Terry Collins facing pivotal year

As the Mets convene on Port St. Lucie for spring training on Monday, Terry Collins will be tasked with one of his hardest challenges in his coaching tenure.

As the team regrettably says goodbye to some seasoned vets (i.e. R.A. Dickey, Scott Hairston) and some not so regrettably (Jason Bay, Josh Thole, Jon Rauch, Ramon Ramirez, Andres Torres, etc.) the Mets are-for better or worse-getting a lot younger this year. All this will no doubt make Collins’ job that much more difficult. Despite the youth and low expectations placed upon them this year, it is pivotal that Collins has a solid season, as Collins has to show Mets’ management that he is the one who could lead the Mets to the next level.

After starting out of the gate last year in impressive fashion, Collins looked like a genius as he had the Mets playing over their heads. But as the team crashed and burned in the second half, he looked as though he lost the team. Whether that’s a fair assessment or not, Collins has to rectify that perception and reign in the horses this year.

Collins is currently in the final year of his contract and to for him to earn an extension he has to show some significant progress this year. Collins has to do this all while not having some veterans to lean on for backup. No longer will Collins turn to Dickey to pitch every fifth day. These constants the last few years made Collins’ job that much easier.

But in 2013, the Mets (aside from the team potentially adding Michael Bourn) will be ushering in more of their youth movement with highly-touted prospects Zack Wheeler, Travis d’Arnaud and perhaps Matt den Dekker all expected to get the call this year.

As presently constituted the Mets are more built for contention in 2014 and beyond, but that does not mean that this year isn’t critical for the growth of the franchise. Tom Coughlin of the New York Giants likes to use the motto: “build a bridge.”  That in essence is what Collins must accomplish this season. There has to be improvement on the field. There has to be a genuine sense of maturity and confidence evolving heading into the 2014 season. Simply put, the culture of winning has to permeate throughout the clubhouse. The loser’s mentality has to be left at the door.

Wins and losses is not the be all and end all for Collins. He just has to show the Mets’ brass that the team is on the right track. If he does all this well, the contract stuff will work itself out.

Granted it’s not going to be easy, as there will be no Dickey around anymore and outside of David Wright-not many veteran voices in the clubhouse. The outfield is still a mess and very much a work in progress. How will Johan Santana hold up as the de-facto ace? Can Ike Davis stay healthy and be productive for a full season? Can the bullpen improve?

These are some of the problems Collins has to navigate around and how he handles it will be a telling sign if he is the man who can take the Mets to the next level and eventually into the playoffs-and ultimately a new contract.

Follow me on Twitter @Stacdemon

Why Terry Collins should embrace his lame-duck status

“You are what your record says you are.”

Most sports fans recognize that quote from Bill Parcells. And while it’s a football quote, let’s use it to examine Terry Collins. Last year the Mets were 74-88 and the year before that they were 77-85. If you are what your record says you are, then the Mets under Collins are not very good. Unless somehow you think a .469 winning percentage is good.

Yet Collins and his entire staff are coming back for 2013. We’ve already seen that no manager in Mets history who finished with a losing record in his second full season ever went on to a winning season with the club. Is there any reason to think Collins will buck this trend? Perhaps if Collins was younger, he would be around when Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler lead the team into a new era. But not many expect Collins to be around after 2013, when he will be 64 years old.

Did the Mets do the right thing in essentially bringing back a lame-duck manager?

Perhaps. There’s little doubt that a manager (or really anyone in power) can do a much better job if his decisions are based on what’s best for the group, rather than what’s best for him individually. We can look to recent Mets history for proof of this. Jerry Manuel turned Jenrry Mejia into a reliever in 2010 not because it was in the team’s best interests, but because it seemed like the best way for him to keep his job.

It didn’t help Manuel keep his job and we’ll soon be at three years after this terrible decision and we still don’t know what Mejia is or will be in the majors. Yet by the end of the 2010 season, Manuel had accepted his fate and the Mets were playing Ike Davis, Lucas Duda, Ruben Tejada and Josh Thole on a regular basis – even if that group wasn’t the best option to pull out wins down the stretch. The Mets as an organization needed to see these guys in action and Manuel let it happen.

Bill James said that a manager’s job could be broken down “into three levels of responsibility” — (1) game-level decision making, (2) team-level decision making, and (3) personnel management and instruction.

It’s possible that managing for the good of the team – instead of for his own short-term good – will improve Collins’ game-level decision making. He can start by not obsessing about matchups and pitching his LOOGY in 13 straight games. He can continue by not trotting out Jason Bay for starts because he used to be good in 2009. And maybe he can give a day off to guys before he runs them into the ground.

