Mike Shildt Comments On Matt Carpenter

St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Shildt met with members of the media for more than 30 minutes before Thursday night’s game against the Colorado Rockies. Included was an extended discussion of a change which saw Matt Carpenter removed from the starting lineup. The following is a full transcript of the parts of the conversation relevant to Carpenter, lightly edited for clarity.

Q: Matt Carpenter’s not in there. First of all he’s a person (that’s right, that’s right), you’re dealing with human beings (it’s great to remember that), he’s also an asset in terms of the business but he’s an underachieving asset, so my question is, as a manager, how do you balance trying to retrieve that asset while also making sure that you’re putting the guys who are the hottest in the lineup? I guess it’s a delicate balance.

A: Obviously, yeah. It’s a beautifully phrased and well asked question, Jim. You are talking about a human being that has done a lot of things very well for a long time in this organization and in our community. I mean, the guy dedicated a field today in our community that he doesn’t expect any fanfare from but nonetheless did. We also get it’s a business and so the human aspect of this is that this is a guy who has had a lot of success for the organization. We do understand this is a business that’s “what have you done for me lately?” We all understand it. We also recognize that there is an asset that is real, that hasn’t performed from the business standpoint to the level that he, we, our baseball community would like. So what’s the patient level with that? It has nothing to do with his contract or anything along those lines. It has to do with just how confident we are about him moving forward and getting it going.

The reality is this is a guy that last year — this time last year — I don’t want to say carried us because a lot of guys had a lot of things that went well in allowing us to make a run in the second half when effectively we were left for dead. He was the guy leading that charge. You need to have a little longer memory sometimes in some cases, but yet still appreciate where we’re at with how we’re competing and where Matt is physically and emotionally. We’re going to stay fluid with it, because the fact of the matter is the guy did finish ninth last year in the MVP race. And not to have some level of patience — which I get, we’re in a very very, absolute, not even a 24-hour news cycle any more. Feels like we’re in a five-hour news cycle. And what have you done for me lately? I do get it. We do need to win games to have results. But you also need to be aware that this a talented guy who has contributed quite a bit and has earned — and it’s not about earning anything contractually — it’s about earning what he’s done up to this point. He scored his 700th career run as a Cardinal. You look up and recently he keeps setting doubles records, runs scored records for a career. It’s the one thing this organization’s always valued and appreciated and rewarded is guys that have performed.

Look at Adam Wainwright. He’s having a nice season. Last night wasn’t his best. I respect Waino last night for how he competed very very much, but I looked at his numbers just today about what he’s done, 8 out of 10 six inning-plus starts, quality starts, one of the best in the National League since the All-Star Break, didn’t have a good start last night. Last year he was inconsistent with what he was doing. He wasn’t feeling good. We got rewarded for being a little patient for having a little vision of how this guy competes and what he was able to do in the past. Carp does deserve some grace. He’s gotten some grace. We’ll evaluate every day. He’s not playing today. We’ve got a lineup that we feel very confident and comfortable with, obviously, that’s competing today against the Colorado Rockies and it’ll remain fluid.

Q: If he’s still looking to get going and as the games get closer to the end and obviously, you’re trying to push into the playoffs, does that change the way you look at giving him opportunities to get going?

A: It changes as we move forward. We evaluate what’s taken place recently. We’re not going to excuse the fact that it hasn’t been as good as he or we would’ve liked and so we made an adjustment in today’s lineup. We also know that if we can get him going and he can get himself going then we got a guy who can help propel this team to make our road a lot easier to win this division and win this World Series and a world championship. If you look at how that looks and what that production looks like, if we can get that production — and we’re not going to get it just by sitting him cold. We’ve got to figure out how that looks and that might require some at bats off the bench and some continued work in the cage and get himself mentally and physically where he needs to be able to go, and when he does that, we’ll ride with him. If not, we’ll just continue to evaluate it.

Q: How healthy would you say he is? All these guys are probably playing with something that hurts them, but he’s had a chronic back thing…

A: Yeah, no, there’s not one thing, there’s not anything that, like you say Mark, everybody at this point in the season is a little banged up with something in every clubhouse. But no, Matt won’t make an excuse for that. There’s nothing that he’s hiding or not feeling good about. Obviously, there’s some issues with fouling balls off his foot and then getting hit in the foot but that’s more or less behind him. I’m sure it’s sore, but there’s nothing physically compromising Matt Carpenter where he couldn’t perform, and he wouldn’t begin to excuse that either.

