For coaches and managers, sometimes it’s hard to separate their results from what they did to achieve those results. Take Art Howe for instance. In 2001 and 2002, Howe’s teams won 102 and 103 games, respectively. The next year he managed the Mets and that 2003 Mets squad won just 66 games. It doesn’t seem like a huge stretch to say that those A’s teams simply had more talent than those Mets teams and perhaps Howe didn’t have a whole lot to do with the results his teams achieved in either Oakland or New York.

This isn’t meant to pick on Howe. This is how it is for a great majority of managers and coaches. It’s why we celebrate the managers who go into different locations and win. They’re the ones we can conclude made a difference in the bottom line. With this thought in mind, let’s re-examine Mickey Callaway and his tenure in Queens.

Callaway joined the Mets after serving as the Indians’ pitching coach, having no managerial experience at the MLB level. Callaway first served as a pitching coach in 2013. The 2012 Indians went 68-94 and had just two pitchers make at least 25 starts. In 2013, Cleveland won 92 games, had three pitchers exceed 25 starts and two others make 24.

In 2014, the Indians fell to 85 wins and had just two hurlers make 25 starts. The following year, Cleveland slipped to just 81 wins but it wasn’t because of the pitching. The Indians finished second in the AL with a 3.67 ERA and had four starters make at least 30 starts. In 2016, all five Cleveland starters made at least 25 starts, the club won 94 games and made it to the World Series. The Indians led the majors in both ERA and strikeouts.

Anthony Castrovince of mlb.com filed this report during the 2016 World Series, which included a quote from Cleveland manager Terry Francona:

Callaway has been a difference-maker, a confident communicator whose understanding of how to strategize and harmonize has routinely allowed the Indians to make the most of whatever arms are on hand. And here in October, as the Indians have advanced to within three wins of their first World Series title since 1948, Callaway’s work with a short-handed staff behind the scenes has been doubly instrumental in the outcomes.

“Mickey has been beyond his years or beyond his experience,” Francona said before the Tribe’s workout at Wrigley Field on Thursday. “He’s so good. I mean, the game doesn’t go too fast for him. You look over at him in the dugout, and he’s got a great demeanor. I think if Mickey wants to manage, I think it’s just whenever.”

In his last season with Cleveland, the club won 102 games, again led the league in ERA and had four pitchers combine for at least 25 starts, with two others combining for 40 starts. Only seven pitchers made starts for the 2017 Indians.

The Mets hired Callaway to be their manager for the 2018 season. The 2017 Mets won 70 games and had just one pitcher make at least 25 starts. In the first year under Callaway, the Mets improved to 77 wins and had four pitchers make at least 25 starts and two others combined for 32 starts. In his final year leading the Mets, the club improved to 86 wins and had four pitchers make at least 30 starts and two others combined for 29.

Since the 2020 season was only 60 games long, we have to take our 162-game numbers and divide them by 2.7 to come out with equivalent numbers for this shortened season we just experienced. So, the 2020 equivalent of 30 starts is 11, while 25 starts is whittled to nine. The 2020 Mets had three starters reach nine starts, which is a dropoff from what they received while Callaway was around.

Meanwhile, Callaway landed as the pitching coach for the Angels in 2020 and his team had four starters make at least nine starts. In 2019, not a single pitcher for the Angels made even 20 starts, much less 25 or 30.

That’s three different organizations where the pitchers have improved when Callaway was around. In eight seasons with Callaway as either pitching coach or manager, his starters have remained healthy in seven of them. That seems to me to be a pretty good track record. It was one thing to say that he was in the right place at the right time with the Indians. But there was an improvement over what came before and after with the Mets and there was an improvement over what came before with the Angels.

In their first season without Callaway, the Mets were on pace for 70 wins in a 162-game season, the same total they had in 2017, the year before Callaway was hired to be the manager. You hear people say that it’s unfair to judge Luis Rojas’ results this year because two of his starters got hurt and didn’t pitch a single game.

For those scoring at home, you run the guy out of town who kept his starters healthy and saw his teams improve by seven and nine games but you make excuses for the guy who didn’t do either of those things.

And how come no one was cutting Callaway any slack for the absolutely dismal results from the two players acquired by the GM in the blockbuster deal? If it’s not Rojas’ fault that two pitchers were injured, why should it be Callaway’s fault that Edwin Diaz had a 5.59 ERA and Robinson Cano had a .736 OPS? And despite the GMs big move being a flop, Callaway wins 86 games and is shown the door.

We’re living in bizarro world where it’s more important to be a good communicator to the press than it is to make good moves in the dugout and win games. Call me crazy but my preference would be to have a manager blow up at a reporter and finish 10 games over .500 than have reporters fawn over a manager that leads his team to a sub-.500 record.