The Mets finished 2012 with a .368 winning percentage in the second half of the year. There’s an awful lot of team-level decision making that needs to improve and some of that, no doubt, is above Collins’ level. As for personnel management and instruction, it’s generally understood that Collins gets a passing grade in the former but that there’s still work that needs to be done in the latter.

Let’s look at another managerial quote from James:

“The most important question that a manager asks is ‘What needs to be changed around here?’”

The bullpen needs a mini overhaul and the manager/pitching coach need to do a better job of managing the end of the game. The hitters need to stop watching cripple fastballs down the middle of the plate and stop swinging at pitches a foot out of the strike zone. They need more power, better speed and improved lefty/righty balance in the lineup.

Collins likely has some input into personnel decisions but he would be better served focusing instead on his own bullpen deployment issues. We’ve gone over it a 1,000 times already but it makes no sense to manage your bullpen to optimize your lefty specialist – the guy who pitches the fewest innings! – at the expense of every other pitcher on the team.

Dave Hudgens’ approach of working the count is a good one and should be continued with some tweaking. The idea of taking pitches is not to amass walks. The idea is to wait for a pitch you can drive and then hit the ball with authority. Walks are just a happy by-product of this approach. If the pitcher throws a “get-it-over” strike on the first pitch – hit it into the gap and start running. Too many times last year we saw Mets hitters adopt the Jose Reyes approach to 3-0 pitches – watch it go by no matter how hittable it is. By all means if the pitcher serves up a meatball (and not all 3-0 pitches are this way) feast on it!

The flip side of this is swinging at every 0-2 pitch no matter how much out of the strike zone it is. This got so bad with Davis in particular that I advocated giving him the take sign on this count. No one’s going to feel bad if a pitcher snaps off a curve on the black and the umpire runs up the hitter. That’s baseball. But constantly swinging at pitches that start out at the knees and break a foot out of the strike zone is maddening. All players and teams do this to some extent but the degree to which Mets’ hitters did this last year was seemingly over the top.

Assuming returns to health by Dillon Gee and Johan Santana, the Mets’ starting pitching should be a team strength. This assumes that no trades are made and that Dan Warthen doesn’t turn Matt Harvey into a changeup artist – an assumption that may or may not be valid. But strong starting pitching should keep the Mets competitive. Perhaps that combined with a change in tactics from the manager could be just what the doctor ordered.

So, there’s your 2013 slogan – Mets baseball, watch us try to stay competitive! Perhaps a lame-duck manager is just what this team needs. In that case, welcome back TC.

Like Terry Collins, you should have faith in Frank Francisco

About three weeks ago, I asked how you felt about Frank Francisco. The comments ranged from “CRINGE” to “nervous” to “HORRIBLE.” Since then he’s pitched in eight games, has an 0-2 record with 5 Saves and an 8.10 ERA. Yet I actually feel better about Francisco now then I did when I wrote the earlier piece.

Francisco allowed runs in each of his first three outings after the first article and allowed 6 ER in 1.2 IP. That three-game stretch saw bad pitching, poor luck ( a .700 BABIP) and shoddy umpiring. Francisco was criticized for his reactions to bad ball/strike calls but the bottom line is that they were, indeed, bad calls that contributed to his poor pitching. The result was a predictably ugly 32.40 ERA. I think it is fair to say that Francisco was hanging by a thread at that point in his role as the team’s closer.

But then lady luck smiled on Francisco in a rather odd way. The Mets went five games in a row without needing their closer to come on and finish the game. Francisco got in one game in that stretch and pitched a scoreless ninth inning in a 9-4 win after having two days off. After two more off days, Francisco got his first save chance and it came against his former team, the Blue Jays.

The Mets had lost the first two games in the Interleague series against Toronto but jumped out to a 6-2 lead in the final game. The Blue Jays chipped away with one run in the seventh and two runs in the eighth, setting up Francisco to enter the ninth with a one-run lead.

Things looked bleak, both for the Mets and Francisco, when he allowed the first two runners to reach base. But Francisco proceeded to strike out the side, including a lefty (his own personal Kryptonite) for the final out.

In a season where at least half of the expected closers in MLB have lost their job, either through injury or ineffectiveness, no one would have blamed Terry Collins for yanking Francisco from the role after his ugly three-game stretch. No one would have blamed Collins if he came out with the hook after Francisco opened up the ninth against the Blue Jays by allowing two baserunners and with the cleanup hitter coming to the plate. But Collins displayed patience and looks brilliant for having done so.

Starting with Toronto’s number-four hitter, Francisco has faced 12 batters, has not allowed a runner to reach base and has six strikeouts. Even more impressive is that seven of the 12 batters he squared off against were lefties. Before the streak started, LHB had a .361 AVG versus Francisco, with seven of their 13 hits going for extra bases, including three triples.

