On Tuesday I wrote an article that caused a bit of an uproar. I made the case that against the Braves on Sunday the 10th, Matheny made two crucial mistakes: (a) not taking Adam Wainwright out after four innings rather than five, and (b) not bringing Trevor Rosenthal into a one run game in the 8th, two batters earlier than he eventually did. Generally, I was greeted with a negative response to the post, with most thinking I was making too much out of those two situations, and there was a green'd comment which essentially accused me of writing the post simply for the sake of content.
While I stand firmly behind my position that those two situations were both situations where Matheny made a mistake, I do admit that there were two mistakes I made myself in conveying my position in my article. Most important, is that Matheny very likely showed improvement in taking Waino out after just five subpar innings, and in bringing Rosenthal into the game in the eighth. In prior years I could very well have seen Matheny make these more egregious mistakes. While I did point out that Matheny had made progress, I did not emphasize that point enough.
It's also important to point out what I was trying to start on that Tuesday post, which is try to take a numbers-based approach towards deciding when a pitcher should come out of the game. While I am not aware of the other 29 manager's bullpen usage enough to comment with authority, I'd imagine that most of them would do just as badly if graded by a similar analysis. This is a Cardinals' blog though, so when trying to find ways to grade the way a manager handled a game, Matheny (or perhaps the other team's manager in a Cardinals game) is going to be a target. I do this not because of any ill will towards Matheny, but because that is the format that makes sense given the nature of this blog. I have some big ideas for these types of analysis, including ranking every manager so that we can compare Matheny to his peers, but that project will require the current school semester to come to end so that I have the time for that.
With 400 words to get that out of the way, I want to focus on something I think Matheny has handled very well this season, and that's Matt Adams' playing time. Adams currently has less total PA then anyone else in the OF/1B portion of the depth chart. Back in December, I looked at the five man competition for three starting roles, between Tommy Pham, Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty, Brandon Moss, and Matt Adams. At the time I favored starting Tommy Pham and Randal Grichuk in the outfield with a Piscotty/Moss platoon at first.
That changed before the season began though, as I took Piscotty as my pick to breakout in 2016. And of course since then Pham predictably got hurt followed by the rise of Hazelbaker-mania throughout Cardinals nation. And while I'll hold off on Hazelbaker being better than Matt Adams long-term, there's nothing to do about Jeremy Hazelbaker at this point except let him play as much as you can as long as he keeps doing what he's doing.
What hasn't changed though, is my valuation of Matt Adams as the worst of that original five. And that's not so much a critique of Adams as it is a compliment to the other four. Adams, earning a meager $1.65M salary in 2016 with two non-guaranteed, arbitration controlled salaries after this one, is still a nice asset. If the Cardinals placed him on waivers, I'd imagine the large majority of teams would put in a claim. Adams may only be an average player, but average players are valuable, especially on very inexpensive contract terms.
However, at this point, he's basically a reclamation project, and the Cardinals don't currently have a need for one at first base or in a corner outfield spot that Adams could replace by proxy. The options that are currently playing simply are more attractive. Piscotty's ability to square the ball up already made him a strong candidate to become an MLB regular, and his new ability to seemingly tap into his power, and better defense than I at least expected him to have, makes him someone I think should be playing nearly every day.
Grichuk has an extreme profile, one that is hard to find comps for, and while he performed great last year, he could very well fall flat on his face if he ends up with similar K/BB numbers as last year. With last year's performance though, he earned everyday playing time, and one of the biggest short sample size surprises of the year has been a well above average walk rate for Grichuk. If he even walks at a league average rate, Grichuk is a very valuable player.
Moss is obviously someone the front office believes in, as the team rarely parts with a top 100 prospect like they did when trading Rob Kaminsky for one and a half years of then struggling Brandon Moss. When Adams went down last year, General Manager John Mozeliak claimed he didn't want to block Adams by trading for a first baseman that would compete for playing time with Adams once he returned. Of course, that looked like classic Mo-speak after he traded for Moss at the deadline, and kept him around for the 2016 season at an $8.25M salary.
It's very short sample size of course, but Moss has looked good so far, providing three dingers in 27 PA, while running a double digit walk rate. That's just three walks, but so far in this short season Moss has posted his best O-Swing% since he first entered the league in 2007 with the Red Sox (26.6% vs. 32.8% over his career). According to BaseballHeatMaps, he's also currently sixth in average fly ball distance at 243 feet (Also, Matt Carpenter and Randal Grichuk place fourth and fifth). And that doesn't count his pinch-hit dinger from last night.
Anyway, with Moss possibly recovered from his hip surgery from the 2014-2015 offseason, Moss had some upside, and right now he's showing results that conform to that. Of course, maybe its just short sample size theatre, but the signs are pointing in the right direction at least.
Pham is currently, like most of the season, recovering from an injury. When he returns (and until he inevitably hits the DL again) it's hard to justify playing Adams over Pham, who could very well be just as good at Adams at the plate or better. The accepted positional adjustment between the average center fielder and the average first basemen is 15 runs or about a win and a half over a full season. Using shorthand, 10 runs of offense correlates to about 15 points of wRC+, so Adams would need to be about 23 points of wRC+ better than Pham. Maybe you think Adams is a better than average first baseman and Pham is a below average center fielder, but then the gap is probably not less than 15 points of wRC+. I for one, simply don't see Adams as able to bridge that gap.
What about Hazelbaker, he's got to at least be better than Hazelbaker, right? Well, I don't know, but probably yes based on the track record. However, He's got more WAR than all but 5 players in baseball at the time of this writing, and that level of production is going to lead to more opportunities, despite what the projections say. And even the projections think it's close, with Hazelbaker currently projected as a 1.3 WAR/600 player according to Fangraphs' depth charts going forward, compared to 1.6 WAR/600 for Adams. With the projections unable to detect some important things like a changed swing, it's actually not a hot take to consider Hazelbaker possibly better than Adams going forward.
Again, this is not about bashing Adams. He's a nice asset to have around, and not someone the Cardinals should just be giving away, like they did with Bourjos. Injuries are inevitable, and the last 12 months or so have shown us just how often they can occur. Having Adams buried on the bench is a great luxury, one that allows us to know that the Cardinals won't have to suffer through having someone like Mark Reynolds get everyday playing time at any point in 2016. He's just not as interesting as Piscotty, Grichuk, Moss, and Pham. And really, who, right now at least, doesn't want to see Hazelbaker rather than Adams? The Cardinals have an embarrassing wealth of options, and that leads to Adams rightfully getting the short straw for now.