Q: All of the inside cutters and sinkers and things that he sees, they’re probably throwing those for a reason. They think either he’s not getting around, his bat slowed down, or he might be hurting, right? I assume…

A: Yeah, I don’t think it’s a matter of him being hurt. I think it’s a matter, I remember years ago, many years ago, almost 10 now, I came up to “help” the big-league team, just get experience. I was in the cage with Albert and somebody was talking to him about how he’s getting pitched now. This was around 2009 or 10. He’d been in the league ten years, so he goes, “you’re pulling the ball more. Why are you pulling the ball more now? Is it because you learned how to hit the ball inside?” And Albert looked at the guy and was like, “no, they pitch me in now. That’s where I hit it because that’s where they pitch me. In a couple years, they’ll start to pitch me away again, and I’ll start to drive the ball away.” And that’s what happened to Matt Carpenter. They’re throwing him away and he’s driven it away, or they’re throwing balls out over the plate and he’s done damage on, and people now are more intentional about pounding him in. It’s an adjustment that Matt’s making. I don’t think it’s anything physical as far as him not feeling good. It’s just about being able to get his swing to the point where he’s consistently able to get to that pitch and handle his at-bats.

Q: We’ve talked a lot about communication when things go well. To Jim’s point, though, what’s the role of you and your staff to communicate with a guy like Carp to make sure he’s not taking things too personally?

A: That’s a good question. It’s to the point of the patience part. We aren’t a high knee jerk reaction staff or clubhouse. We communicate with players every day, so to say we’re going to communicate with a guy and, “hey, you’re doing great, man, just want to love you buddy, behind you all the way. Oh, you’re not going good? Yeah, you know, hey…<skeptical noise>” Nah, man. It’s the best part of my job. It’s reason I do my job, quite honestly, primarily. I love the competition, I love the opportunity, I love the challenge, I love all that. But really I got into this profession to be a part of people’s lives, and to communicate and get to know them and help them get the most out of their God-given ability. If you’re really with somebody, you’re with them all the time. That way it doesn’t get way over here to where you have a pulse of what that person’s dealing with.

And when somebody’s struggling, you just sit down with them and try to love them a little more, try to meet them where they are. Hopefully create a safe place where they can share what’s really going on with them or anything that’s hard to get out that needs to get out. Whether it’s Matt or any of the guys, the thing I value the most about the opportunity I have every day to coach and to manage, it’s really about relationships with people. That communication is just going to be consistent and even more so when somebody might be struggling. It’s just, “I’m here for you, man,” and to Jim’s point, this is a human being. And he is an asset and there is an expectation.

This is a business. We get it. People aren’t going in with 25 media people into a lot of businesses every day and talking about…our job is to perform in front of a lot of people. We embrace the expectation. We love it. We have a great opportunity and community to do it in front of with a lot of history and we love it. When things don’t go well, we just need to be able to support each other and be honest with each other and be able to make sure people are in a good spot physically and mentally with who they are as people. At the end of the day, that’s still what we are.

Q: You talked about that news cycle and how media…I think the reaction sometimes to the lineup and say, “oh, Matt Carpenter’s in, Shildt’s got 100% faith in him” (Mmhmm) or “oh, Matt Carpenter’s in, Shildt’s turning away from him,” (Yep) It’s very clear, you use the word fluid. What are you hoping to see maybe as the opportunities become more limited that trend you back toward the direction of him being in there every day like you hope he is?

A: Yeah, we spoke about it a couple of different times, and used that as an example for general, or vice versa. Just looking for consistency. Looking for consistent at bats. We love the results but we do know — at least I do, in looking at it — there’s no guarantee of the result. But if the process is good, we’re taking the quality at bats, we’re always going to prepare well here, the guys are. But if the effort and the look of execution is there, you can compete with that. If we feel like that’s not consistent or he’s feeling for something or just out of whack, or we don’t feel like a really good chance to execute consistently, then it’s harder to compete with that.

Q: You’ve not shied away from making hard decisions. Is this one of the harder ones that you’ve had to deal with?

A: Yes, and — yes, because I have so much respect for Matt. We’re doing everything we can, and as is Matt, to get him to what he’s capable of being. I hate that he has to shoulder so much of this, quite honestly. But I do get it. He gets it. It’s interesting how he seems to be so galvanizing to the community. It is a team. There’s 24 other guys that have a lot of say, including myself, and a responsibility to what this looks like. I really hope that, you just want him to get his fair due relative to the big picture. But we do get the fact — and he gets it — that’s what comes with high expectations.

