Hello, again. I appreciate the questions that have been rolling in and will do my best to get to them in a timely manner as I feel my way through the “Ask Bernie” process. If it takes a while for you to see your question addressed in one of these mailbox columns, please have patience with me. As always, with all of the columns I write for “Scoops” and my KFNS radio show, there’s a lot going on and I’m usually running short on time. Thanks!
I have a question. What the hell is the state secret with Mike Shildt’s firing? Will their ‘differences’ ever come to light? Thanks for all the years of columns and radio work! Truly the best in the business. (From Tom in Austin, Tex.)
I’m blushing, Tom. Thank you. How’s life in Austin? One of my favorite U.S. cities.
The Shildt firing was packed with factors.
I’ve covered most of these things, but let’s recap.
– His relationship with the coaches deteriorated, and a big part of that was increasing instances of the manager having fits and berating coaches in a demoralizing way. These guys will never, ever acknowledge this publicly. But I don’t think anyone on the staff sobbed when the move was made. All of the key coaches stayed on board after the firing … and that says a lot. They like and respect Oli Marmol, but it goes beyond that. Shildt’s coaching staff is looking forward to a more respectful and fruitful coach-manager relationship.
– The front office wanted to keep the coaching staff intact and Shildt wasn’t willing to do that. Many will target the fans’ favorite scapegoat, hitting coach Jeff Albert. And while I don’t know this for an absolute fact, I feel confident in saying there was something of a showdown. I assume Shildt wanted to make a change there; their relationship was obviously tense in 2021. But the other coaches empathized with Albert. And Albert had the backing of important veterans such as Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado. As Katie Woo of The Athletic reported late in the regular season, the offense began to turn (favorably) when players recommitted to Albert’s concepts – indirectly bypassing Shildt.
The irony, of course, is that Shildt sacked a popular and effective hitting coach, Mark Budaska, in order to empower Albert. And then, when Shildt perceived Albert as some sort of threat (he wasn’t) then it was time to fire Albert? Good grief.
The Cardinals have young hitters on the way who were schooled in a system set up by Albert in the minors. Just take a look at how quickly guys are maturing and thriving as St. Louis hitting prospects. The fully integrated approach to hitting has been embraced in the minors, and that carries over into the majors. Firing Albert would have been wrong and stupid, and Mozeliak was right to make sure that didn’t happen.
– Shildt wasn’t as enthusiastic as the front office wanted him to be in the implementation of statistical information supplied by the team’s analytics department. The stuff presented to Shildt was nothing radical, either. And if anyone believes the ideas were radical and off the wall, then why did the San Francisco Giants average nearly five runs per game and finish fourth in the majors in OPS+ by going with similar principles?
Such as: more emphasis on platoons when the opportunities were there. More emphasis on setting favorable matchups. Mostly it evolved around something simple: getting more plate appearances for your best hitters, and decreasing the plate appearances for lesser hitters. (Gee, imagine that.) Tommy Edman obviously has a lot of attributes, but does it make sense to bat him at leadoff and keep him there as he proceeds to make the most outs (488) by a National League hitter in 2021?
There was static on the pitching side, with Shildt making sporadic use of Jake Woodford at a time when the Cardinals needed to lean on a solid starter. When Woodford finally got the chance to start – late in the season – he did a swell job. The front office wasn’t thrilled with the handling of Alex Reyes, and how Shildt burned Reyes out as the closer. But Shildt aggressively pushed back on these things. People may not want to hear it, but the manager doesn’t get to call the shots on everything. He doesn’t give the orders to the front office; it’s the other way around – especially in the way teams operate today. John Mozeliak had enough. He welcomes discussions and civil debate with managers, but there’s no reason for him to be tolerant of a manager that initiated conflict. There is a right way, and a wrong way, to go about things. Of course, now the pressure is really on Mozeliak. Even though Shildt’s expanding ego became an unpleasant issue, he still did a good job overall. He was NL Manager of the Year in 2019 and finished third in the voting last season. If the team falters going forward, Mozeliak will take intense heat for changing managers.
Bernie, you seem to enjoy defending Jeff Albert. I’m not criticizing you for doing it. I’m just curious about your support of him and what that’s based on. So many others are down on him. Thanks. (From Todd in St. Louis)
I appreciate the question, so thank you for that. I have an aversion to scapegoating people, and in my opinion the constant piling on (on Albert) reached absurd proportions. I’ve pointed out these two factors on multiple occasions, and it makes sense to do it again, so thanks for indulging me.
– The Cardinals’ offense took flight when the team was finally able to go with their planned outfield of Tyler O’Neill, Harrison Bader and Dylan Carlson. That couldn’t happen until July 1, when Bader returned from a broken rib after a lengthy rehab. The emergence of Lars Nootbaar as the fourth outfielder over Justin Williams was also a major change that mattered. When the starting outfielders stayed healthy and in the lineup, we saw the impact of their talent and continuity.
