheny in a column published on Friday. Miklasz references an interview Matheny had with ESPN’s Mark Saxon during which the skipper attributed his team’s flaws with defense and running the bases to the young players on the roster. Before more or less “fisking” — or FJMing, in baseball parlance — Matheny’s statements, Miklasz provided an interesting anecdote:

When asked about the team’s problems with defense and base running in 2016, Matheny never really explored the topic. Never really answered the question or acknowledged the defense/running issues. Instead, he sought to play it off by citing his use of so many “young” players. And Matheny criticized the media for, well, I don’t know what the media did exactly. My best guess is that we discussed and wrote about the defensive and base running flaws last season. Areas that obviously were harmful to a team that won 86 games and failed to make the playoffs. Keep in mind, Matheny once told me that he considered my use of statistics — facts — to be personal attacks.

Though the Cardinals have been quite successful under Matheny in his five seasons — they’ve gone 461-349 (.569) — they have nothing to show for it. They lost the NLCS in seven games in 2012, lost the World Series in six games in 2013, lost the NLCS in five games in 2014, lost the NLDS in four games in 2015, and didn’t even make the playoffs last year. As a result, Matheny has been put under the microscope. Indeed, Craig has pointed out some of his shortcomings — here and here, for example — while Cardinals bloggers have gone to more specific detail. Miklasz, too, does a great job refuting Matheny’s claims.

We’re no longer in an era where people in crucial baseball roles can afford to be close-minded about information. Every team utilizes analytics in some capacity. To not use them, whether out of stubbornness or some moral distaste, is to intentionally handicap oneself. The Cardinals have been on the forefront of the analytics movement, too, so it comes off as particularly quirky that the manager appears to be a Luddite.

The Cubs are in desperate need of relief

Associated Press
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Tonight in Chicago Yu Darvish of the Dodgers will face off against Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs. If this were Game 1, we’d have a lot to say about the Dodgers’ trade deadline pickup and the Cubs’ budding ace. If this series continues on the way it’s been going, however, each of them will be footnotes because it has been all about the bullpens.

The Cubs, you may have heard, are having tremendous problems with relief pitching. Both their own and with the opposition’s. Cubs relievers have a 7.03 ERA this postseason, and have allowed six runs on eight hits and have walked six batters in seven innings of work. And no, the relief struggles aren’t just a matter of Joe Maddon pushing the wrong buttons (even though, yeah, he has pushed the wrong buttons).

Maddon pushed Wade Davis for 44 pitches in Game 5 of the NLDS, limiting his availability in Games 1 and 2. That pushing is a result of a lack of relief depth on the Cubs. Brian Duensing, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. all have talent and all have had their moments, but none of them are the sort of relievers we have come to see in the past few postseasons. The guys who, when your starter tosses 80 pitches in four innings like Jon Lester did the other night, can be relied upon to shut down the opposition for three and a half more until your lights-out closer can get the four-out save.

In contrast, the Dodgers bullpen has been dominant, tossing eight scoreless innings. Indeed, Dodgers relievers have tossed eight almost perfect innings, allowing zero hits and zero walks while striking out nine Cubs batters. The only imperfection came when Kenley Jansen hit Anthony Rizzo in Game 2. That’s it. Compare this to the past couple of postseasons where the only truly reliable arm down there was Jansen, and in which Dodgers managers have had to rely on Clayton Kershaw to come on in relief. That has not been a temptation at all as the revamped L.A. pen, featuring newcomers Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson. Suffice it to say, Joe Blanton is not missed.

Which brings us back to Kyle Hendricks. He has pitched twice this postseason, pitching seven shutout innings in Game 1 of the NLDS but getting touched for four runs on nine hits while allowing a couple of dingers in Game 5. If the good Hendricks shows up, Maddon will be able to ride him until late in the game in which a now-rested Davis and maybe either Strop or Edwards can close things out in conventional fashion, returning this series to competitiveness. If the bad Hendricks does, he’ll have to do what he did in that NLDS Game 5, using multiple relievers and, perhaps, a repurposed starter in relief while grinding Davis into dust again. That was lucky to work there and doing it without Davis didn’t work in Game 2 on Sunday night.

So it all falls to Hendricks. The Dodgers have shown how soft the underbelly of the Cubs pen truly is. If they get to Hendricks early and get into that pen, you have to like L.A’s chances, not just in this game, but for the rest of the series, as bullpen wear-and-tear builds up quickly. It’s pretty simple: Hendricks has to give the Cubs some innings tonight. There is no other option available.

Just ask Joe Maddon. He’s tried.