In a curious move, Mets General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen announced yesterday that the Mets have dismissed respected pitching coach Dave Eiland and bullpen coach Chuck Hernandez. Eiland has been replaced by 82-year-old Phil Regan and Hernandez by Ricky Bones, who previously served in this role before being reassigned to a minor league role. Additionally, Jeremy Accardo has joined the staff as a “pitching strategist” – in quotes because no one other than maybe the General Manager knows what that means.
A lot to unpack here. Let’s start with, why? The Mets are performing well below expectations and there needed to be a fall guy(s). The pitching staff entered play last night with the league’s 20th ranked ERA at 4.67. Only two Mets starters are currently sporting ERAs below 4.00. Considering the rotation has been largely healthy, this is really shocking. There are a number of places to point the finger. As this writer has pointed out too many times, Wilson Ramos is not the right catcher for this team. The right-handed pitchers have no comfort level with him and their inflated ERAs when he’s behind he plate backs that up. Scapegoat #1 is Yasmani Grandal for not accepting our generous four-year/$60 million offer. Scapegoat #2 is Van Wagenen for not pivoting off of J.T. Realmuto and Grandal toward a cheaper, defense-first alternative like Jonathan Lucroy or Martin Maldonado.
The Mets defense has done no favors for the pitching staff as the collective batting average on balls in play is far too high. Scapegoat #3 is Amed Rosario who is now considered the worst defensive shortstop in baseball. The bullpen, other than lone bright spot Seth Lugo has been a dumpster fire. Their 5.38 ERA is 28th in the majors and it’s been a putrid 8.20 in the month of June. Injuries to Drew Smith, Justin Wilson and Luis Avilan have not helped, and the second tier guys who’ve shuttled back and forth between Syracuse and Flushing have largely failed to step up. At the back end, Robert Gsellman has been unreliable, Edwin Diaz inconsistent, and Jeurys Familia simply atrocious. Scapegoat #4 is Manager Mickey Callaway for continually mishandling the bullpen, pulling starters too soon, overusing Gsellman, and frequently putting the wrong arm in at the wrong time. Van Wagenen deserves blame for giving a three-year contract to Familia and entrusting someone who blew three of our last four playoff losses with the critical 8th inning role.
However, since Van Wagenen’s job is secure and he’s given Callaway the vote of confidence, someone else had to be the fall guy. Eiland, who was credited for the success of the 2018 staff – including Jacob deGrom‘s Cy Young season, Zack Wheeler‘s brilliant second half, Noah Syndergaard‘s strong finish, and Steven Matz‘s first fully healthy season – was marked as the patsy, along with bullpen coach Hernandez.
Now we’re about to watch an 82-year-old in a baseball uniform trot out of the dugout to the mound to speak to pitchers in game. Regan, along with Accardo, had been serving as Mets’ minor league pitching coordinators. In the Thursday press conference announcing the moves, both Callaway and Van Wagenen lauded the new additions, while lamenting the corresponding moves they had to make.
Jason Vargas, who pitched under Dave Eiland in Kansas City as well as New York, seemed particularly caught by surprise, telling MLB.com, “I have a long relationship with Dave…He’s one of the main reasons I’ve been able to get things back on track.”
Regan is a respected long-time pitching instructor who began his Major League career back in the 1960’s as a Dodgers relief pitcher who would close games for Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. In his day, he faced Willie, Mickey and the Duke – he’s that old. Following a solid playing career, Regan served as a college coach for 10 years before landing a job as a minor league pitching instructor with the Seattle Mariners. He was soon promoted to their big league pitching coach. In the 80’s and 90’s, Regan bounced around as a scout, roving instructor and pitching coach for the Dodgers, Marlins and Indians before a brief managerial stint with the Orioles. He later served as pitching coach for the Cubs and Indians and even Team USA in the 2000 Olympics. In the early 2000’s, Regan manged winter league teams in Venezuela, before joining the Mets organization as a minor league coach in 2009. He’s been retired since 2015, until his phone rang this earlier this week.
It’s only an interim position and maybe he and his “pitching strategist” can impart some wisdom on this moribund bunch of under-performing arms. More than likely, he’s a Manchurian Candidate, a place holder, and an odd blip in the history of strange Mets moves. Will the Mets bounce back or continue to slide in the standings? Will we be buyers or sellers at the deadline? Time will tell, but meanwhile, let’s rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.