There are things we’d like to be able to do in our job but we don’t for a variety of reasons. Maybe the owners don’t provide us with enough resources. Or maybe our bosses institute policies that are absurd but we’re powerless to change. Sometimes it’s because we’re too lazy to go the extra mile and do what it takes. And, sadly, sometimes we’re held back by our own limitations.
If you were to objectively look at Sandy Alderson’s performance as GM of the Mets, there were a lot of things outside his control that held him back. But among the things that were in his power to do and change that he failed to accomplish was reacting on the fly and deviating from Plan A. This is a bit of a double-edged sword. If you have a good plan, you don’t want to run away from it at the first sign of trouble. But you don’t want to continue to use a good plan that’s not working even remotely the way you anticipated, either.
We’re going to get to see how Brodie Van Wagenen handles this dilemma now.
One can argue that we’ve already seen at least a little bit of this with the managerial hiring. Plan A blew up in Van Wagenen’s face and after initially botching the response in an unbelievably bad way – saying he didn’t see it as a Mets problem! – he moved on to Plan B. The people in the managerial chair have changed; but, ultimately we all expect that the reason they got the gig in the first place was to serve as a puppet for Van Wagenen. If he wanted an independent manager, then he would have hired Dusty Baker or Joe Girardi or Buck Showalter.
Instead, Van Wagenen has his hand-picked guy in the dugout, one who won’t have any trouble carrying out his directions, seemingly like Mickey Callaway did. Additionally, Van Wagenen has his pitching coach, too. The top two men in the dugout don’t have any allegiance to the previous boss or the players that boss brought in, ones that perhaps they lobbied to get in the first place.
Before the start of the 2019 season, the Mets seemed to have their starting rotation in place, with five holdovers from the 2018 campaign. However, some lobbied for Seth Lugo to get the fifth starter’s job over Jason Vargas. The problem was that Alderson, Callaway and pitching coach Dave Eiland were all in on the decision to sign Vargas as a free agent. While Alderson was gone, the other two had some allegiance to Vargas.
Generally, you don’t want to put players in sub-optimal roles. But there was a reason to think before the year began that Vargas as a starter plus Lugo as a reliever would yield better overall results than if the roles for the two pitchers were reversed. Then, Vargas pitched much better than he did in 2018 and Lugo ended up being one of the club’s two reliable relievers.
Flash forward to 2020 and the Mets headed to Spring Training with six starters – not counting Lugo – for five spots. Before the pandemic hit full force in this country, it appeared that we knew who got the short end of the stick and would be working out of the bullpen. Then, shortly after things got shut down, Noah Syndergaard had TJ surgery and was lost for the year.
Everyone assumes that the sixth starter slides into the rotation and the Mets try to carry on without Syndergaard as best they can. But now we circle back to having the courage to deviate from the original plan. It’s hard to do this under the best of circumstances. And now with just a 60 or so game schedule, how long can you afford to go with a plan that’s not working?
Michael Wacha has an All-Star appearance and an NLCS MVP on his resume. At one point he was a fine pitcher but injuries have made him a shell of his former self. Last season he had a 4.76 ERA and a 1.563 WHIP. He was a good guy to take a flyer on, as there was a chance that the 28 year old could put the injuries behind him and pitch like it was 2015 again.
The Mets’ choice is now this – Would they rather gamble on a return to form by Wacha or gamble that the bullpen can survive without Lugo?
Theoretically, the delayed start to the season should benefit reliever Dellin Betances, giving him the time to recover from last year’s injuries and build back arm strength to deliver the high-velocity pitches he’s known for previously. A Betances comeback to anything remotely resembling his 2014-2018 established level of performance would be a gift from the heavens. There’s also the hope that Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia enjoy better seasons in 2020, too.
Perhaps things will change once Spring Training 2.0 gets underway but up until this point, there’s been no word about a move for Lugo into the rotation. We must remember that Wacha is a Van Wagenen guy and Lugo is not. But will Van Wagenen show the ability to adjust on the fly and make a decision that’s in the good of the team, rather than the good of his guy? We certainly didn’t see that last year with Robinson Cano playing every day he was healthy.
For what it’s worth, Wacha had a nice Grapefruit League performance, with a 1.17 ERA in three outings covering 7.2 IP. However, despite the shiny ERA, Wacha still had an ugly 1.565 WHIP – virtually the exact same mark he had in his disappointing 2019. You can’t be a good pitcher and allow that many baserunners. In 2019, 14 pitchers logged at least 100 IP in the majors with a WHIP of 1.500 or greater and Wacha had the second-best ERA of the group. Meanwhile, Lugo had a 0.900 WHIP in 80 IP last year.
Sure, it’s easier to pitch out of the bullpen than it is as a starter and no one expects Lugo to match his marks posted as a reliever if he were to be a full-time starter. But there’s a lot of wiggle room between a 0.900 and a 1.563 WHIP. In his career, Lugo has a 1.307 WHIP as a starter but most of his starts came in 2017, when he was first pitching with elbow pain that he now (knock on wood) seems to have learned to manage.
My expectation is that Wacha begins the year in the rotation. But here’s hoping that Van Wagenen has him on a really tight leash. Assuming a healthy Betances and an effective Diaz and/or Familia, Wacha’s leash should be of the two or three-start variety. There’s just not any additional time in a shortened season to hope that a guy with a sky-high WHIP can find himself, regardless of who signed him.