Despite skepticism Matheny was perfect hire for KC Royals

(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) /

Despite winning records and four playoff appearances with the St. Louis Cardinals, the former catcher was seen as a disappointing hire to many KC Royals fans.

After the announcement of Mike Matheny as the next manager of the KC Royals, there were plenty of hot takes on the internet. As I pointed out a month before he took over, plenty of reasons to be excited about this selection were out there. Yes, he made mistakes but he also recognized that and grew from them.

One particular criticism of Matheny was his lack of the use of Sabermetrics. So, in the offseason, he decided to dive into it and embrace it – something the Kansas City franchise has been slow to adopt.

"“One of the things I knew I wanted to get better at, improve on, and be more well-versed in, is the world of analytics,” Matheny says. “How can we create a culture and atmosphere where everybody is growing and learning and figuring out, one, how they’re being evaluated but, two, trying to find a competitive edge? I knew that was something I hadn’t put time into.” —"

A Chernobyl-like storm blew through the world and started shutting down sports in mid-March.  In his first year as skipper of the Royals, an event out of his control altered so many things while he was trying to put his stamp on the franchise.

Not only was baseball put on the shelf for several months, but it almost appeared no season would be played due to an impasse between the owners and players. When an agreement finally was reached, the duties of leading a team while trying to maintain health protocols added to the chaos.

In-season play saw the shuffling of players due to COVID-19, your star player and on-field general missing three weeks, a veteran missing a flight and being skipped in the rotation, and an icon announcing his retirement. Through it all, Matheny remained a steady presence in the dugout.

Another knock was that he allowed a veteran player to bully a rookie and lost control of the dugout while with the Cardinals. Yet the development of first-year players Brady Singer, Kris Bubic, and Tyler Zuber shows he knew how to handle the rookies and bring out their best.

Looking at his stats you can see how he adapted to the strengths of the team. The rate the Royals attempted steals was more than double what he did during the time with the Cardinals. He also used his challenges wisely, ranking fourth overall for skippers who managed the entire year by overturning 71% of calls made against the team. That was 23% higher than his best year in St. Louis.

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If the team can get solid performances from another wave of pitchers coming up and add a strong free-agent bat or two, the long run of winning baseball Matheny guided across I-70 is something the KC Royals can look forward to.