How Will the Cardinals Deliver Data to the Players?

photo: Mike Matheny (Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports Images)

Much has already been written about regarding the growing importance of analytics to the St. Louis Cardinals’ future product on the field. This was really brought into focus during the front office briefing following the 2017 season when the characteristics of a new pitching coach were explained.

(The new coach) “has to understand modern strategy, modern analytics, and how we can leverage that to optimize our staff,” Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak said.

A recent Post-Dispatch article (from which the prior quote came) also includes comments from manager Mike Matheny on what data has been available to him in the dugout and how it can be referenced within games. On the surface, it seems all the right boxes were checked.

Then what was the problem?

The question that has no obvious answer is whether Matheny has had the right data, but the wrong advice in the past, or just did not fully utilize what was available to him?

What is very clear, however, is that the club has made considerable changes to the coaching staff, both during and following the season.

At 101 Sports, Bernie Miklasz writes that he believes the Cardinals’ intent was to hire “progressive-minded coaches to help the current manager become more fluent and knowledgeable about analytics.”

Miklasz’ conclusion makes his opinion clear.

“Now Matheny must open his mind to data and lead his men to more victories.”

I get that point, but whether it is mind-opening, educating or providing a better support staff, they alone can only impact decisions under the direct control of the manager.

I sense that is necessary, but not sufficient. More is needed.

Even if the coaches and manager are fully in sync with the data, when all is said and done, they are not the ones executing on the field.

It doesn’t take genius to conclude the 2018 Cardinals need some better players. However, my point is different.

No matter who the players are, how will the coaches filter and deliver the analytic information to them? For openers, the staff must understand and accept what is provided them, but that is the ante needed just to get into the game.

At least as importantly, the staff needs to determine the best way to get this information in the heads, and then the hearts, of the Cardinals players.

There is not going to be one approach that will be effective with 25 different personalities across countless situations in any given game.

After all, a discussion with Yadier Molina is going to be very different than one with John Brebbia, for example.

Some guys may consume and rationalize everything that is offered to them. Others may think too much, so may be more effective with a selective approach. Yet, others may respond better via talk than data sheets or even video. And so on.

The approaches to seamlessly and effectively inject analytics into the batting cage and bullpen sessions and video reviews and when to take the gamble to try to take an extra base and so on may represent the broadest challenge.

Getting new coaches with the proper orientation is a good first step. But as Mozeliak suggested, leveraging the wealth of analytic data is where it will all come together.

To truly meet their 2018 objectives, the Cardinals new staff may need to develop a customized approach for each player and then, successfully execute those plans.

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Brian Walton can be reached via email at Follow Brian on Twitter.

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