Hi! I used to write here. I'm not writing here again, but I am writing this specific fanpost. I am writing it because (of all things) Joe Sheehan wrote some stuff on Twitter that got on my nerves. Here it is:
I've said it before, I'll say it again: What are the chances the best guy for a job just happened to be the guy sitting next to the guy you fired? In what other business would you make personnel decisions this way?
The #stlcards are your friend just out of a six-year relationship who is marrying the rebound after three good dates. This ends well.
It's a decision being made on 26-12.
I'm happy #stlcards fans are happy. Hope it works out for you guys; probably my favorite fan base, all things considered. But y'all are all in on a managerial hire by an FO you've been telling me, for a year now, is awful. This is about 26-12, and 26-12 is a mirage.
So there's some stuff to unpack here. At the core, consider the author. This is just Joe Sheehan (whose work I like very much) doing what he does on Twitter: responding to bad baseball takes. If you've been following his interactions with Cards fans this summer, you're aware that (until this hot run of play lately, anyway) Sheehan's mostly been batting down depressed moaning about how the franchise is circling the drain and the front office is terrible. Those takes look obviously wrong now, but they were also obviously wrong then. Sheehan was right: many Cardinals fans were overreacting to the team's record, and not seeing the bigger picture.
Now, with respect to the Cardinals' decision to remove the interim tag and give Mike Shildt a contract through 2020 as manager, Sheehan is talking (in my view) to much the same overreaction-prone crowd. But now instead of overreacting to the Cardinals' bad record, they're overreacting to their good record. This crowd is giving Shildt credit that, in all honesty, should really be going to a mix of a very lucky bullpen (2.75 ERA vs. 4.08 FIP over the last 30 days, etc.) and the improved play of the players themselves.
This isn't to take away the credit that Shildt does deserve -- implementing the correct defensive alignment for this roster has mattered, as has being less old-fashioned about getting starting pitchers through the fifth, and I can't quantify morale but it's worth something -- but Sheehan's right again, here. Mike Shildt's not the reason an almost-.500 club started playing at a 110-win pace. He was, to a large extent, just in the right place at the right time. He was the bench coach when the front office was about to fire the manager and reset the roster, and the players were about to get real hot and start putting other NL contenders in the trash one by one. To the extent Joe Sheehan's tweets above show him rolling his eyes at fans who have concluded on the basis of a 26-12 stretch that Mike Shildt is a brilliant manager... I'm on Sheehan's side.
But that's all he's right about, here. Let's be clear how narrow this is: it's correct to say that nobody should conclude Mike Shildt is a good hire based simply on his MLB record so far. But Sheehan gets into trouble when he extends that premise (the fans' thinking) to the front office's thinking. He's pretty explicit about doing that, too:
It's a decision made on 26-12.
That's an awfully confident statement! And that would be bad decision-making process, if true -- just because the bench coach is sitting there when the manager gets fired, and then the team gets hot, doesn't mean he's a good manager. But in this case, I'm pretty confident that it's wrong.
Here's the part Joe Sheehan, and others in the national media already coming out with similar takes, are missing: why Mike Shildt happened to be sitting there in the bench coach role, ready to inherit the top step of the dugout. This wasn't a case of the bench coach being the manager's buddy who he likes to have around as a right-hand man, or of the bench coach being a baseball lifer who just happened to have landed here for the time being. Mike Shildt entered 2018 as the Cardinals bench coach because the front office was thinking about firing Mike Matheny.
Conversations about replacing Matheny were already underway in 2017. With the benefit of that hindsight, it looks like no coincidence at all that prior to 2017, Shildt was promoted from managing the Memphis Redbirds to acting as a "quality control coach" for the big-league club. "Quality control coach." Not a bench coach, even -- it doesn't require much dot-connecting to conclude that Shildt was never Matheny's man in the dugout. It seems much more likely he was John Mozeliak's, from the start.
Then this year, with the ax looming over Matheny's head and much of the coaching staff Matheny had started with cleaned out already, Shildt was promoted to bench coach. We didn't know how hot Matheny's seat was, at the time, but Mozeliak and GM Mike Girsch did. If you think you might be firing your manager if the team underperforms, your choice of bench coach isn't something you take casually.
So it's just not accurate to say Shildt was the guy who, as Sheehan put it, "just happened to be sitting next to" Matheny when he was fired. It's clear now that the front office has been maneuvering Shildt toward the manager's chair for at least a couple years now. There was nothing accidental about Shildt being the bench coach the night Matheny was fired. He was there because he was the guy the front office had identified as their first internal choice to step in as manager, if and when a firing happened.
The fact that the Cardinals are 26-12 under Shildt doesn't prove that he's a good hire. 26-12 no doubt makes it easier, from a public-relations perspective, to announce that a heretofore mostly-unknown organizational soldier is going to be taking the helm permanently, but it doesn't necessarily make him a good hire. At the same time, with all due respect to Joe Sheehan: Joe, I follow this team more closely than you do. Mike Shildt didn't get his new title because he's 26-12. It's because (some of) his bosses wanted him to have that title all along.