Let’s say you’re a veteran baseball man, well-respected in the industry. You’ve taken three years off from the game and have only followed it sporadically. You tune in every now and then to the ESPN or Fox Games of the Week but you catch most of the playoffs and World Series in your time away from the game.
Out of the blue, a team calls you one day, looking for you to take over on an interim basis, with the possibility of becoming a permanent manager. This is a friend of yours, so you don’t hesitate to help him out in a rough spot. Besides, you miss the game and you’re eager to come back and have one last hurrah and put a feather in your cap.
The team is essentially a .500 club but there’s no dominating team in the division and if all the breaks go your way you might possibly sneak into the playoffs. While that’s a real longshot, a strong finish could get you an extension and next year three pitchers with upside will come back from injury and recently two under-30 hitters on the team have started to come to life, giving hints of a lineup that could be productive from nearly top to bottom.
With this fresh set of eyes – what changes would you make to the 2014 Mets?
My guess is that you would pick some sort of starter/platoon for left field and get a backup shortstop on the roster. Another thing you would do would be to bring some sanity to the bullpen. You would probably sit down with each of the relievers and while your first order of business would be to tell Carlos Torres that you don’t receive a bonus if he comes down with an arm injury, here’s hoping your second discussion is with Josh Edgin.
You have no idea who Edgin is but the scouting report shows you a guy who throws 93 mph and features both a slider and a curve. The stats look great. He’s got a 1.69 ERA and a 0.75 WHIP. But one thing has you confused – he’s appeared in 26 games and only thrown 16 innings. You take a look at his splits and see that this year he has a .458 OPS versus RHB and a .475 OPS versus LHB. For his career, those numbers are .664 and .627, respectively.
In an effort to get more information, you get video of every appearance and start with Saturday night’s performance. The previous manager brought him into a mop-up situation, down five runs in the eighth inning on a night where the offense has done next to nothing. The first three batters up are two switch-hitters surrounding a LHB.
The first guy up reaches on a double and the lefty smacks a ball that looks like a potential inside-the-park homer. But your Gold Glove Award candidate in center makes a tremendous catch and the only thing that happens is the runner advances to third. Your catcher gives up a passed ball to allow the run to score, but Edgin retires the next batter with a strikeout. The opposing team sends up another switch-hitter and much to your surprise, the old manager calls for a pitching change down six runs and with no one on base.
Is your first reaction WTF or No wonder they’re looking for a new manager?
You continue to watch the video and you see in his previous outing he was brought on with a 7-1 lead and got the final out in the seventh inning and was lifted after retiring one batter in the eighth and again you wonder what made that move necessary, considering the odds of giving up a six-run homer with no one on base were not all that great.
Before you talk to Edgin, you decide to look at your new contract to double check to see if there is a performance bonus based on the number of pitching changes you execute. There isn’t one but you still decide to investigate the bullpen usage. You see the previous manager made 302 pitching changes in 97 games.
Further investigation shows that ranks 13th in the 15-team NL, ahead of just the Cubs and Rockies, the two teams with the worst records in the league. While you’ve been away for a few years you obviously remember that pitching in Coors Field is a little different so you dismiss that one but still are left wondering why the team is employing a tactic that puts them in company with the Cubs.
Then you chuckle to yourself, remembering the old Pete Rose line – What did God say to the Cubs? Don’t win the World Series until I come back.
You call Edgin into your office and have a one-on-one with him, trying to find out what makes him tick. You come away from the meeting with a smile on your face, because you have a guy who’s frustrated over his use and you know that you can easily address that and make the player happy and the team better.
Edgin casually mentions that Jon Niese feels similarly frustrated and suggests that you watch video of his last two removals from a game. You follow his advice and afterwards you think how lucky you are and wonder how good your new team could be if it would only stop shooting itself in the leg all the time with its roster construction and usage decisions.