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UCB Roundtable Transcript: How will you measure Matheny’s success?

(The following is a transcript of the United Cardinal Bloggers Roundtable for 2011 from the November 16th discussion. The question was presented by myself based on a previously set schedule. For the full schedule and transcript list, CLICK HERE.)

Good Morning!
 
I went back and forth on which question to ask today – I really wanted to ask about middle infied configuration next season – but I think I’m going to go with the hot hand and ask a Matheny question.
 
Repeating as World Series Champions is…at best…rare and unlikely. Not that it couldn’t happen, but it would be a high expectation for a new manager in his first year of managerial experience. On the other hand, Matheny is being handed a championship team with an even better rotation and fewer distractions (Colby drama, Pujols contract, etc.) for 2012 – is a repeat out of the question?
 
Outside of a repeat WS Championship, even the “Wild Cards” couldn’t win the NL Central in 2011…would an NL Central Championship be an appropriate accomplishment for Matheny’s first season? Or will his success be measured by how deep into October he takes the team? Or will he even make the postseason with this squad?!
 
And that brings us to our question:  What does Mike Matheny have to accomplish with this team in 2012 – with or without Pujols – to be considered “successful” in his rookie season?
 
Another 90 win season? Make the playoffs? Make the NLCS? Just contend? Win the World Series again? Just keep the team upright and drama-free? Etc. Make sure to include the reasoning behind your answer, perhaps even including a comparison between your expectations of Matheny and what he needs to accomplish to be considered successful in 2012 (is there a difference?).
 
Have at thee!!!
 
– Kevin (@deckacards and www.cardsnstuff.wordpress.com )

Tough question, because there are so many variables.  What if someone gets hurt?  Do we lower expectations for him then?  How much is because of Matheny and how much because he has established coaches around him?

I think for him to be successful, he needs a team that doesn’t look like it’s going through the motions; he need a controversy-free (or fairly so) season; he needs to be in contention late in the year.  If this team is healthy and isn’t at least within 3 games of the lead at August 1, I think there are going to be a lot of people doing some second guessing.
————————————
Author, C70 At The Bat
Co-Admin, CardsClubhouse
Founder, United Cardinal Bloggers
Founder, Baseball Bloggers Alliance
Twitter: @C70

I have to echo this.  This isn’t football or basketball, where there are less games played.  It’s a long season and arms, as we have seen break down.

But until I know who for sure is coming back, it is hard to answer the question.

Daniel Solzman

Let’s face it, ALMOST all of these questions are hard to answer until we are sure who is coming back or barring any injuries type of thing but they are asking for our opinion not facts.

For Matheny to be successful the Cardinals need to be considered in the race in the month of September. I don’t care much if he has conflicts with reporters or players or umpires as much as I just want the Cardinals to win and that falls back on Mike Matheny.

(BTW: Does the word MATHENY not flow well together on the keyboard or is it me that has trouble and usually leaves a letter out the first time?)

Tom Knuppel

I will say that I always think I’ve left a letter out of Matheny when I look at it.  Seems like there should be something around the e, but apparently not.

What?  Fine, don’t mind Tom and I.  Maybe we’ll make strange words one of our questions.  😀

Daniel Shoptaw (C70)

When I blogged the hiring, I kept writing Matheney!

Daniel Solzman

See, I am not crazy, I am not crazy!!!! (or is it crazey? 🙂

Tom Knuppel

Funny… I was just wondering about this question as I was stumbling off to bed last night.

I don’t think anyone could expect a repeat World Championship from this team even if TLR remained the manager. It’s not like this team has Murderer’s Row at its heart and great starting pitching. Let’s face the truth: the 2011 team was fun, exasperating, thrilling, LUCKY, and ultimately triumphant. Tell me, how many times can you expect to catch lightning in a bottle??

I’d love to see a Matheny-led team achieve a winning record, and I think that is definitely possible given this team as long as the players play for him.

I think if Matheny holds the team together, plays competitively, and shows enough moxie and skill to perform at this level, his season should be considered a success. Expectations should be zero until we see what he has. Any additional success can only be considered a whole lot of cherries on top.

Ray
stlcardinalbaseball.com

I want an extra “T” in his name, I keep writing Mattheny.  Maybe what he needs to do to be successful is to spell his name in a way writers will accept?  No, fine….

Here’s my Roundtable Answer:

For my part, Matheny needs to lead a fairly uneventful season off the field.  No dugout skirmishes.  No players going to the media with things.  No distractions.  And if any of it pops up, I want him to react…quickly. 

