Bernstein: Matheny, McCoy Afraid Of Numbers

By Dan Bernstein

This is probably the first and last time that St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny and Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy will be discussed together in the same story. But they made quite the pair this week in fighting a losing battle on separate fronts that were equally stupid.

Both men seem thin-skinned when criticized, and particularly so when presented with data that make them uncomfortable. It must be the numbers themselves, each seems to conclude, lashing out at the facts themselves and the people who generate them, as if fearful of some kind of devious witchcraft.

Matheny has been long known as a meathead, eschewing modern baseball resources in large part because he doesn’t understand them or want to try. Reporters who attempt to reference such information in interviews with him regularly find themselves chasing various logical rabbits through the holes that the manager digs for himself. Last week ESPN’s Mark Saxon became the latest example.

Saxon tried to ask Matheny about his team’s myriad issues with defense and base running. But Matheny could not come close to properly explaining either which players were at fault or why, instead singling out objectively good defenders as bad ones and blaming other problems on “inconsistency” that he himself caused with multiple and erratic benchings. It was a virtual tour de force of nonsense that inspired 101Sports.com columnist Bernie Miklasz to break it all down with full annotations.

Miklasz gleefully vivisected Matheny, and added that “the overly sensitive Matheny once told me that he considered my use of statistics — facts — to be personal attacks.”

Then Matheny crushed a beer can on his head and screamed “NERRRRRRRDS!!”

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That’s about what McCoy did, actually, consumed with fury after realizing that analysis site Pro Football Focus did not include him in their list of the top 101 NFL players of 2016. On Monday he responded on Twitter with “@PFF u guys suck … a bunch of nerds who never played a lick of football in your whole life.”

As PFF’s Sam Monson explained, “McCoy was certainly in the conversation in the latter stages of the list, and would be among the next few names to go on it, but was ultimately kept off by his blocking performance.” He shared that McCoy had 92 pass-blocking responsibilities in 2016, and his grade at that skill of just 37.1 was the worst of any running back in the league. “The single biggest thing that kept McCoy out was his performance as a blocker,” Monson wrote. “In today’s league, backs need to be able to pass-block, or their quarterbacks are in trouble.”

It would not seem that having played football would in any way change that kind of determination or provide countervailing perspective, but McCoy was clearly not trying to argue anything on the merits.

Hard to believe we still have these Luddite piñatas to whack around, considering that the sports-metrics movement has evolved so thoroughly into the mainstream that it has ceased to even be a cause, anymore. Keep in mind that Michael Lewis’s book Moneyball — often noted as a marking point for awareness of baseball’s enlightenment — was published in 2003. That’s 14 years ago this June, or back when the Dodgers’ Corey Seager and the Cubs’ Addison Russell were fourth-graders.

So we have to cherish guys like Matheny and McCoy while we can, enjoying such real-life dinosaurs as they roam the earth, their tiny brains still so easily overwhelmed.

Dan Bernstein is senior columnist on CBS Chicago and co-host of “Boers & Bernstein” on Chicago’s 670 The Score.

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