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A closer look at when Mike Matheny takes his starting pitchers out of the game

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Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Given that the St. Louis Cardinals possess an MLB-best 86-47 record despite dealing with not-insignificant injuriesall season long, it is not surprising that people are beginning to discuss Mike Matheny's candidacy as the National League manager of the year. In all honesty, with what took place over the offseason, combined with the aforementioned injuries, I can understand and appreciate the NL MOY case for Matheny. But at the same time, that does not necessarily mean I believe his in-game decision-making is efficient. No, this is not going to turn into an article where I gripe about all of the poor decisions Matheny has made in his fourth season on the job.

Instead, I spent a couple hours last night reviewing each 2015 game log and subsequently documenting (in this Google sheet) the performance of the starting pitchers in their last inning before being removed from the game by their manager. Before we get into what I uncovered, I must note that I excluded five games from consideration because in my opinion, it would have been unfair to place blame on (or give credit to, for that matter) Matheny for any of them: 1) the start by Marco Gonzales three days ago (as he probably wasn't quite ready for the call-up, so I put that one on John Mozeliak), 2) the Adam Wainwright injury, 3) Lance Lynn getting rocked in the first inning against the Pirates, and finally, 4/5) two rain-affected games. This left us with 128 games to review, and here is a quick summary of what I found:

Games Innings Pitched Hits Runs Strikeouts Walks Home Runs
128 109.2 134 72 80 47 12

First, let me talk about the imperfect method I used to create this post. Combining the last innings of eight different starting pitchers from 128 different games into one big pool and then calculating statistics such as ERA, WHIP, K/9, etc. as if they are one person over a fairly large sample size probably isn't fair, but admittedly, this post was more meant to be merely descriptive and for-what-it's-worth material, anyway.

Using the information in the table above, Cardinals starting pitchers, collectively, have managed a WHIP of 1.65 and an ERA of 5.91 in their last innings of games. And 27% of the time, the starting pitcher failed to complete a full last inning, meaning Matheny sent them out to the mound one last time, but they were only able to record zero (which happened to Lynn twice), one, or two outs in the process. Only 22% of the time did the starting pitcher complete an entirely "clean" inning (no hits, no runs, no walks). For fun, let's see how each of their last-inning statistics match up to the staff's 2015 performance as a whole:

For easier viewing on mobile devices

Starting pitchers performing worse in each category as compared to their MLB-leading season averages is not an earth-shattering finding. As games progress, pitchers' arms tire, leading to a decline in performance. However, in a season where young arms (like Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez) should have likely been on a more defined innings limit, it really makes you wonder. Of the 17 games where the last inning pitched was the 5th, the starting pitcher ended up allowing three runs in six of them (or 35% of the time). Whether this can be pinned on Matheny extending his starters to make them eligible for a "pitcher win," I am not going to draw finite conclusions, but it was interesting nonetheless.

While this post did not provide us with enough evidence to effectively conclude that Matheny leaves his starting pitchers in too long, it is definitely something to keep an eye on as his managerial career progresses. As fans of the Cardinals who watch nearly every game, we have already noticed and complained about this potential trend, and after one series, national baseball writers seem to be noticing it as well.