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Reviewing two pre-draft scouting reports on Cardinals manager Mike Matheny

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Sometimes, scouts are accurate in their reports. Other times, they are not. Here are two case reports on former MLB catcher and current manager Mike Matheny.

Come on now...
Come on now...
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Back in January, Eric penned a short, but quite informative piece on the 20-80 player evaluation scale. If you have not yet read it or are in need a quick refresher, I strongly suggest checking, but either way, I will bring up some of the highlights so that we can better understand some pre-draft scouting reports on Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. In short, 50 is considered MLB average, so a 60 rating would be considered one standard deviation above MLB average, and a 40 rating is one standard deviation below MLB average. The first number listed for each attribute is the current rating, and the second number is the projection of the given player's skill set, in the scout's opinion, of course.

Something to keep in mind when looking at the following scouting reports is that both occurred while Matheny was still in high school. Turns out, he was apparently drafted in the 31st round of the 1988 MLB Draft by the Toronto Blue Jays. However, in this terrific, must-read article from The Michigan Daily, Matheny had his doubts about the Blue Jays' commitment to him as part of their future:

"Finally, two days [after the draft was complete], this guy generously called me and said, ‘Oh by the way, we drafted you.’ I said, ‘Well thanks for letting me know now,’ after I’d been glued to the sofa for three days."

The team on the other line was the Toronto Blue Jays, who took Matheny in the 31st round — a detail they didn’t want him knowing.

"He refused to tell me what round it was, so I figured out that it wasn’t very high," Matheny says. "Even when I asked him, he wouldn’t tell me, but he just kept telling me that, ‘You have the opportunity to sign if you want to.’ He was really standoffish, so I knew he wasn’t too serious about me coming."

Matheny remained committed to the University of Michigan, performed well for the Junior Olympic team, and sustained a growth spurt. The Blue Jays took note of the latter two parts of this series:

Shortly before his freshman orientation, Toronto’s offer became more serious. But while the proposed contract grew more lucrative, one thing remained the same.

"They still wouldn’t tell me what round I was drafted in, so I’m going with, ‘I think I was the last pick in the draft,’ " he says.

I would love to include even more from this article because the story is so interesting to me, but to be fair to the author, here's another opportunity to check it out yourself. After a solid collegiate career with the Wolverines, Matheny was selected in the eighth round of the 1991 draft by the Milwaukee Brewers and quickly agreed to a deal on June 5, 1991. Let's now take a look at two pre-1988 draft scouting reports and see how they turned out with 13 seasons of statistics available to us.

A California Angels pre-draft scouting report by Bob Gardner

Matheny scouting report

via the Baseball Hall of Fame

The first thing to make a note of is the fact that Matheny used to be a switch hitter. I found this quite intriguing as the only thing I was able to uncover on the topic was a Rick Hummel piece shared in the Cards Clubhouse forum over ten years ago. In his piece, Hummel talked about how Matheny worked on his left-handed swing with teammate Andy Van Slyke in the weeks prior to 2002 spring training. Despite some encouraging remarks from Van Slyke (i.e."Some of his mechanics lefthanded were better than righthanded"), quotes from Matheny made it clear that this hitting project didn't end up going very far.

Next on the list of things to talk about is the fact that Mr. Gardner projected Matheny to have a 55 power rating (slightly above average) and specifically included that he "shows power on contact" in his physical description. Well, in 4,287 career MLB plate appearances (3,877 at bats), Matheny hit a grand total of 67 home runs, or one home run every ~58 ABs. Taking it a step further, his career ISO was .105—39 points lower than the league average for position players over the last five seasons. It appears that Mr. Gardner's comment on Matheny's supposed poor eyesight was a much more accurate assessment on this one.

Finally, the league average projection (a 50 rating) of the fielding component of Matheny's game was particularly interesting. In thirteen MLB seasons as a catcher, Matheny won four Gold Glove Awards (2000, 2003-2005), and while the voting for this award can be seen as skeptical at times (and rightfully so, in my opinion), his career defensive WAR (dWAR) of 9.6 (per Baseball-Reference) provides some statistical backing to his merit behind receiving these awards. It probably helped that he found himself worthy of the nickname "The Toughest Man Alive" as well. Plus, his career 35% caught stealing percentage would be considered top five in all of baseball were he still an active player. (For perspective, in 11 MLB seasons, Yadier Molina has accrued a dWAR of 18.7 and a CS% of 44.77%).

A second scouting report, this one from Jim Martz in April of 1988

Matheny Scouting Report #2

via the Baseball Hall of Fame

In the physical description section, Mr. Martz did not mention Matheny's eyesight, something in which Mr. Gardner brought special attention to in his report. He also talks about Matheny's left-handed swing stating that it was a "better stroke" with "more power."

In terms of defense, Martz classified Matheny's arm strength as "close to average" and that he was "slightly awkward and crude behind the plate." He concludes his thoughts by saying that Matheny "can be [an] adequate receiver with a productive bat." Per Baseball-Reference, Matheny's career oWAR was -3.4 while his dWAR was 9.6. It is safe to say Matheny's didn't turn out as the scout projected.

One final thing of interest in this scouting report is the specific mentioning of how Matheny "could show more leadership." Say what you want about Mike Matheny, but his career as a catcher was defined by his leadership, especially when realizing his role in the clubhouse after the tragic death of Darryl Kile.  One of the main reasons General Manager John Mozeliak hired him as manager after the 2011 season was the fact that he was classified as a "leader of men." This has come into question at times, especially when things got tough last season, but as I wrote back in October, he is exactly who the Cardinals need as the organization deals with and moves on from the devastating loss of Oscar Taveras.

Bottom line

I am wholeheartedly aware that the job of a scout is nearly impossible and that any given scout is wrong far more often than they are correct. That's the nature of projecting human beings with very little reliable statistical data available. Both Mr. Gardner and Mr. Martz were correct in projecting that Matheny had the "overall ability to play" in the majors, but both stressed that his bat would likely play more than his glove. In hindsight, this part of their reports was proven to be very much incorrect, but the end result of him being an adequate-to-successful big leaguer was correct. Both scouts should be applauded for that, especially given that both reports occurred before more information and data became available during his years at the University of Michigan.

For access to many historical scouting reports, visit the following from the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

P.S. I am contemplating turning this post into a series of posts if I am able to dig up scouting reports on notable past or current Cardinals. If even slightly interested, please make a note of it in the comments.