– Over the final three months of the season the Cardinals ranked 2nd in the NL in park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+); were tied for second in OPS (.773); were 2nd in batting average; were 3rd in slugging (.446); were 4th in onbase percentage; and were 6th in home runs and Isolated Power. And by the way, over the final three months they were ranked in the top 10 in the majors in all of those categories except for home runs. (They were 11th in homers, which was still a major improvement over the first three months of the season.
– The other thing that continues to get overlooked or ignored is Busch Stadium’s offense-suppressing environment. I’ll just list the most important numbers that underline the disparity:
OPS: .696 at home; 27th in MLB. And .752 on the road; 5th in MLB.
SLUGGING: .385 at home, 25th in MLB. On the road their .436 slug ranked fifth overall.
ISOLATED POWER: 27th at home (.144) and 3rd on the road (.191.)
HOME RUNS: 26th at home (77), and 5th on the road (121.)
In addition the Cardinals ranked 19th in the majors in home batting average and 6th in road batting average … and their onbase percentage was 26th at home and 10th on the road. Hmmm.
As I joked in a previous column: why was Albert such a terrible batting coach at home and a great batting coach on the road. Interesting, isn’t it?
But I digress. Under Albert we’ve seen breakouts from O’Neill, and Bader. Dylan Carlson improved during the second half of his rookie season. True, he hasn’t been able to fix Paul DeJong … but can anyone fix DeJong, other than DeJong?
With Albert’s approach the Cardinals have dramatically lowered their ground-ball rate, and they’ve increased their pull rate.
I think it’s smart to hit to the opposite field depending on how a hitter is being pitched, and how the defense is setting up. But in the majors, the No. 1 type of contact for success are pulled fly balls. In 2021 the four-best offenses – Astros, Giants, Blue Jays, Dodgers – ranked among the lowest seven teams in ground-ball percentage (good). And all but the Dodgers finished in the top 11 for fly-ball pull percentage (good.) And that’s exactly what Albert is stressing to the STL hitters. The Cardinals rated well in both areas last season, and we saw the enhanced results during the final three months.
Does the XFL partnering with the NFL in terms of “innovation opportunities” affect if the Battlehawks will be back? (From G. Yeh.)
I don’t see why not. St. Louis demonstrated amazing support for the Battlehawks and was the model XFL market. No other XFL town came close. The XFL is a business and needs to draw as many fans as possible, and attract good TV ratings. St. Louis was a proven winner in both categories. I’ve seen fans and media people suggest that the thrill won’t be the same the second time around – simply because the NFL and XFL are cooperating on trying out new rules and safer equipment for players.
Both endeavors make sense, and I don’t see how any rational person could be opposed to the idea of finding safer equipment for players to help prevent head injuries – just because the NFL is involved. It’s not as if the NFL will be running the XFL, and dictating franchise choices, coaching hires, etc. I get it; we hate the NFL. But at times this hatred is just flat-out crazy – laced with extreme paranoia – and this is one of those instances. The Battlehawks were tremendous fun. Having the NFL connected in a healthy but mostly irrelevant way should not be a deterrent to having fun.
If the XFL doesn’t want to put a team in St. Louis, then the XFL is only hurting itself. And if St. Louis fans want to shun the XFL because of the rules-and-safety cooperative with the NFL — that’s just childish. But people can decide what they want to do.
When is the new Mizzou AD gonna pull the plug on Cuonzo? (From D. Ross.)
The decision will be made at the end of the season. And the season. And that’s coming soon. The Tigers have two regular-season games remaining and then (presumably) a short stay in the SEC Tournament. At that point Desiree Reed-Francois is on the clock, and under pressure. I don’t see it as some dramatic decision. The program has deteriorated to a sad, embarrassing state. Home games are sparsely attended. Mizzou hoops: irrelevant. And no coach – anywhere – needs six seasons to establish a consistent, solid and reasonably successful program. Turnarounds are much easier these days because of the transfer portal and NIL opportunities. If the new AD has low standards, then she’ll have a credibility problem. To be blunt, I refuse to believe she will screw this up. And finances should be a non-factor. The SEC is enriching Mizzou, and Mizzou has an obligation to make an effort to compete at a higher level.
Complete this sentence. “If Mizzou brings back Conzo Martin next year, it means….” (from S. McCormack.)
A near-empty Mizzou Arena, and men’s basketball-related revenue that will sink deeper into the abyss.
I love Mizzou basketball. As you have stated we need someone to put our program back to where we win & fill the Mizzou Arena. Please put the word out to important people to look at bringing in Matt McMahon at Murray State to lead our program. He is a proven winner that has mid-major ranked in the top 20 in the country. (From T. Harlan)
This is a tough one to answer – only because I haven’t given much thought to the choice for the next coach … if in fact Reed-Francois decides to replace the current coach. McMahon has done an impressive job. To have his program ranked No. 25 at KenPom – 119 spots ahead of Mizzou – is something that grabs my attention. And another eye-opener is Murray State’s ability to recruit Ja Morant, who was largely overlooked as a high school player in South Carolina.
