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Cardinals Lead MLB in Youthful Manager-Bench Coach Combo

When hired to replace Hall of Famer Tony La Russa in late 2011, St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny was among the first in a new wave of Major League Baseball managerial hires – young, former players (often catchers) with minimal, if any, prior coaching or managerial experience in either the majors or minors.

That once-new wave has now become the new normal.

I was surprised to learn that only half of the managers in the game have more years of MLB managerial experience than Matheny, with 13 having less tenure than the four years the Cardinals’ 43-year-old field boss has completed.

Despite Matheny’s teams’ on-field success, including four consecutive post-season appearances and a prior streak of three straight Championship Series berths, the former catcher has his critics.

The new Baseball Prospectus annual book for 2016 is among them. Viva El Birdos recapped the St. Louis Cardinals chapter, which was written by Dayn Perry, a former BP author who is now with CBS.

Perry was quite hard on the Cardinals manager.

Per VEB: “Mike Matheny comes off in the annual just as you would expect: A ‘managing fraud’ whose success comes from ‘riding the uniform tails of his talented roster.’

While I personally find that assessment to be overly harsh, like many who have watched the Cardinals over Matheny’s four years in the chair, I do see areas in which I believe the manager could improve. They include keeping his starters and bullpen fresher over the long season as well as better tactical in-game decisions.

There are ways I can believe his front office can help Matheny build upon his obvious leadership strengths and become an even better manager. Their record in doing so has been mixed at best, in my opinion.

On the personnel side, there is progress for 2016. The Cardinals have improved the bench and re-tooled the bullpen. That should give the manager more options to rest his starting eight and perhaps better spread the relief innings around – if he is willing to do it.

From the day Matheny was hired, I felt the Cardinals should have put a more experienced bench coach at his side – someone with the experience and credibility to speak up and disagree, if necessary.

Back to Joe Torre’s glory days managing the New York Yankees, I always admired his bench coach, the late Don Zimmer. At that point, the former manager of four MLB clubs was very late in his long and distinguished career. Zimmer did not want his boss’ job and could tell it like he saw it. His experience was such that Torre highly valued his counsel. Zimmer the bench coach was much more than today’s bench coach, seemingly only noticed when there is a replay call to be made.

My most obvious and ideal candidates for the job in St. Louis would have been men like Red Schoendienst and Whitey Herzog. Of course, they are 20-30 years too advanced in age now, but they have the kind of resume I would be looking for.

I have nothing against St. Louis’ current bench coach, 43-year-old David Bell (or his predecessor, Mike Aldrete). Yet, the Cardinals continue to place a very inexperienced leadership team in their dugout, even compared to their peers.

From among the 15 MLB clubs with managers of less than five years’ experience, Bell is one of only two bench coaches younger than his boss. (The other is in Minnesota, where both manager and bench coach are between 55 and 60 years of age.)  The 15 recently-hired managers average 48 years of age while their bench coaches average 56.

In terms of coaching experience, Bell is one of just six of these 15 bench coaches who has never managed in the majors. His seven total years of either being a minor league manager or major league coach is tied for second fewest of the 15. Former Cardinals hitting coach Mark McGwire, the new bench coach in San Diego under first-timer Andy Green, has one year less.

In combined age, Matheny and Bell are the youngest manager-bench coach combo across the entire 30-team MLB, two years younger than Green and McGwire and 20 years younger than the summed average across the game. Specifically, Matheny is eight years younger than the average MLB manager (53 years old) and Bell is 12 years under the bench coach average age of 55.

As already mentioned above, nine of the 15 bench coaches working with the four-or-less year managers have been MLB skippers themselves.

Bench coaches who really stand out due to their experience include Gene Lamont of Detroit, who stayed on with Brad Ausmus after Jim Leyland retired, Larry Bowa in Philadelphia – still fiery at 70 years of age, Cincinnati’s Jim Riggleman and Bob Geren, installed alongside first-time manager Dave Roberts in Los Angeles.

