3 Subtle Ways Mike Matheny Has Improved the St. Louis Cardinals
New Cardinals skipper Mike Matheny hasn't gone gray in his first professional managerial job yet, or at least as far as anyone can tell. The Cardinals have had plenty of ups and downs to start the 2012 campaign, and yet Matheny still has the Cardinals in first place in the NL Central.
Matheny has huge shoes to fill replacing Tony LaRussa, who finished his career with the third most wins in MLB history. Add to that the legacy of Whitey Herzog and Red Schoendienst, and the bar is set high. Each of those skippers had multiple appearances in the Fall Classic and brought at least one World Series Championship to St. Louis.
Despite all the expectations, Matheny is a cool customer, and that has reflected in the way his team has performed to start this season. Here are a three subtle ways Matheny has improved the Cardinals.
Yadier Molina Is Even More Improved
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As if perennial All-Star Yadier Molina needed any more improving, having Mike Matheny as a manager has taken Molina's game to another level. Matheny himself brought home a few Gold Gloves behind the plate when he wore Cardinal red in the early 2000s.
While it may not be completely obvious that his defense is drastically improving or his hitting is continuing to get better, Molina has taken on a leadership role, one that Matheny used to shoulder during his playing days.
Additionally, Molina has called great games this year, helping the Cardinals get out of the gate strong. Some would give all the credit to Molina, but more than once, the camera has shown Molina and Matheny talking shop. It is obvious that Molina has taken to the new skipper, and two great minds are better than one.
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Mike Matheny was always a very cerebral player, probably out of necessity to stay in the big leagues more than anything else.
I can't remember a time when the Cardinals have pitched out more than they have this season. Matheny has a keen sense for when runners will be in motion, and it seems more times than not this season, he is right.
To go along with the ESP Matheny seems to have with runners on base, his attention to detail has rubbed off on the defense. Whether or not the Cardinals are studying hitters and their tendencies, I'll never know. But what I can tell you is the Cardinals defense has improved this year.
Last season, the Cardinals finished 23rd in fielding percentage with a .982 clip. So far in 2012, the Cardinals are ranked 11th with a .985 fielding percentage. It goes without saying that a good defense is a pitchers best friend.
At least on the field, Matheny's attention to fundamentals has paid off so far for the Cardinals.
Improved Aggressiveness on Basepaths
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These are not quite the Cardinals of the Whiteyball era of the 1980s, but these Cardinals like to run. Currently, the Cardinals rank second in the majors in stolen bases. What they don't have is a Vince Coleman, Ozzie Smith or Willie McGee who instilled fear in opposing pitchers when they hit the base paths.
Matheny is using a lot of hit and run this year in addition to the straight steal. Who would have thought that two guys over 35 would pull off a double steal without a hitch as Carlos Beltran and Lance Berkman did in a game against the Reds earlier this year? Probably no one.
Matheny is using his deep-rooted knowledge of the game to the Cardinals' advantage as, more times than not, his intuition is correct on when to send the runners. Then it comes down to execution on the players part by getting a good jump, reading the pitcher and frankly, a little bit of luck.
While this team obviously won't be like the Cardinals teams in the 1980s that stole over 200 bases in a season on a regular basis, expect to see the Cardinals continuing to be aggressive on the base paths in 2012 and finish in the top half of stolen bases in the majors.