Last year was the first time in his career that Francisco had trouble with lefties. In 133 PA last year, LHB posted a .292/.361/.458 line against him. That .819 OPS was 88 points higher than lefties had hit against him in any other season in his career. And his previous high came during his rookie season in 2004. Part of it could be explained by a .349 BABIP and the rest could be explained by 5 HR in 120 ABs. In the previous five seasons, Francisco had allowed 5 HR to LHB in 400 ABs.

Last year was Francisco’s first year with the Blue Jays and six of the seven home runs he allowed came in his home ballpark. Toronto pitchers allowed 95 HR in the Rogers Centre last year and it was reasonable to think that not only was it a good-hitters’ park but that it was particularly ill-suited to Francisco. Remove him from Toronto and hopefully the homers would go down. And with some better fortune with BABIP, perhaps the trouble against lefties would disappear.

But instead Francisco got off to a horrible start against the batters who plagued him last year. Before his recent hot streak, LHB had a .423 BABIP with 2 HR in 36 ABs against Francisco in 2012. Now, the BABIP is down to .333 but the OPS still stands at .997 versus lefties. Recall that last year Francisco established a career high with an .819 OPS allowed to LHB.

So, do you think that Francisco is going to establish a personal-worst in OPS allowed to lefties in back-to-back years, breaking last year’s record by 178 points? Or do you think regression will continue to happen and that Francisco will deliver more of what he has in the past four games? Put me in the latter camp.

It should also be noted that despite some terrible numbers over the first six weeks of the season, Francisco has converted 13 of his 15 save chances, an 87% conversion rate. When the Mets traded Francisco Rodriguez last year, he saved 23 of 26 games for an 88% conversion rate. Sandy Alderson viewed the troubles of the bullpen after the Rodriguez deal last year as one of the biggest weak spots for the team.

If Francisco, during a poor stretch, is 99 percent as good as Rodriguez – and replacing Rodriguez was one of the key goals for Alderson during the offseason – shouldn’t we consider his signing an unqualified success to this point? Especially since he is making less than half of what Rodriguez did last year?

Of course, managing for saves is most likely not the best way to run a bullpen. But the reality is that’s how the game is played in 2012, and it shows no signs of changing in the immediate future, either. Francisco was signed to get outs in the ninth inning and preserve the win. And despite some shaky numbers overall up until this point, he has been very good at that particular job.

Plus, I believe there’s good reason to expect Francisco’s numbers to improve over the rest of the season. I expect his numbers against LHB to continue to go down the rest of the season. There’s no reason to expect an OPS near 1.000 for Francisco in any split. And we haven’t even touched on his .407 BABIP to RHB, another number that should significantly regress going forward.

The bottom line is I’m glad that Francisco is the Mets’ closer. And I think Collins deserves credit for sticking with Francisco when things got hairy earlier in May. Managers all around are panicking and removing their closer at the first sign of trouble. Dusty Baker pulled his closer despite a 6.0 K/BB ratio. The overwhelming majority of closers are going to blow games during the season. It’s no fun ever, especially when the blown saves are bunched together. But Collins remained calm and hopefully Francisco will reward him with continued strong pitching the rest of the season.

Terry Collins talks about Wright, Francisco and more

The execution was perfect. I had the right guy at the plate. I don’t there is a better execution of fundamentals of the game than Ronny Cedeno. He’s as good as it gets.

Terry Collins on Cedeno’s fundamentals as reported by Matt Ehalt, ESPNNewYork.com

It is great to hear a manager use the words “execution was perfect” and talk about a player having great execution of fundamentals. Especially if that manager is a part of the New York Mets. Fundamentals have always been an issue with this team for years.

Mets fans have to feel good that at least one player is confirmed to have great fundamentals. It seems that Collins really has a handle on this team. He knows what to do, who to push and when. So here are some things he had to say about a couple of his players.

Whether or not you agree with him, you really cannot complain about the results. He has managed to get this team to do more than anyone thought.

I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s unbelievable. You just look up, and he’s on base.

Collins on David Wright as reported by Kieran Darcy, ESPNNewYork.com

Obviously, we’ve said for the two years I’ve been here [that] he’s got closer stuff. I don’t want the failure side. He already had it once.

Collins on Bobby Parnell being a closer as reported by Spencer Fordin and Ethan Asofsky, Mets.com

But right now, I just want to get him back. He’s still a big part of this. I think you see, when we face lefthanded pitching, what a big hole we have in the middle of our lineup without him.

Collins on the return of Jason Bay as reported by Anthony McCarron, New York Daily News

What you end up doing is experimenting; and I’m not into experimenting. All’s you’re doing is creating a bigger mess than what you really have and that is maybe let’s see if we can fix the problem first. Let’s see if we can tune up the engine that’s been running right and see how that applies.

