Has Terry Collins been any better than Jerry Manuel?

On Saturday the Mets rallied back from a 7-1 deficit to take a 9-7 lead, only to lose 11-9. It’s the type of loss that would have been crushing just a couple of weeks ago and now it’s just one of the many toss-up games that the Mets could have won. It’s just another loss in another season that has slipped away from the team.

Terry Collins received a lot of praise for the way he kept the team together after a 5-13 start. That was proper and Mets360 was among the many sites that extended him kudos. But you know what? The Mets are now 5-14 in their last 19 games and there are few, if any, signs that it’s going to improve going forward.

So, if Collins deserved praise for rallying the team from an abysmal start, what does he deserve for allowing the team to play at a .263 winning percentage the last three weeks?

It’s easy to make a defense for Collins. After all, the injury bug has certainly hurt and the Mets have traded away Francisco Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran. It’s not like Collins is managing with a full deck. Perhaps the best thing to say about Collins is that the team is still giving it maximum effort.

But does Collins really have it any worse than Jerry Manuel did? Last year Manuel had the Mets 11 games over .500 (41-30) before the team finished 38-53 (.418) and cost Manuel and others their jobs. Here’s some of what Manuel had to deal with down the stretch last season:

7/20 – Traded his Opening Day catcher
7/25 – Lost his Opening Day left fielder for the remainder of the season
7/31 – Traded his Opening Day right fielder
8/12 – Lost his closer for the remainder of the season
8/26 – Lost his shortstop for two weeks
9/2 – Lost his ace for the rest of the season

And this does not take into account the revolving door of suck that was second base and the sub-replacement level that Beltran gave in his first 39 games after returning from the DL, when he posted a .217/.333/.326 line from July 15th to August 27th, with defense to match.

Now, I’m not saying that Manuel deserved another chance. What I am saying is that if it was fair to hold Manuel accountable for the second half of 2010, it’s fair to hold Collins to the same standard.

Last year, the Mets were done in by a dismal month of July, when they went 9-17 (.346). This year’s club will have to turn it up a notch to match that record over an equivalent 26-game stretch. Currently at 5-14, the Mets will have to go 4-3 in their next seven games to match the stretch that essentially got Manuel fired.

From August 1st to the end of the year, the 2010 Mets went 26-32 (.448) and no one gave Manuel any credit for having his team play hard. Do you think the 2011 Mets will play that well over the same time period? So, what’s the difference then? Was the talent level of the 2010 squad better than what Collins has to work with now?

2011 Lucas Duda is a huge upgrade over the 2010 version. Justin Turner is better than what the Mets played at 2B last year. 2010 Angel Pagan had a .607 OPS from August 1st to the end of the year while 2011 Pagan has a .997 mark. 2010 Josh Thole had a .688 OPS the final two months of the year while this year’s version of Thole has a 1.054 OPS in August.

Which brings us to pitching. Last year R.A. Dickey, Jonathon Niese and Mike Pelfrey combined to go 35-28 with a 3.57 ERA. So far this year, that trio is 22-31 with a 4.14 ERA. And the raw numbers do not tell the whole story. This year, offense is down compared to a season ago. In 2010, the NL ERA was 4.02 for the season. So far it’s 3.84 this year. So in a year where the average ERA is about a fifth of a run lower than it was last year, these Mets pitchers are over a half run per game worse than they were a season ago.

We know that the Mets’ offense is better than it was in 2010. We think the manager and general manager are both better than a season ago. So if the Mets finish the same (or worse) than they did in the second half of last year what conclusion can we draw?

My belief is that we need to re-think our opinion of the manager. And after that, we need to give a long and hard look at the pitching coach. If our reevaluation of Collins determines that he’s not to blame for the poor play, than the blame has to land at the feet of Dan Warthen.

If the Mets continue their poor play for the remainder of the season, then either Collins or Warthen should not be here for Opening Day 2012.