And the thing about it is, the crux of it, people forget — maybe not forget. There needs to be a reminder why those high expectations exist. Why are there high expectations for Matt Carpenter? (Because he’s done it.) Exactly! So, why the question about why does he get an opportunity to play? Because he’s created high expectations. Why’s the frustration that he doesn’t execute? Because the expectations are high, which he’s earned. And he gets that that’s what comes with this territory, that’s what comes with being a part of a high level, high expectation position with the St. Louis Cardinals who expect to be in the playoffs. And we embrace it. It comes with the territory. But a little bit of grace and patience to say, “hey, let’s work through it and figure it out so we can get back to allowing him to get back to those expectations that we all have.”

Q: One of the things that’s obviously tricky with a lineup as far as when we ask about it and you tell us is you’re making a lineup for production that day and forward and a lot of our questions are based on numbers that have already happened. With that in mind, what do you look for to know what trends are ahead? Because I get what you’re saying about Carp, but you could also make the case that Tommy does not get on base at the same rate as Carp, a struggling Carp. So how do you weigh those two things? Because clearly you’re seeing something or making decisions beyond the numbers at that point.

A: Yeah, I’ll disclose as much as I’m comfortable with. It’s a great question because we looked at it, and to date, and there’s some recency that we are evaluating. But to date, Carp and Tommy Edman have been effectively the same player. To date. 2019. Now, since Carp’s come back, not as much. And that’s what we’re dealing with. That’s really a lot of the rub of this, right? And that’s the world we now live in in this example and the bigger picture of what we see, feel now and what is a projection of what the person could do or should do. The fact of the matter is there’s a sweet spot for both. And I’m just trying every day — and need to be effective at — meeting where that sweet spot is.

As far as, and again, to Ben’s point, Carp’s in the lineup yesterday. Carp’s not in the lineup today. I don’t know what’s out there, but I get my sense of what’s going on through you guys and the questions you ask, and rightfully so. That’s your jobs. So I can get a feel of the pulse. Like recently about lineups. I’m sitting here going, “well you win 9 of 11,” it’s like every day, lineup lineup lineup, I’m like, “whoa. What about, we won some games? [laughs]” And that’s ok. That’s our jobs.

Q: You’re asking why we don’t ask about past performance. We’re asking questions for future. That is absolutely where wheel meets road with our conversations.

A: Yeah, right, that’s right. And to finish that, the future really is kind of today, without being overly knee jerk. Me and Mo have talked about this recently. The art and the science of it. The art is that feel that is part of my, our staff, the clubhouse, what’s going on, how’s a guy, is he banged up with something, does he need a day, typical stuff. Instinctive like, this is the feel of how this club’s working. This works. That can work in concert with what’s happened. It can work in concert with a projection. But it may not. So you balance what that looks like and still look at some of those other things, so moving forward you go, I don’t want to overreact to say, “oh my gosh, Matt Carpenter’s been benched.” He’s not playing today. What it looks like today, it looks like a good opportunity for the people that are on the field based on what we know. What that looks like tomorrow will be based on what we know about tomorrow and what that looks like.

There also is a little bit of, it’s OK to show confidence in people. And this is aside from baseball, it’s a general — although I do apply it to a lot of what I’ve done working with teams — isn’t it nice when people believe in you? You ever had an experience — I would hope you have, I have — where you may have earned it and then something happens and people say, “you know, I still believe in you.” Or maybe you haven’t earned it yet and you say, “you know what? I believe in you. I got you. Let’s go.” I don’t know about everybody else. That’s been a positive thing for me personally and for me to be able to share with people that I’ve managed and coached. Candidly, it’s probably one of the things that I feel like allows me to have good continuity with the teams that I’ve worked with. I do get there’s a balancing act to the production, but I also know that I will always believe in people — not blindly — but be patient to believe.

So what’s that future look like? Well, you know, this opportunity has presented itself today and it may not be the absolute 100…and people say, “whoa, you’re not giving your absolute?” No. It may be a short term, figure out for a longer term play. This is a long view. Now the season’s getting shorter. So I get that, so there’s a little more sense of maybe not having that longer view. But there is a balancing act to that and there’s an art to it that I don’t know how much people pay attention to or appreciate it.

Q: Sometimes we do ask questions that are effectively, “why aren’t you starting Mikolas and Flaherty on the same day?”

A: Thank you. I’m just trying to negotiate that some days to try to give you what you need to do your jobs, but there’s sometimes that hardly anything’s in a silo with the decisions that are being made. And I try to walk everyone the best I can through the decisions, and we talk about them a *lot*.

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