Wins and losses are hard to judge.  There are many factors that so many have already pointed out this morning.  If we lose key players due to injury, you cannot fault Matheny.  However, how he reacts and proves versatile is another question.  If we lose a big bat or two, can he adjust to play some small ball and still win some games?  If we lose a pitcher or two from the rotation, can he use his bullpen effectively to ensure that they are not exhausted when needed?

In short: I want Matheny to run a tight ship behind the scenes and show that he can change his approach when the situation needs it on the field.

Thanks,
Bill Ivie
Founder | Ivie League Productions
ILP features | i70baseball.com | baseballprerogative.com
ILP Radio Network | I-70 Radio | UCB Radio Hour | BBA Baseball Talk
Assignment Editor | BaseballDigest.com
Member of Baseball Bloggers Alliance
twitter.com/poisonwilliam

I couldn’t agree more with Tom.   Mike Matheny is taking over a very good Cardinals team, but history has shown that seasons like the Cardinals had in 2011 are very difficult to duplicate.  

For 2012 to be a success for Matheny, the Cardinals need to be make the playoffs, and be within a couple of games of the NL Central title if they do so by way of the Wild Card.  I think there is an additional test and it has to do with how effective they are once they get into the second season.  

Tony La Russa showed an ability to adapt quickly to the challenges presented in a short series (quickly going to the bullpen) and Matheny needs to demonstrate some ability to do the same.  They don’t have to win a divisional series, but Matheny needs to look like a manager who understands both parts of the season, the long grind and the quick drip.

Being a music fan first (Cardinals fan second), I have a hard time not spelling it Metheny.  There are a couple of jazz musicians named Metheny,  Pat (guitar) and Mike (trumpet).   To borrow a line from a Monty Python skit, can we just call him Bruce then?

Bob Netherton

For me, to consider it a successful season assuming there are no unforeseen circumstances such as an injury, I think that Matheny needs to have a season where the team contends for the division title. I expect them to win it because the Reds have issues, the Brewers will fall back, and I don’t think the Pirates are quite ready for prime time.

I also want to see as few games as possible where over or under management costs the team a win. It might take him a couple months to figure out where the line is, but one of my major complaints about LaRussa is that I felt there were times he managed the team out of wins. Learning that balance will be vital for his success.

The pressure is on, and he’ll be expected to win, but I’ll place more of my opinion of success or failure on my take of his game management skills. Is the team winning because of the decisions he made or in spite of the decisions he made? That will determine it for me.

Jon Doble

In my mind, there are SO MANY layers to this question.  But, at the core of it all seems to be: How does one define a successful manager?  I’ve posed this question to my friends (usually after a TLR crucifixion), “What makes a manager a good manager?”  Is it postseason appearances, winning championships, career winning percentage, division titles, making in-game moves that you agree with from your recliner…etc?  For me, I think Mattheney’s success is largely dependent on how he handles situations, and not as much related to the standings.  For now.  I won’t feel that way forever.

I’m not saying Meaethehheneey’s record at the end of the season isn’t important–it certainly is.  But you get a chance to impact your record every day, every series, every season.  You get one shot at laying down the law, and communicating to your team, coaching staff…etc, just exactly ‘how things are gonna be around here’.  New sheriff in town and all that.  How would Mettaeethenay deal with a little dust-up between one of his starting pitchers & an infielder who wasn’t prepared to take the field when it was time?  What’s he gonna do when one of our batters gets a four-seamer in the middle of their back?  God forbid this team have to deal with something really big, like another death in the family…THOSE are the things that we can’t forget about.  The numbers will either be there, or they won’t.  In either case, Mthnyeeaaet owns the numbers, no matter what they are.

Dathan Brooks

I’m a big believer that 162 game season really shows the caliber of a team and the playoffs are a crapshoot determined by a hot bat or a few key plays in short series. So it is quite the accomplishment the Cardinals won 90 games with the injuries and challenges they faced defensively. And I think the Brewers were 96 wins good with that lineup they put out everyday.

Cardinals benefitted from momentum, clubhouse leadership, better managing, and “clutch” performances to take the Series…but I digress.

Having said that, I think any manager should be judged by getting to the playoffs not how he does in the playoffs.

With the team coming back, 90 wins and a playoff berth is a reasonable expectation. So from a results standpoint, that’s what I’m looking for as a fan.

More importantly, Matheny needs to show good in-game management, player development of young guys, and a high-quality fundamental baseball from this team to be successful in my eyes. Everyone focused on the double plays all season long, but not many talked about the fact that the Cardinals started winning games in September and October without being so reliant on the home run to score.

I hope this trend continues.

