Matheny Vs. Online Genius Managers
Mike Matheny might be the most second-guessed human being in major league baseball. President Obama enjoys better support on Fox News than Matheny receives from the cabal of armchair managers critiquing his every move on a nightly basis. Matheny can’t wipe his own rear end without these geniuses questioning his choice of toilet paper in (ahem) hindsight.
That’s not to say that Matheny should be shielded from criticism. Matheny makes some in-game strategic moves that boggle the mind, often involving misguided bunts and his infamous double switches. Many of these choices fly in the face of 100 years of baseball evidence, and demonstrate beyond any doubt that Matheny is still a “new” manager learning the job as he goes along.
Wednesday’s game presented Matheny with one of his toughest choices yet. In a freak accident, Shelby Miller was hit on the right elbow by a Carl Crawford line drive on the second pitch of the game. With his young phenom suddenly lost, Matheny turned to Michael Blazek to finish the first inning for Miller. Blazek wasn’t particularly good, either, throwing twenty pitches and loading the bases before escaping without any runs.
As Blazek struggled through the first, Matheny chose to get Jake Westbrook up in the bullpen to take over the second inning. All of the genius managers on Twitter and Facebook held their breath, hoping the solid veteran could provide the long relief the Cardinals desperately needed at that moment.
Unfortunately, Westbrook didn’t have his best stuff on three days of rest. The Dodgers scored six quick runs in the second inning, burying the Cardinals in a depressing, bog-like deficit.
As soon as the runs began scoring, the hindsight managers on Twitter lit up the site with damning judgments about Matheny’s choice of Westbrook. “I knew it!” they cried after the fact. On their way to get another beer, these psychics came up with additional insights like, “Matheny is a moron! He should’ve left Blazek in and used the bullpen!”
But was Matheny wrong?
First of all, I’d like to emphasize that there was no “right” answer here. Matheny suddenly found himself down an important starter after two pitches in the first inning against one of the league’s better offenses. Matheny faced four more games to end a brutal stretch of the season schedule that saw the Cardinals play 31 games in 30 days. Burning the bullpen was an option, but it left the team vulnerable for the next few games.
Matheny chose to call on Westbrook instead. Westbrook had pitched on three day’s of rest a few times in his career, and had some success (2-1 record, 3.07 ERA). Westbrook was somewhat prepared to face the Dodgers, as he was scheduled to face them the following day. With Joe Kelly in the rotation, the only viable long-relief arm out there who was close to ”ready” was Westbrook. And let’s not forget that Westbrook has had incredible success pitching at Busch Stadium.
Matheny was asking Westbrook to keep the Cardinals close and eat up some innings – that’s all. Westbrook, being the dependable veteran leader, went to the mound on short rest and eventually absorbed nearly five innings of UFC-style punishment.
It’s likely that Matheny asked Westbrook to do this because it would be easier to replace Westbrook in the rotation for following day’s start rather than burn five (or more) relievers an inning at a time. It’s a logical choice given the illogical circumstances.
But you wouldn’t know there was any logic in the decision if you went by the reaction of the geniuses on Twitter. They cursed poor Westbrook and damned Matheny for the decision, declaring (after the fact) that they knew it was the wrong thing to do. Of course, it’s so easy to come to the “correct” decision with the benefit of hindsight.
They conveniently fail to realize that this situation had no “correct” course. Matheny could’ve burned the bullpen after Miller’s injury, and then have to face the wrath of the Peanut Gallery if Westbrook had failed the following day. Despite what these know-it-alls think, there were no “obvious” or “correct” choices here. It’s a roll of the dice, a step off the ledge. Matheny checked the bet, and lost.
If anyone is to blame for the eventual 13-4 blowout loss, it’s John Mozeliak. He left the team without a long reliever when Kelly moved to the rotation, and failed to secure another starter before the trade deadline despite multiple options. Without that long relief option, Matheny had his options severely limited.
Matheny makes many dumb choices, but this is certainly not one of them. Westbrook has pitched poorly in the past, but he’s been a solid starter this season and has emerged as an important leader on this team. His personal sacrifice tonight deserves respect, not scorn.
It’s so easy to second-guess tough choices from the unaccountable safety of the living room couch. However, if these anonymous online geniuses want to complain about a move, at least attempt to look at the situation objectively and honestly.