When the Cardinals lost 2-1 to the Nationals Tuesday night, they used seven pitchers. Not one of them was reliever Trevor Rosenthal.
To review: The Cardinals were down1-0 until the ninth inning, when they tied it on Matt Holliday’s single. At that point, Mike Matheny must realize that he needs a reliever for the bottom of the ninth, which the team will now play. He trots out Matt Belisle to face the bottom third of the Nats’ order. Belisle can’t do the job, walking a couple of batters. Now it’s the top of the order, with the winning run on second base with only one out, a situation clearly crying out for a strikeout. Instead of bringing in his best reliever, Matheny opts for Jordan Walden. Walden escapes the jam, but the Cardinals can’t score in the top of the 10th, bringing up Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Yunel Escobar (ever heard of them?). So what does Matheny do? He calls for … Carlos Villaneuva, this year’s Brad Thompson. Now, as far as 13th pitchers go, the former Cubrewer isn’t bad (he projects to have about a 4.00 FIP this season). And neither is Walden, with a projected FIP between 2.81 and 3.04. But neither is as solid as Rosenthal (projected 2.70-2.90 FIP). Perhaps as punishment for his managerial transgression, Matheny then watched as Villaneuva dealt the game-losing home run to Escobar. It was the worst kind of defeat: A loss with your best pitcher on the bench.
Rosenthal did appear in the Cardinals’ 7-5 win Wednesday and in the 4-1 win Thursday, “earning” saves in both. But, as Matheny has been wont to do so far this season, they were both in a low-leverage situations. Thursday’s “save” was Rosenthal’s fourth “Nen” of the season, entering with no one on base and needing a mere three outs. Despite leading the club with six saves, only one has come in an above-average leverage situation. In fact, Rosenthal is sixth among the team’s relief pitchers in average game leverage index, which measures the pressure of the game when the pitcher enters:
This leaves two options that we can see:
- Matheny believes Rosenthal is his best reliever, and prefers to save him for “save” situations, which aren’t necessarily the highest-leverage situations and therefore an inefficient use of his best reliever.
- Matheny doesn’t believe Rosenthal is his best reliever, so he doesn’t use him in the highest-leverage situations, even though he is the best.
Either case seems a managerial misdeed: The first is foolish misuse of a player, the second is a foolish misestimate of a player’s ability.
Furthermore, for a guy who complains about his bullpen being overworked, he sure doesn’t take a very resourceful position with his closer. We have a hard time feeling sorry for Matheny when his problems are mostly self-inflicted.
In the first week of the season, we posed Five Questions for the 2015 Cardinals, one of which was “Will Matheny mature as manager?” We fear that he’s already answering in the negative.