Chris Mallonee

Interesting question, especially when you stop and consider that the 2011 Cardinals could have won the 90 games they did and not made the playoffs if the Braves month of September had turned out even a bit differently. Would that have been considered a successful season for La Russa? Or just another disappointment because they didn’t make the playoffs?

But, to the question you did ask, it’s hard to say given so many variables. Not just the roster, but how do you judge now what he’s going to be like as a manager when we don’t have anything to base a definition of success on other than the Cardinals who’ve said they like and respect Mike Matheny? Therefore, my own definition of success for 2012 is if Matheny leads a Cardinals team that stays in contention up until the very end of the season. If they make the playoffs again, so much the better. But if they don’t make yet the team has played hard and stayed together — meaning, as you said, Kevin, keeping the team “upright and drama-free,” to me that’s a successful first year.

(And, for the record, no problems typing Matheny at all!)

Christine Coleman
Aaron Miles’ Fastball

Mike Matheny is surrounded by a collection of men with strong character who also happen to be the current World Champions. I struggle to see how (barring a plague of injuries) this team would not be a contender in 2012, especially with Adam Wainwright rejoining the party. 

That said, Matheny certainly has some cushion to temper fans ready to judge his rookie year as manager based solely on the team’s record.

Beyond wins and losses, I hope Matheny is able to earn the respect of fans by living up to some unwritten expectations.  I would like to see our next manager have a better relationship with the media, willing to
share his ideas and thoughts as the season progresses and to make himself available for us all to learn more about his style as he tests the waters.  That is a lot to ask here, but lack of accessibility might be a real sticking point for a fanbase as vocal and loyal as Cardinal Nation. Furthermore, I will consider Matheny’s first season a success when I see/hear players’ genuinely supporting their new skipper and his management style.  If Matheny can truly capture the respect and loyalty of those quality guys wearing the birds on the bat while maintaining what is destined to be another winning season, THAT sets itself up to be a marriage built in baseball heaven.

Make us all happy, Mike.  We don’t ask for much!  😉

Erika Lynn

Kevin:

Especially if the number of postseason spots are increased in 2012, Mike Matheny has to have the Cardinals in the postseason to be considered successful and the team has to be perceived as having played fundamentally sound and smart “Cardinals-style” baseball. It’s a high standard _ and it should be.

Mark
http://retrosimba.com

When I read this question, my first thought was “as long as the Cardinals finish with a winning record, fans will look at the season as a successful one for Mike Matheny.” But, then I thought about it and I realized, I am just kidding myself. With the team the Cards have in place next season (with or without Pujols) and the coaching staff that Matheny has around him, not to mention the leadership of the veteran players, anything less than an appearance in the playoffs will be a failure. That wouldn’t mean that the Cards would need to fire him or anything drastic like that because there will be a learning curve. I just think that there are pretty high expectations for him in 2012 and anything less that a chance to repeat as Champions (I.E. making the playoffs) would be disappointing.

JE Powell

I for one will be disappointed if the 2012 version of the Cardinals fail to make the playoffs. We set lofty expectations for this franchise and it really doesn’t matter who the manager is. Mike will have a strong supporting cast of coaches that will help him transition and hopefully be a success.

Dustin McClure

It’s possible to set expectations regardless of the personnel Matheny has. Actually, I would argue that roster-independent analysis is the only fair way to assess him. Success for Matheny means showing an ability to optimize his personnel (whoever they are), from lineup setting (no low-OBP leadoff men, please) to the rotation to minor-league callups. It also means consistently wise strategy, giving his team the best chance to win, whether it’s the running game or using his best relievers in the highest-leverage situations, regardless of “Save” conditions. It will be vital for Matheny to show restraint and not overreact when proven approaches appear to fail, even for long stretches (e.g,., not putting on more hit and runs when the team is hitting into double plays). For someone with no managing experience, having patience with the long season and concepts like regression may be the most difficult. One unique challenge for Matheny will be helping the team adjust from a command-and-control environment to something conceivably less so. Clubhouse control will look different — perhaps a more self-policing approach — so Matheny will need to shepherd that change, most likely by relying on the team’s veterans, who have a somewhat checkered record of leadership (see the Game 2 walkout).

Those criteria to me are more an indicator of a manager’s success than wins and losses, which are mostly dependent on players, and certainly not playoff success, which of course is a crapshoot.