As an aside, it is clear the Dodgers value experience as they have a cadre of former general managers in their front office behind President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman and GM Farhan Zaidi. They include Zaidi’s predecessor Ned Colletti, Josh Byrnes, Alex Anthopoulos and Gerry Hunsicker.

Here are the 15 0-to-4 year managers and their bench coaches. (In the latter group, I did my very best to capture all of their experiences, but this information is sometimes challenging to locate.)

0-4 Years (15) Years Record Years Years Years
Manager MLB mgr Age 2015 Team Bench coach Age MLB mgr MLB coach Minors mgr
Mike Matheny 4 45 100-62 St. Louis Cardinals David Bell 43 0 3 4
Robin Ventura 4 48 76-86 Chicago White Sox Rick Renteria 54 1 7 8
A.J. Hinch 3 41 86-76 Houston Astros Trey Hillman 53 3 5 17
Pete Mackanin 3 64 37-51 Philadelphia Phillies Larry Bowa 70 6 19 1
Walt Weiss 3 52 68-94 Colorado Rockies Tom Runnells 60 2 9 13
Brad Ausmus 2 46 74-87 Detroit Tigers Gene Lamont 69 8 21 9
Bryan Price 2 53 64-98 Cincinnati Reds Jim Riggleman 63 11 8 12
Jeff Banister 1 51 88-74 Texas Rangers Steve Buechele 54 0 1 6
Kevin Cash 1 38 80-82 Tampa Bay Rays Tom Foley 56 0 14 1
Craig Counsell 1 45 61-76 Milwaukee Brewers Pat Murphy 57 1 0 4
Chip Hale 1 51 79-83 Arizona Diamondbacks Glenn Sherlock 55 0 19 3
Paul Molitor 1 59 83-79 Minnesota Twins Joe Vavra 56 0 10 10
Andy Green 0 38 San Diego Padres Mark McGwire 52 0 6 0
Dave Roberts 0 43 Los Angeles Dodgers Bob Geren 54 5 8 7
Scott Servais 0 48 Seattle Mariners Tim Bogar 49 0* 6 6
Average age 48 Average age 56
* interim 22 gms

(Note: The table above may suggest that Milwaukee’s bench coach Pat Murphy is less-experienced. However, his resume also includes a quarter-century as a college manager, not reflected here.)

For completeness, here are the five with between five and 10 years of MLB managerial experience. Only one of the five skippers has a younger bench coach, though the age spreads are not wide.

Just one of the five bench coaches is a former manager with this group looking more like aspiring future managers.

5-10 Years (5) Years Record Years Years Years
Manager MLB mgr Age 2015 Team Bench coach Age MLB mgr MLB coach Minors mgr
Joe Girardi 9 51 87-75 New York Yankees Rob Thomson 52 0 8 1
Fredi Gonzalez 9 51 67-95 Atlanta Braves Carlos Tosca 62 3 15 17
John Gibbons 8 53 93-69 Toronto Blue Jays DeMarlo Hale 54 0 14 9
John Farrell 5 53 78-84 Boston Red Sox Dana LeVangie 46 0 3 0
Don Mattingly 5 54 Miami Marlins Tim Wallach 58 0 10 4
Average age 52 Average age 54

Finally, here are the MLB managerial deans. Despite the retirements earlier this decade of Bobby Cox, Torre and La Russa thinning out the ranks of long-time managers, still one-third of MLB managers – 10 of 30 – have 11 or more years of big-league managerial time.

Notice the difference in the ages and experience in these bench coaches compared to their bosses. The more veteran managers are working with younger men, an average of seven years younger. Eight of these 10 bench coaches have never been an MLB manager.

