Getting There Is Not The Hardest Part

The Cardinals train is rolling.  After 3 consecutive disillusioning losses to the Reds in Cincinnati, the Redbirds returned home to sweep the Rockies.  The Rockies are a last place team, so the sweep is not as meaningful as it could be, but at a time when winning games in quantity is more important than winning them in quality, we take what we can get.  Getting that magic number down to 0 as quickly as possible is the goal.  The quality wins must happen when the playoffs start.

I have spent a lot of time of my fandom this season being frustrated and just generally pissed off at the manager, sometimes at the team, and even sometimes at individual players.  It hasn’t been an easy season to be a Cardinal fan.  I have to take some share of the blame in that; I am not one of those fans who can just sit back and watch and not get too wrapped up in the process or the outcome.  I have a brother like that, he doesn’t sweat anything about the Cardinals.  He has the Nuke LaLoosh attitude about Cardinal fandom—“sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes…it rains.”   He makes fun of me when I get emotional about baseball.  That’s okay, because I know how to push his buttons too.

The process matters to me.  I sweat how many times in a row Trevor Rosenthal pitches, or how many pitches Adam Wainwright throws in a game.  I sweat who plays the outfield when Shelby Miller pitches; all those fly balls being chased down by the 3 worst defensive outfielders on the team makes me nervous.  I sweat Daniel Descalso playing anywhere on the field.  I believe process matters.  Better process means more of those good outcomes occur than when bad process is used.  Perhaps the Cardinals would have more wins and be in a better position right now if the process along the way had been better. I can’t just say at the end of a game “who cares what the manager did because we won”.  I care.  Very much.

My brother would just shake his head at me.  My brother is more of a football fan anyway.

I am not a major league baseball manager and I don’t pretend to be.  I do, however, understand how baseball works, and I know enough to know when something could be done better.  I happen to think managing a baseball team by playing hunches and going with “feelings” about things is not the best way to manage.  Feelings are for shrinks.

Sure, being able to lead and motivate these players is important, I am not discounting that.  Those things occur in the clubhouse and the dugout.  What happens on the playing field is tactical, and requires logical thought and good process.  Putting your players in the best position to succeed is not about feelings, it’s about knowing their strengths and weaknesses and utilizing those to the best advantage.  It’s about knowing what the opposing team brings, and playing to their weaknesses with your strengths.  Using all the data available (and there is mountains of it) to logically plan how to utilize strengths and exploit weaknesses is the best way to manage tactically on the field.  Making a pitcher “feel like a King”, or being “fair” does nothing on the field but make it more likely that you will end up with a team of good feeling losers at the end.

I would really like to see Mike Matheny manage more like a scientist and less like a psychologist.  Motivation and leadership only goes so far; it must be accompanied by good, logical thought processes and strategic use of reliable baseball data.  I don’t see that happening with Matheny.  The only data he appears to rely on is straight left/right handedness (unmodified by actual left/right split data) and small sample size batter versus pitcher match ups that have little to no predictive value.

There is so much more than could be utilized in making tactical decisions on the field, as well as in planning lineups.  It is all available at the tips of the fingers to you and me.  No doubt Matheny has access to reams and reams of team internal data he could use as well.  If he is using any of it, it sure doesn’t show on the field.

This has become something of a rant, but it is and has been the source of much of my frustration with the management of this team.  With the playoffs looming, I believe it is more and more important to plan strategy wisely.  The Cardinals won’t be playing last place teams in the playoffs.

Yes, I am happy that the Cardinals are in first place and looking to win the division.  It doesn’t stop there, however.  The road becomes much more difficult from here on, and I would be much happier if I thought the team was being managed in a way that increases the probability of winning in the playoffs.  The way it has been managed all season thus far does not engender much confidence in that happening.

Thank you for reading.

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1 Comment

  1. baseballmania

     /  September 17, 2014

    I was having a conversation the other day with someone involved in professional baseball. We got into a conversation regarding fans and how tough they can be on their team.
    We both found it amusing and agreed that unless one has played the game, been in the clubhouse, been in these situations, they really have no idea what goes on or about the dynamics often played out on a daily basis.
    Baseball is a game about failure, how one over comes the adversity they face everyday as a player or collectively as a team is what makes a winner.
    I think that is a good description of the Cardinal organization. There is a post over on TCN about why people hate the Cardinals. Knowing many fans from other teams, I think Cardinal fans are pretty lucky.
    As far as Trevor Rosenthal and hus up and downs, he has the second most saves in the league, as of today. That’s pretty amazing for such a young player. Players are people just like us, they have to learn to shake off whatever transpired before they stepped into the arena. It’s what is expected of them, but it doesn’t always happen. Players are expected to play each and every game, no matter what else is going on in their lives, or how lousy the feel, and trust me this time of year EVERYONE feels lousy.
    FWIW, I agree with your brother 100%!



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