Pip (Matt Philip), fungoes.net

I’m with Dustin in that I have (and I know many Cardinal fans do as well) lofty expectations for the franchise and organization, regardless of who is managing. This is why so many felt it crucial that they find the right guy for the job, why so many thought experience to be critical, why so many project this job to be one of the top posts in baseball right now – the Cardinals are expected to win. Doesn’t really matter to me who is managing, the goal is to make the playoffs.  There are varying levels of success that can be achieved short of that, but to me that is more about lessening failure than it is truly succeeding. Obviously repeating as champions is a daunting task, the playoffs are largely a crapshoot once you get there (just ask the Yankees).  But to have the chance, to earn a spot in the post-season is my expectation of success – for Mike Matheny or anyone else who manages the Cardinals.

Nickhttp://www.pitchershiteighth.com | http://twitter.com/PitchersHit8th | Go Cards!

For my take…
 
First, I have to say I’m a bit surprised by many of the answers here. Is it unique to Cardinal Nation (among consistently contending teams) that we just won the World Series, have a consistent expectation of contention…and yet many of us list a well-behaved, respectful, professionally run clubhouse as one of our indicators of a successful season for a manager? I mean, I can see many teams’ fans saying, “I just want to be proud of my team” or “We have to contend!”…but to list both as fan priorities in an open-ended format…it makes me wonder if that is what defines Cardinal Nation…an expectation of excellence AND professionalism…not one or the other…but 1 and 1A (heretofore known as the Waino/Carp Clause).
 
Anyway…I think my expectations start with a realistic view of what Tony La Russa did after winning the World Series in 2006. Bad season in 2007…playoffs in 2009 but got swept out in the first round…and then won it all in 2011 again. Yes, the 06 and 07 teams were drastically different than this team – older, in decline, weaker rotation, etc. – but my point is simply this: To expect a deep playoff run from this team is natural (given the talent on the team), but to make it a critical factor of success with a rookie manager seems unfair and unrealistic. Even a Hall of Fame manager in TLR couldn’t do it for another 5 years after winning in 06! (a deep run, I mean)
 
Also, a reminder…this “great team” coming back in 2012…largely the same team in 2011 that nearly missed the playoffs by falling to 10 1/2 games out. Berkman is another year older – what kind of offseason program will he engage in now that he’s not gunning for a comeback season? Pujols is showing more evidence of decline (assuming he re-signs), We have a drastically different CFer to start the season (which gives us a shallower bench and less power), we currently have no SS and could very well enter the season with Tyler Greene as our starter, 2B is a crapshoot…and our rotation consists of the following: Carpenter (just threw a helluva lot of innings), Waino (first season back from Tommy John…hasn’t even thrown a breaking ball), Garcia (Captain meltdown…which Jaime do we see?), Lohse (coin toss), and Westbrook (wish he was at least a coin toss). All this…and a true rookie manager to replace a Hall of Famer that scratched his way to BARELY 90 wins this year.
 
I think this team is well-positioned for 2012…don’t get me wrong…but expecting Matheny to take this team on a deep playoff run considering all the things that could go wrong between now and October 2012 may be wishful thinking. So…
 
My factors for evaluating Matheny’s success:  1) Professional, play-hard, cohesive, never-give-up team…in other words, continue the message of TLR while adding his own touch to it in a seamless way. 2) Perseverence…no knee-jerk reactions to things going badly because he’s afraid of being judged too harshly. 3) No Cliff Diving…in other words, no committing to guys who clearly aren’t getting it done just because of (fill in the blank here). 4) Establish his authority the right way…that’s a lot of experience on that coaching staff…it would be real easy to fall into the “I don’t know…what do you think I should do…oh…ok…let’s do that” mentality. 5) Begin to establish a Managerial Identity…find his own way…don’t let Oquendo/Duncan/Maloney manage the team…for that matter, draw the line between his office and Mo’s office and toe it…and don’t try to be TLR. Find his own way. 6) Contend…in the NL Central. Just get yourself in the top two/three in the division…it shouldn’t take much to finish in the top half. Once the team is there, it may be up to the veteran leaders to “push” to the top. 7) Finally – Be a Unifier…work to incorporate the “Old School” and the “New School”…blend the veterans and traditional thinking with advanced metrics and the player development system…and then blend THAT with the vision the front office has for the club.
 
A tall order…but if he can do 5 out of 7 of those things…I will call him a success. It’s a process…it will take him a couple years or longer to do all of them (maybe not…but still)…but with the team and coaching staff he’s getting…and the expectations in St. Louis…his timetable is going to be shorter than most.
 
And maybe the answer is in the question as well…does Matheny even NEED to be a success in his first year? Is it fair to expect him to be a success in his first year?
 
– Kevin (@deckacards at www.cardsnstuff.wordpress.com)

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