“You are what your record says you are.”
Most sports fans recognize that quote from Bill Parcells. And while it’s a football quote, let’s use it to examine Terry Collins. Last year the Mets were 74-88 and the year before that they were 77-85. If you are what your record says you are, then the Mets under Collins are not very good. Unless somehow you think a .469 winning percentage is good.
Yet Collins and his entire staff are coming back for 2013. We’ve already seen that no manager in Mets history who finished with a losing record in his second full season ever went on to a winning season with the club. Is there any reason to think Collins will buck this trend? Perhaps if Collins was younger, he would be around when Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler lead the team into a new era. But not many expect Collins to be around after 2013, when he will be 64 years old.
Did the Mets do the right thing in essentially bringing back a lame-duck manager?
Perhaps. There’s little doubt that a manager (or really anyone in power) can do a much better job if his decisions are based on what’s best for the group, rather than what’s best for him individually. We can look to recent Mets history for proof of this. Jerry Manuel turned Jenrry Mejia into a reliever in 2010 not because it was in the team’s best interests, but because it seemed like the best way for him to keep his job.
It didn’t help Manuel keep his job and we’ll soon be at three years after this terrible decision and we still don’t know what Mejia is or will be in the majors. Yet by the end of the 2010 season, Manuel had accepted his fate and the Mets were playing Ike Davis, Lucas Duda, Ruben Tejada and Josh Thole on a regular basis – even if that group wasn’t the best option to pull out wins down the stretch. The Mets as an organization needed to see these guys in action and Manuel let it happen.
Bill James said that a manager’s job could be broken down “into three levels of responsibility” — (1) game-level decision making, (2) team-level decision making, and (3) personnel management and instruction.
It’s possible that managing for the good of the team – instead of for his own short-term good – will improve Collins’ game-level decision making. He can start by not obsessing about matchups and pitching his LOOGY in 13 straight games. He can continue by not trotting out Jason Bay for starts because he used to be good in 2009. And maybe he can give a day off to guys before he runs them into the ground.
The Mets finished 2012 with a .368 winning percentage in the second half of the year. There’s an awful lot of team-level decision making that needs to improve and some of that, no doubt, is above Collins’ level. As for personnel management and instruction, it’s generally understood that Collins gets a passing grade in the former but that there’s still work that needs to be done in the latter.
Let’s look at another managerial quote from James:
“The most important question that a manager asks is ‘What needs to be changed around here?’”
The bullpen needs a mini overhaul and the manager/pitching coach need to do a better job of managing the end of the game. The hitters need to stop watching cripple fastballs down the middle of the plate and stop swinging at pitches a foot out of the strike zone. They need more power, better speed and improved lefty/righty balance in the lineup.
Collins likely has some input into personnel decisions but he would be better served focusing instead on his own bullpen deployment issues. We’ve gone over it a 1,000 times already but it makes no sense to manage your bullpen to optimize your lefty specialist – the guy who pitches the fewest innings! – at the expense of every other pitcher on the team.
Dave Hudgens’ approach of working the count is a good one and should be continued with some tweaking. The idea of taking pitches is not to amass walks. The idea is to wait for a pitch you can drive and then hit the ball with authority. Walks are just a happy by-product of this approach. If the pitcher throws a “get-it-over” strike on the first pitch – hit it into the gap and start running. Too many times last year we saw Mets hitters adopt the Jose Reyes approach to 3-0 pitches – watch it go by no matter how hittable it is. By all means if the pitcher serves up a meatball (and not all 3-0 pitches are this way) feast on it!
The flip side of this is swinging at every 0-2 pitch no matter how much out of the strike zone it is. This got so bad with Davis in particular that I advocated giving him the take sign on this count. No one’s going to feel bad if a pitcher snaps off a curve on the black and the umpire runs up the hitter. That’s baseball. But constantly swinging at pitches that start out at the knees and break a foot out of the strike zone is maddening. All players and teams do this to some extent but the degree to which Mets’ hitters did this last year was seemingly over the top.
Assuming returns to health by Dillon Gee and Johan Santana, the Mets’ starting pitching should be a team strength. This assumes that no trades are made and that Dan Warthen doesn’t turn Matt Harvey into a changeup artist – an assumption that may or may not be valid. But strong starting pitching should keep the Mets competitive. Perhaps that combined with a change in tactics from the manager could be just what the doctor ordered.
So, there’s your 2013 slogan – Mets baseball, watch us try to stay competitive! Perhaps a lame-duck manager is just what this team needs. In that case, welcome back TC.