Maybe it all turns around in 2021 where the Mets get better starting pitcher results and Rojas again aces the PR aspect of the job. But if nothing else, 2020 should give us a better appreciation for the job that Callaway did when he was leading the Mets. Few shed a tear when Brodie Van Wagenen cut ties with Callaway following the 2019 season. But maybe Callaway’s fate is to be remembered more fondly in hindsight than he was during his actual tenure.

Perhaps the ideal role for Callaway is as a pitching coach rather than as a manager. If so, there’s no shame in that. If you follow the NFL, you’ll have no trouble listing guys who excelled as coordinators but who didn’t do so hot when elevated to the top job. Still, if Callaway wants to manage in the future, here’s hoping he gets that shot. Because there’s no shortage of MLB managers who struggled in their initial tenure only to find success later on. Francona went 285-363 in four years in his first managerial gig with the Phillies. But he went on to lead two different teams to the World Series.

Callaway finished his Mets tenure with a 163-161 record, one of only five managers in club history to finish above .500 in their career with the club and the first since Willie Randolph. Howe finished with a 137-186 mark, good for a .424 winning percentage. Rojas sits with a .433 mark.

9 comments on “Mickey Callaway and keeping pitchers healthy

  • John From Albany

    Great as always Brian. In NY the miscues always get amplified. For Mickey it was the bullpen, batting out of order, the fights with the press. Mickey also I think that is what sunk him in the end but , like Fonzie, he wasn’t Brodie’s guy, so Brodie “had” to let him go.

  • Remember1969

    Brian, thanks for the great piece articulating what I have been thinking for the last year. I cannot understand why Callaway never got any credit for the incredible run they had in 2H2019. I don’t understand the ‘June swoon’ in either 2018 or 2019, but somebody righted the ship after those dismal months. It was known going in that Callaway had no managerial experience, that he would need to make mistakes and learn from them and grow into the Job.
    I agree 100% that Mickey Callaway deserves another shot. We seem to be ingrained in society with the concept of instant gratification and nothing else will do.
    I think about Joe Torre as the Mets manager and where he went after leaving Queens.

  • Bob P

    The health of pitchers and the increasing win totals are definite pluses in his defense. It seems to me that there were an awful lot of instances where his moves were questioned and he just looked like he was over his head. The lineup card debacle is the most egregious and first thing that comes to mind but his bullpen management and in game moves seemed to come under a lot of scrutiny and criticism. I thing those things combined with not being Brodie’s guy as John said are what doomed him.

    One other thought Brian – if we are giving him credit for the health and success of pitchers (and rightfully so) is it fair to give him a pass for Diaz? Diaz did seem to get back on track after Mickey was gone. His improvement may have nothing to do with Callaway leaving but who knows?

    • Brian Joura

      The Diaz performance should certainly go on the ledger. The 86-win ledger, that is.

      I would be curious to know what specific things Callaway/Eiland/Regan suggested to Diaz and then compare/contrast what Rojas/Hefner suggested. If the former group suggested A and that failed and the latter group suggested B and that worked – that would be a big thing in favor of Rojas & Co. But if they said A, too, and it just took longer for the results to come in…

  • TJ

    Nice job Brian. Callaway certainly was not lousy by any stretch, although his interactions with the media were at times clumsy, which certainly didn’t help his popularity. I would not have been upset if he returned for year 3, but I wasn’t upset (or surprised) that they moved on. I think your second to last paragraph nailed it…as a handler of pitchers, very good. I coud see him resurface as a manager, especially in a mid-market team in a “red” state.

    As a rooke manager in NYC, eh, not so much. As far as Rojas, it is tough to call for his ouster off this pandemic-shortened first yar, but likewise, if they replaced him with a guy with a much better resume, well, that’s how it works in the show.

  • Mike W

    It is amazing how good players can make a manager look like a genius. Torre had a bad Mets team. But then with the Yankees, he wins four rings with the Yankees and is now a hall of famer.

    Lets assume that the Mets sign a couple of premium free agents and make a couple of good trades. Does it mean that Rojas is a better manager?

  • JimO

    I think Regan was a big plus. It would be great to see him back in some role.

    • John From Albany

      Regan is coaching this winter for Toros Del Este.

  • Name

    The Angels had 4 pitchers who made 9+ starts, but one of them was Julio Teheran who posted a 10.05 ERA.

    The Mets could have had also had 4 pitchers with 9+ had they just elected to keep running Matz out there like the Angels did… Heck Wacha probably could have gotten to 9 as well if all they cared about was maximizing starts to 5 guys. And then is the narrative that Rojas is good at keeping his pitchers healthy?

    When a team runs out many different starters it could be more than just health related as if you have a guy not performing and you have depth, you would replace them.

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