11+ Years (10) Years Record Years Years Years
Manager MLB mgr Age 2015 Team Bench coach Age MLB mgr MLB coach Minors mgr
Bruce Bochy 21 60 84-78 San Francisco Giants Ron Wotus 54 0 18 7
Dusty Baker 20 66 Washington Nationals Chris Speier 65 0 9 4
Buck Showalter 17 59 81-81 Baltimore Orioles John Russell 55 3 9 10
Mike Scioscia 16 57 85-77 Los Angeles Angels Dino Ebel 49 0 10 9
Terry Francona 15 56 81-80 Cleveland Indians Sandy Alomar Jr. 49 0 6 0
Clint Hurdle 13 58 98-64 Pittsburgh Pirates Dave Jauss 59 0 12 3
Joe Maddon 12 61 97-65 Chicago Cubs Dave Martinez 51 0 9 0
Bob Melvin 12 54 68-94 Oakland Athletics Mark Kotsay 40 0 1 0
Ned Yost 12 60 95-67 Kansas City Royals Don Wakamatsu 52 2 4 4
Terry Collins 11 66 90-72 New York Mets Dick Scott 53 0 0 7
Average age 60 Average age 53

Does age and experience matter?

Some would say “no”. After all, the Matheny-Bell led Cardinals won an MLB-best 100 regular season games in 2015.

Others had higher post-season expectations for Matheny’s first four Cardinals teams, squads that played well over the first six months, only to fall short in October. Certainly, the last four years have been experience-building. What is ahead is anyone’s guess.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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35 Responses to “Cardinals Lead MLB in Youthful Manager-Bench Coach Combo”

  1. crdswmn says:

    Sometimes I am overly harsh as well, I occasionally let particular beefs color my overall assessment. I also have the lawyers tendency to want to argue the heck out of something just for the sake of it. It’s something I fight every day. It’s when the “Matheny has super powers” stuff starts that I get agitated and forget to just shut up and let people believe what they want to believe.

    I am never going to be a big Matheny fan. He has aspects to his managing style that just make me furious sometimes. The team has been successful, and Matheny has played some part in that, and I have to suck it up and give him the credit for that, though it is a much smaller part to the overall big picture than his fans want to believe it is.

    As to the bench coach thing, not a bad idea, depending on who that person is. I certainly want it to be someone who will assert himself and not be a yes man.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Don Zimmer types don’t grow on trees, but they are out there. David Bell is about as opposite of that as one could find. However, he is the incumbent, so that ship has sailed.

      Keeping TLR’s bench coach could be understood from the continuity angle, however, TLR’s needs and Matheny’s needs should have been very different. I don’t believe one bench coach size fits all.

      They had a chance to revisit this after Aldrete left, but went even younger and less experienced.

    • Brian Walton says:

      If Matheny is supposedly a managing fraud, are roughly half of MLB managers in the same category?

      • crdswmn says:

        Like I have said, I believe managers as a group don’t have that big of an impact over a full season of baseball. Many rise and fall based on pure luck, and occasionally because they just aren’t a right fit for the team in terms of their personality (Matt Williams comes to mind).

        Dayn Perry likely just has a strong bias against Matheny because he is a Cardinals fan and sees the stuff I see and others see that we don’t like. He asserted that bias in an overly harsh fashion, but he is entitled to his opinion, just like others are entitled to vehemently disagree with that opinion. The tendency to give managers more credit for the outcome of a season than they realistically deserve grates on some nerves and can create push back like that. The fact is none of us can know for sure what impact a manager has on the success or failure of a team, we can only use science and mathematics to posit the most likely reasons for that success or failure. It’s the rational over the less rational (I wouldn’t use the term irrational, it isn’t really that, just a tendency to ascribe human control of things rather than a science based explanation; human hubris, if you will).

  2. CariocaCardinal says:

    Without any evidence of even correlation between age and experience of bench coaches and winning this falls into the “interesting but so what category”.

    • Brian Walton says:

      It is not simply a correlation between bench coaches and winning. That would be easier to try to quantify. There is at least one other key variable. My theory is that a less-experienced manager may benefit more from an experienced bench coach that a 10 or 20-year manager would.

      While none of it is proven, it may be worth more than a shrug. Perhaps others will take a look as well.

      P.S. There is the overriding question of how to define success. As in the case of Matheny discussion, is it regular season wins or playoff appearances or World Series titles or some combination – or something else, too? No clear formula always complicates matters.

  3. JumboShrimp says:

    Mike’s largest problem has been overuse of some relief pitchers. That reflects most on the pitching coach.