Mets Notes: Warthen’s pitching staff along with Bay, Duda and Pagan streaks

Eight pitchers for the Mets have thrown at least 20 innings in both 2010 and 2011. Here are their ERAs for those two seasons:

Name 2011 2010
R.A. Dickey 3.77 2.84
Jonathon Niese 4.05 4.20
Mike Pelfrey 4.58 3.66
Dillon Gee 3.92 2.18
Francisco Rodriguez 3.16 2.20
Bobby Parnell 4.20 2.83
Manny Acosta 4.00 2.95
Ryota Igarashi 5.56 7.12
Total 4.08 3.48

The 2010 group pitched 747.1 innings while this year’s collection has 719.2 innings. As a whole, the Mets’ pitching staff has a 4.13 ERA compared to 3.70 a season ago. And yet no one talks about the role of the pitching coach in the pitching staff’s struggles. This time last year, Howard Johnson was on the hot seat for his role in the struggles of the offense. But Dan Warthen sits pretty as a picture, seemingly with no worries about his future employment.

Last November I wrote an article where I expressed disappointment that Warthen was not among those to go in the offseason house cleaning. Since then, nothing has changed with my assessment. In the November article, I asked who could we point to as success stories for Warthen? And the only answers I came up with were Dickey and Pelfrey. Both have regressed significantly this season.

The closest you can come to for a success story in 2011 for Warthen is Niese, who has an ERA 0.15 lower than a season ago. But that is a bit misleading. Last year Niese really fell apart down the stretch, which dragged his overall numbers down. This time last year, Niese had a 3.38 ERA. Can you really point to him as a success for Warthen?

Despite playing in a pitcher’s park, the Mets rank 13th in the 16-team National League in ERA. Since the All-Star break, Mets pitchers have a 4.64 ERA, which is 15th in the league. No pitcher has taken a leap forward and no pitcher is raving about the new pitch that he learned from Warthen. So, what exactly is he doing for the team and why should he be here next year?

DUDA ROLLS ON – Many people were worried how the Mets would replace the big bat of Carlos Beltran in the lineup. But the Mets have missed little offensively with the insertion of Lucas Duda. Since he was recalled from the minors in early June, Duda has a .301/.368/.494 line. That’s an .862 OPS in 191 PA. If he hit that well the entire season, that would put him between Jay Bruce (.865 OPS) and Kevin Youkilis (.861) this year.

Since becoming a regular on July 27th, Duda has 4 HR and 15 RBIs in 66 ABs (78 PA). And he was robbed of a HR by 6-foot-6 Kyle Blanks in that stretch. Duda has been one of the bright spots for the team here in the second half and it looks like he can be an asset for the 2012 squad. Now the only problem is where to play him defensively. His best position is first base, where he seems to be about average defensively. But if Ike Davis comes back healthy next year, Duda will be in an outfield corner, where he is stretched defensively. In 320.2 lifetime innings defensively in the outfield, Duda has a -32.9 UZR/150.

A CHANGE OF PACE FOR GEE – Heading into Wednesday’s start, Gee had a 5.61 ERA in his previous nine starts. For some reason – perhaps inspired by his pitching coach – Gee started throwing fewer change-ups and more fastballs and curves. And the results were horrible. Wednesday Gee returned to throwing more changes and he allowed 1 ER over 6.2 IP and picked up the win. Here are his off-speed breakdowns for his last two starts:

8/12 – Gee throws 14 change-ups, 4 sliders and 7 curve balls and goes 5.0 IP and allows 4 ER
8/17 – Gee throws 29 change-ups, 2 sliders and 5 curve balls and goes 6.2 IP and allows 1 ER

In the earlier start, Gee threw his change 56% of the time when he didn’t throw a fastball. In his last start, that percentage increased to 81%.

AUGUST AGREES WITH ANGEL – In 14 games during the month of August, Angel Pagan has a .333/.365/.500 slash line over 63 PA. He’s hit safely in 12 of the 14 games and reached base in all of them. Additionally, he has 9 Runs, 6 RBIs and has 6 SB compared to 1 CS. Pagan has been batting leadoff for the club since Jose Reyes has been on the DL and it will be interesting to see where Terry Collins bats him in the order when Reyes returns. Pagan has done his best work of the year in the 5th spot in the lineup, where he has an .803 OPS this season.