I think we can agree on this much: Missouri can’t fool around and waste time. I assume Reed-Francois has a ready-set-go list of coaching candidates. (That would be true even if she preferred bringing Martin back … an AD always has a list ready.) As of Monday the “Hot Seat Report” at coachingdatabase.com listed 23 coaches as potential dismissals. The competition for the top available coaching candidates will be frantic.
There’s a lot of ways for MU to go, but getting it right is the challenge. Should Mizzou give a chance to a promising mid-major coach? How about going rogue with Sean Miller or Gregg Marshall? Who are the bright young assistants?
Steve Forbes – the current head coach at Wake Forest – is very intriguing. A former assistant to Bruce Pearl at Tennessee and Gregg Marshall at Wichita State, Forbes had a 62-6 record for a JUCO program in Florida, then a .702 winning percentage in five seasons at Tennessee State. Next it was onto Wake Forest where the Deacons had averaged 11.6 wins over three seasons before his arrival. After just one rebuilding year, Forbes, 57, is 22-8 at Wake Forest this season – the most victories for the program since 2008-2009.
But to give you a look at the difficult challenge of identifying a fit for your job, I went back to find a “top candidates” list for the Mizzou gig after Kim Anderson’s firing at the end of the 2016-2017 season.
Here’s the Fox Sports list of seven names, in order:
Cuonzo Martin, Cal-Berkley
Lorenzo Romar, Washington
Tom Crean, Indiana
Gregg Marshall, Wichita State
Dan Muller, Illinois State
Pat Kelsey, Winthrop
Archie Miller, Dayton
Ugh. Romar was fired by Washington and is head coach of Pepperdine; he’s 7-24 in his fourth season there … Crean was fired by Indiana and is about to be fired by Georgia … Gregg Marshall self-destructed at Wichita State and hasn’t landed another gig after resigning on November 17, 2020 after an internal investigation of allegations made by multiple former players detailing physical and verbal abuse by the coach … Muller’s Illinois State team had a 28-7 record in 2016-2017, but he went 52-70 over the next four-plus seasons before his firing earlier this month … Pat Kelsey did well in nine seasons at Winthrop – .662 winning percentage, two NCAA tournaments – and resigned after last season to become the coach at Charleston … Archie Miller left Dayton to replace Crean at Indiana; in four seasons Miller went 67-58 overall and 33-44 in the Big Ten. He was fired at the end of the 20-21 season.
Another question: just how appealing is the Mizzou job, anyway? When Norm Stewart retired after the 1998-99 season, the three finalists to succeed him were Bill Self, John Calipari and Quin Snyder. Mizzou chose Snyder, but Calipari and Self would have accepted the job had MU offered it. That was a long time ago, and Missouri has lost substantial prestige over the years. And that could really limit the pool of interested – and attractive – candidates.
We need to know…what was going on with Matt Carpenter last year. Why wasn’t he bunting to third base when the third baseman on the opposing team was playing just to the left of second base with no shortstop in sight. And why didn’t Schildt force him to bunt. I fully understand with men on base but aside from that … (From G. Graff.)
Carpenter was bullhead-stubborn. That’s why. He rejected advice, believing that his way was better … which of course was ludicrous. And the Cardinals tried to inspire him by showing him analytics-driven breakdowns that could help him prove. Jeff Albert tried to work with him. But as Carpenter recently told Ken Rosenthal in a story at The Athletic, “I just never bought into (analytics) like I should have.”
Rosenthal’s story was revealing. Carpenter, 36, is desperate to extend his MLB career. And he’s pulling out all stops this season to improve his hitting technique and fix his swing. Carpenter has consulted Joey Votto and Matt Holliday. He’s worked at a cutting-edge baseball performance lab in Louisiana and traveled to Santa Clarita, Calif., for extensive sessions with acclaimed private hitting instructors.
After doing very little to make adjustments with the goal of becoming a better hitter as his offense declined over his final three seasons with the Cardinals, Carpenter is now a man possessed and working like a maniac to get himself right.
“I’m more confident about where I’m at and where my swing is than I have been in years, maybe ever,” Carpenter told Rosenthal.
Carpenter described himself as “extremely motivated because of the way it ended for me in St. Louis.”
In his final three years as a Cardinal, Carpenter batted .203, had a .346 slugging percentage and .671 OPS, and struck out in 28 percent of his plate appearances. His overall offense over the three seasons was 17 percent below the league average based on OPS+.
If Carpenter is so dang fired up to fix himself now, I think it’s fair to wonder why he didn’t make an effort to do so when the Cardinals were paying him an average salary of $17.25 million from 2019 through 2021.
Thanks for the questions …
And thanks for reading …
To dish a question to me, hit me at BernScoops@gmail.com
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the “Bernie Show” podcast at 590thefan.com — the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.
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All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs and Baseball Reference, Stathead, KenPom and College Basketball Reference.