It’s frustrating to watch things being done in a sub-optimal way. Back in 2014 in this spot there were suggestions on six things to do to eliminate this type of thing. Here’s number one and number three:
1. Manage to fit the talent on hand, not the way the other 29 clubs do things
3. Don’t manage your team for the benefit of those that contribute the least.
Sure, it’s easy to say these things from the comfort of your easy chair, with zero repercussions if things don’t work out. But which one would you rather have – a management team that says, “Come get us!” or one that says, “Hey, what we’re doing isn’t working” – because it’s clear that there are repercussions for false bravado, too.
“We could (keep Nido with deGrom,) but then in the playoffs we’d be running into a sticky situation,” Callaway said before Saturday’s game in Phoenix. “Look, it’s not something that we’re debating, it’s just something that’s gonna happen.”
In this space the next day was an article proclaiming that Nido should catch deGrom and Syndergaard all of the time. Sure, maybe the top two pitchers on the 29 other clubs didn’t have a personal catcher but what worked for the rest of MLB wasn’t working for the Mets. To be fair, Nido has caught the majority of starts by deGrom since that Callaway quote. But it took until July 6 for Nido to catch Syndergaard in back-to-back starts.
Here in 2019, deGrom has a 1.83 ERA and a .563 OPS against in 59 innings with Nido catching, while Syndergaard has 3.13 and .645 marks, respectively, with Nido behind the dish. Syndergaard is 3-1 with Nido catching him and the loss came in a game where he allowed 2 ER in 7 IP. And sure, it doesn’t look good when one of your big free agent acquisitions has to sit 40% of the time. But it looks better to get results from your top two pitchers than it does to “save face” by playing the guy with the big contract.
When number three referenced above in the opening of this piece was originally written, its primary focus was on the ridiculousness of building a bullpen around the idea of maximizing the output of a lefty specialist, who might throw 40 innings in a full season. But it has other applications, too.
For the majority of this season, Robinson Cano and Juan Lagares have contributed next to nothing. But Cano has started nearly every game where he’s been healthy and Lagares has started regularly since Brandon Nimmo went on the IL, even though he was hitting at Plaweckian levels the first six weeks of the season and has produced at a Broxtonian pace since mid-May.
Of course, Cano was the prime offseason acquisition and there’s $20 million of reasons he’s in there every day in the middle of the order. And Lagares has $9 million of reasons for his extended play, too. But you’ve got to pay Cano and Lagares that money anyway – no sense to make a bad situation even worse by playing them, too.
Lagares has never been much of a hitter but he made up for it by being an elite defender. But those days are gone. Now, he may still be the best defensive outfielder on the Mets. And you can live with a guy with a .667 OPS (his lifetime mark in the majors at the start of the season) when he’s providing Gold Glove defense. But there’s no way on earth you can justify playing a guy with a .494 OPS and it’s magnitudes worse when he ranks tied for 40th out of 44 CF with at least 200 innings in FanGraphs’ overall defensive measure, like Lagares currently does.
Cano’s been hitting lately, with a .342 AVG in his last 10 games, which some will use to justify him playing the first three months when he stunk up the joint. But that span has just a .796 OPS with a .364 BABIP. If this is what happens when the hits are falling in and he’s going good, let’s not get too excited about what’s to come.
The current GM neither acquired nor once represented Lagares, so he’s (finally) been removed from the starting lineup. But that’s locking the barn door after all of the horses have escaped.
The idea isn’t to chase every small-sample trend that comes down the pike. Rather, it’s to see what isn’t working and determine without any bias or preconceived notions if what we’re seeing is a mirage or if there’s potentially something more there.
With Nido, we saw last year what terrific work he did with Syndergaard. It should have been the goal at the start of the season to get him some starts by lining up Ramos’ days off with when Syndergaard was on the mound. But they didn’t do that, even though Nido started the year in the majors with Travis d’Arnaud on the IL. Instead, Nido’s two April starts came with Zack Wheeler and deGrom on the hill. And Syndergaard had a 6.35 ERA in the first month of the season.
With Lagares, it was a guy who never hit at an acceptable level. At least with Cano you could ignore his age and say that he’s always been a good hitter and claim that he would bounce back. There was zero reason to think that Lagares would magically start ripping the ball.
Ideally, Conforto is not your starting center fielder. But you can’t get too caught up on what’s ideal when you’re trying to win games. When your ideal lineup has you in fourth place, it should be pretty easy to see that what’s ideal on paper is quite another thing in reality. You need to live in reality and the way to do that is to manage to fit the talent on hand and not manage to benefit those that contribute the least.