BAY ON HITLESS STREAK – Over a 14-game stretch covering the end of July to early August, Jason Bay had 22 hits in 53 ABs (.415 AVG) and Mets fans were hoping that Bay was finally going to pay dividends. But since that streak, he is 0-20 with 6 Ks. He just looks hopeless against both outside pitches and pitches below mid-thigh.

FRENCHY CASHES IN – Old pal Jeff Francoeur inked a two-year, $13.5 million deal with the Royals on Thursday. Francoeur got off to a tremendous start and has a .793 OPS overall this year, good for a 119 OPS+. Of course the issue is that Francoeur always gets off to a good start with a new team. Here are the starts he got off to with all four clubs he has played for in his career:

Atlanta – 274 PA, .884 OPS in 2005
New York – 308 PA, .836 OPS in 2009
Texas – 56 PA, .848 OPS in 2010
Kansas City – 126 PA, .980 OPS in 2011

Since the first 126 PA, Francoeur has a .264/.320/.411 line in 91 games and 387 PA. If that line looks vaguely familiar, it’s because it fits so perfectly with his career numbers. Lifetime, Francoeur has a .269/.312/.430 line.

Kudos to the Rangers for getting the good start and then cutting ties with the charismatic Francoeur. And condolences to the Royals fans out there, who have to put up with him for two more seasons at an inflated rate.

Mets Card of the Week: 1976 Topps Randy Tate

1976 TOPPS RANDY TATE

It can be hard to distinguish Randy Tate from the Bobbs and Todds and Webbs and Crams and all the other single-syllabled 1970s Mets’ pitchers of no particular report.

He has just one major league season to his name, during which he went 5-13 with a 4.45 ERA. He was back in Tidewater in ’76 when this card appeared, and never returned to the majors.

What sets Randy Tate apart is the night of August 4, 1975.

I was curled up on an upholstered chair next to a Zenith Stereophonic Hi-Fidelity Floor Console listening to the game leak out of crackly speakers that night. And Tate was dominant.

He was plowing through the Expos order out at Shea, and by the top of the 5th he had struck out 10 and allowed no hits. The Mets had not made any noise against Dan Warthen either, but that changed in the bottom of the 5th when they scored three runs.

Tate made it through the 6th and 7th in less dominant fashion, adding just one more strikeout to his total. But still he had not allowed a hit.

Would the first Mets’ no-hitter be thrown not by The Franchise but rather by a 22-year old kid who came into the night 4-9?

Jose Morales became Tate’s 12th strikeout victim leading off the 8th. But then Jim Lyttle broke the spell with a single. I hissed through my teeth in disgust.

But Tate still had the opportunity to add to the pantheon of Mets’ one-hitters, and when he followed up a walk to Pepe Mangual with a strikeout of Jim Dwyer, it appeared that he was back on track.

Then two men with past/future Mets’ ties derailed him quickly: Gary Carter (single, RBI) and Mike Jorgensen (three-run HR).

By the time the top of the 8th was complete, the no-hitter was gone, the one-hitter was gone, the shutout was gone, and the lead was gone. Expos 4, Mets 3. And that was the final score.

Tate walked out of Shea that night 4-10, but I looked past the record and saw the promise.

The promise turned out to be no more than this one unforgettable game, but sometimes that is more than enough…

Should the Mets have kept Dan Warthen?

Since the end of the 2010 season, the Mets have overhauled their front office, made a managerial change and reassigned some coaches, including batting coach Howard Johnson. But one area that remains unchanged is the pitching coach. The new Mets brain trust decided to retain Dan Warthen, who has been in charge of the team’s pitchers since taking over for Rick Peterson in June of 2008.

Was this a good decision?

Under Warthen, the Mets finished sixth in the National League with a 3.73 ERA last year. Also, Warthen generally has the support of his pitchers. Both R.A. Dickey and Mike Pelfrey are on record supporting his return, with Pelfrey telling the New York Daily News near the end of the season:

“If it was up to me, I would bring him back. He’s a very good communicator. I would love to see him back. I’ve already been through two (including former pitching coach Rick Peterson), and it would be nice to have the same guy back that you have a relationship with that you could continue to build on.”