  4. JumboShrimp says:

    To say something nice about mike, he seems to value player health more than tlr, who revered playing thru pain.

  5. Brian Walton says:

    Here is one I shrug about. A writer who is promoting his upcoming book says this:

    “I don’t know if LaRussa’s ego hurt Jim Edmonds’s Hall of Fame case by taking the spotlight that rightly belonged to his players. But I don’t see how it helped, anyway.”!How-Tony-LaRussa-Might-Have-Screwed-Jim-Edmondss-Hall-of-Fame-Case/coge/56bc96a20cf2fb0f6ff97995

    (I can’t get the above link to render properly, so you will have to cut and paste it. Sorry.)

    • blingboy says:

      He mentions Lofton, another guy whose late career did him in, except more so than Jimbo. Lofton spent a whole lot of years bouncing around like a pinball being mostly pretty good.

      Jimbo spent less years but enough to take the shine off. There is something to be said for a graceful exit if you are a borderline guy. Trying to top up the counting stats isn’t a no-brainer, most especially if you come up short.

      IMO, if there needs to be a conversation about a player’s worthiness, then pass. Cooperstown should be the Hall of No Doubt About Its.

      I am glad the Cards have a place for the Jimmy Ballgames and the Willies. Cardinal legends.

      • Brian Walton says:

        To me, it seems absurd to suggest that TLR somehow stole Edmonds’ glory. Maybe the titillating headlines will draw attention, but I did not see any substance to back it up.

        (I also hope that his editor knows how to spell TLR’s last name or his book is going to have a lot of errors.)

  6. JumboShrimp says:

    I shall try to play fantasy baseball. I shAll assume don zimmer in his mental prime is hired to advise mad Mike as his bench coach. Will this make Mike smarter? I can’t see it happening.

    What if Mo hired Joe torre as bench coach? What if we hired TLR as bench coach? I don’t see Mike as getting more clever.

    With Mike, the front office needs to give him firm and clear orders. Bottom up advice probably won’t work. He needs top down direction by a discreet private channel.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Your choice of words are odd to say the least. No one is suggesting Matheny needs to be “smarter” or “more clever”.

      He needs better, more experienced advice. On that we seem to agree.

      It seems quite possible to me that a “discreet private channel” has already been tried – especially when one considers the alternative would have been for the front office to stand back and do nothing to help Matheny improve. However, general discussions are very different from ones held in the dugout at the point of attack. A good front office isn’t going to tell a manager how to manage.

      Do I think TLR or Joe Torre would have been the bench coach? Of course not. Do I think Matheny would make better decisions if one of them was at his right elbow? Absolutely.

  7. JumboShrimp says:

    I doubt the cards can win a World Series as long as Mike is the manager. To win a series, you need fine players, luck, and managerial smarts.

    • JumboShrimp says:

      Our playoff opponent would need to have an unsmart manager. There are some, so it could happen, but it’s more likely we would be at a disadvantage

    • Brian Walton says:

      Your brush is very, very wide.

      • blingboy says:

        If someone were of the opinion that among the contending teams, managerial ability is an area we would have to overcome rather than an area of strength, it seems like that would be a reasonable take on the situation. To put that another way, among the contenders, the chances are good that whoever we were matched up against, we would likely have to overcome being out managed. On some level, I am surprised Mo and BDW, are OK with having the team in that situation, however much of advantage MM is behind the scenes. They are, though, so we press on.

        • crdswmn says:

          Perhaps they see the randomness inherent in baseball as more of a factor to wins and losses than managerial ability. If the leadership is good and the talent is there, the randomness factor may tip the scales one way or the other without managerial ability making much of a difference.

          I tend to go where you are going with respect to Matheny, as his bad decisions are maddening, especially in the playoffs, but the org must see it differently and are willing to put up with the occasional blunders to get what they deem more important from the relationship.

  8. jj-cf-stl says:

    if I had a matheny mulligan, i’d use it in the LCS vs sfg. I didn’t even want wacha on the roster.
    travis ishikawa? really?

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