The Cardinals and manager Mike Matheny are a work in progress. In 2015 this may have seemed on many a level like a finished product, but this was merely an illusion as they won so many games they played, and had roster booster Jason Heyward for the whole season, putting the already quite capable roster over the top.
Perhaps more than anything though, the team's manager is a work in progress. Taken from an article that simply collated quotes from the many managers learning on the job we have seen in recent times:
Mike Matheny, Cardinals: I mean, I would hope I’ve learned something. I mean, every time you go through a season and you watch how the different pieces come together and you see it missing one particular piece, what does that mean to the overall product, I think you’d have to be wearing blinders not to pick that stuff up.
Then you start putting importance about, wow, I never really knew that that particular spot was such an important part for us, or this is something we really struggled with, if we had that piece. I think that comes maybe more with time. And then listening to guys who have been in this position, guys who have been coaching for a while, and taking what they deem is important and trying to put it into practice, whether it’s important for us right now.
I think that question also changes every year, and I think the game changes somewhat with the demands and then the talent, whatever kind of talent is coming through the game at any particular time.
What he really means, I think, was trying to improvise with key players being injured balanced with some sort of dogmatic notion of learning from veteran managers. Which translated further, is that he needs to figure out how to not lean on familiar pieces of the puzzle. He put his starters fully through the rigors of a harsh 162 game season, apparently wearing out Peralta, Wong, etc.
If that was truly the case who is to say. Matt Carpenter got wore out while the season was very young. Injury, fatigue, and other factors can be hard to predict. Managing ain't easy, but the Cardinals could improve here by simply figuring out the appropriate time to get bench players starts. I am really hoping to see the implementation of splits, I think the main test will be to see how he handles Grichuk and Pham, both seemingly not high endurance players. Can the Cards play their hand more effectively to partially make up for the loss of defensive whiz and overall highly productive player Jason Heyward?
I think so. Matheny needs to put it together if the Cardinals are going to make the postseason again this year. If not the point is moot, as the Cardinals can let their players progress in full efficiency over 162 undoubtedly entertaining but less important games.
Now, we all know Matheny could do a little better but that is not going to place the team in the postseason... that is what the players' actual performance does. How could the team improve on the important stuff?
- OBP: last year the team was tied with the Cubs and Nats in OBP, just outside of the top 10 teams. I think they could improve here, and at least match what their rivals are doing again, hopefully.
- More obviously, power. The Cardinals were towards the bottom in SLG with only 6 teams worse than their slugging %. Same with their ISO, 7th worst isolated power. If Grichuk emerges, Holliday ups his power, and perhaps the addition of Justin Upton could boost these numbers. That and one would have to think that whoever plays first base should be able to help here. Also, there is still the possibility that Wong and Peralta could step it up in the power department quite a bit.
- Stolen bases... either don't try to steal them, or get a lot better at it. Probably just don't waste baserunners makes the most sense. Stolen bases are too much of a gamble.
- The best team in run scoring last year: Toronto with 891 runs scored. The Cardinals only scored 647.
- Utilize splits to control how players are platooned. Get the regulars a bit more rest. Hope for better health from core members of the team. Improve overall strategy.
- Bullpen could improve on BB/9
And of course, if they keep doing what they did well like taking walks, playing great run prevention defense, and overall great pitching the team stands a very strong chance at making the postseason crapshoot. Some clever moves by Mozeliak could close the gap, but there are certainly areas for improvement from the returning roster and manager.