On the surface, sixth in ERA sounds pretty good, especially for a team that finished below .500 on the year. But how much of that was due to Citi Field? As a team, the Mets had a 3.12 ERA at home last year, compared to a 4.36 ERA on the road. The Mets ranked 12th in the National League in road ERA in 2010.

Plus, it’s nice that Warthen communicates with his players, but I would rather that he teach them something concrete or do something to keep his pitchers healthy. At least 11 pitchers went on the disabled list for the Mets the past two years, not counting Johan Santana in 2010, who was injured in September after teams no longer use the DL.

Let’s compare Warthen to Peterson, the man he replaced and see the results of pitchers who threw at least 50 IP under both pitching coaches. The following chart shows IP and ERA for the six pitchers who meet the criteria, with Peterson’s results first and Warthen’s second.

IP ERA IP ERA
Santana 94.2 2.85 505.1 2.85
Pelfrey 164 4.99 519 4.09
Perez 286 4.28 234 5.23
Maine 362.1 3.83 179.2 4.86
Martinez 422.1 3.69 64.1 5.18
Feliciano 151.1 2.62 148.1 3.58

The only pitcher to do better under Warthen was Pelfrey, a young pitcher who should have been expected to improve as he got acclimated to the majors.

Let’s do another chart, this one comparing average fastball velocity in 2007, the last full year under Peterson, to 2010.

2007 2010
Santana 91.7 89.4
Pelfrey 92.4 92.0
Perez 90.5 88.0
Maine 91.2 88.7
Martinez 86.2
Feliciano 86.6 87.0

The declining velocity of Santana, Perez and Maine has been a large part of their struggles. It can certainly be argued that injuries have robbed these players of their velocity but that goes back to the fact that Mets pitchers are getting injured under Warthen. The raw totals between Peterson and Warthen are similar but Peterson worked with an older staff that included Martinez and Orlando Hernandez.

When Peterson was the coach, Perez missed 18 days to the disabled list and Maine 37. Under Warthen Perez missed 119 days to the DL and Maine 285. Also, Santana has undergone surgery three straight years.

Perhaps all of these injuries would have occurred if Peterson remained the pitching coach. What we do know is that Peterson was fired and Warthen retained, when the pitchers that pitched significant innings under each performed better under Peterson and stayed healthier.

Right now, Warthen has two things to point to in his tenure with the Mets – Pelfrey and Dickey. Pelfrey, a former first-round draft pick, has been essentially a league-average pitcher under Warthen’s tutelage. Dickey reinvented himself with the knuckleball, a pitch that Warthen did not teach him. As far as success stories go, these are underwhelming.

Whose mechanics did Warthen overhaul for the better? Which pitcher learned a new pitch under Warthen? Who saw their command or stuff take a leap forward under Warthen? Who was able to stay healthy who was previously a DL resident? Which relievers turned in career years under Warthen?

No doubt someone will bring up Pelrey’s splitter. Disregarding the wisdom of teaching a splitter to a pitcher whose main pitch was a sinker, how effective was this pitch for Pelfrey? FanGraphs shows Pelfrey’s splitter being 3.9 runs below average last year. It was a great pitch in April, but once hitters knew it was part of his arsenal, it was dreadful.

Aw hell, let’s just do some research. Here are Pelfrey’s month-by-month numbers for his splitter. All numbers are runs above or below average:

April – 2.3
May – 0.4
June – (-1.8)
July – (-3.4)
August – 0.0
September – (-1.4)

So, from June 1st to the end of the year, Pelfrey’s splitter was 6.6 runs below average. This is not a feather in anybody’s cap. If anything, Pelfrey should scrap the splitter and work on a new pitch, either by himself or with someone else in the Mets organization, besides Warthen. Maybe he should be tutored by Ricky Bones, the pitching coach at Triple-A who is generally well-regarded.

So, what single thing can you say that Warthen has done to make the Mets pitchers better?

I have no doubt that Warthen is a great guy and that pitchers like his personality. What I fear is that Warthen is the pitching coach version of Jeff Francoeur – all personality and style and no production nor substance.

That the Mets’ housecleaning this year did not include Warthen was disappointing.