Collins on sticking with Frank Francisco as reported by Jorge Castillo, The Star Ledger

He said, ‘If somebody gets hit, it should be me,’. And I said, ‘It’s not going to be you. We have enough problems now. So you’re not hitting.’ He’s a pro. He said, ‘Look, I’ll take this for the club.’ Not tonight you’re not.

Terry Collins on pulling Wright for safety as reported by Mark Hale, New York Post

The one thing I don’t want to do is turn our bullpen inside out because we have a couple of blown saves. Everybody has blown saves. But if you start changing everybody’s roles, then all of the sudden it’s very uncomfortable for some guys.

Collins on bullpen as reported by Jeff Bradley, The Star Ledger

Dan Murphy is a very good hitter. Even this year when he gets into little minor funks that every hitter gets into, he gets out of them in a hurry. He know his swing so well, he gets out of them really fast. The number 3 guys is on, it seems like, every night two or three times. We have to find somebody to start driving him in.

Collins on Daniel Murphy as reported by Metsblog

Collins, Wright dustup: Much ado about nothing

If you are looking for a divisive reason for the Mets to suddenly implode, you are going to have to look elsewhere if you think the latest “disagreement” between Terry Collins and David Wright is going to fester. Frankly, it is much ado about nothing.

We should all know the scenario by now.

In a 7-0 game in the seventh inning between the Mets and the Brewers, Mets’ relief pitcher D.J. Carrasco served up a solo home run to Rickie Weeks. Carrasco would then promptly bean the Brewers’ next batter square in the back. That player just happens to be reigning NL MVP Ryan Braun.

Fearing that the Brewers were going to retaliate, Collins decided to sit Wright down since he didn’t want Wright to be in the middle of harm’s way. Collins claimed that there is an unwritten rule that “if you hit my guy, I’m gonna hit your guy.”

Wright adamantly disapproved the move, saying he wanted to take one for the team and the two of them could be seem arguing in the dugout. Collins stood firm in his decision. The two got over it, with both admirably showing mutual respect for each other.

Time to move on.

In any event, I believe it’s a win-win scenario for the club as both skipper and the face of the franchise showed the spunk that makes them makes them both likeable and most of all gutsy.

You can look at this from both sides and see the reasoning for their respective opinions.

Collins, while at the helm of the club, has been besieged by injuries and for a player in Wright who has been playing incredible so far this year, you can’t fault Collins for looking out for the best interests of the team. Also not lost in the matter was the effect a pitch to the head from Matt Cain a couple of years back did to not only Wright’s game, but his psyche.

Wright, for all his ups and downs with the club, wanted to show his leadership by going out to the batter’s box the next inning come high or hell water. That’s what you want in a leader. You want someone who is willing to lay it on the line and take “one for the team.” This way you get to see the guts Wright has. You get to see that he is willing to go the extra mile to protect the club.

It is with these characteristics that Collins and Wright both exhibit that make this story not much of a story, but more of a revelation of just how much Collins and Wright are competitors. There is not much more to this story than that.

Mets’ fans should be more concerned with bullpen meltdowns than dugout disagreements.

Follow me on Twitter @Stacdemon

It may be time to reward Terry Collins with contract extension

As the Mets sit at 18-13 and five games above .500 for the first time in two years, we should all applaud the job Terry Collins has done.

To look forward, we should first look back. Just look back at what Terry Collins inherited when he was hired and assess the job he has done in his one-plus years on the job.

When he was hired in November of 2010, Collins had assumed leadership of a team coming off two straight losing and underachieving seasons. He was left with a team in peril as he had a star shortstop (Jose Reyes) in the last year of his contract; a right fielder (Carlos Beltran), who prior to last season was major question mark because of his balky knees; a left fielder (Jason Bay), who has yet to live up to his contract; a closer (Francisco Rodriguez), who’s contract option had to be carefully monitored in the amount of games he appeared in. Plus, he was down the franchises’ best pitcher in Johan Santana.

What else you may ask? Well, Collins and the Mets also had an unsettled second base position and still had Luis Castillo under contract while also relying on young but still relatively unproven players in Ike Davis and Josh Thole at first and catcher respectively. For good measure, Oliver Perez was still under contract.

While the results of last year (77-85) were not that stellar and the team registered its third straight losing season, Collins laid the groundwork for the success the team is currently enjoying. Sandy Alderson also deserves plenty of credit for the handling of Castillo, Perez and Rodriguez’ contract issues, while also trading Beltran for a top-tier prospect (Zack Wheeler). But it has been the coaching and mentoring of Collins who has kept this ship afloat.

Collins’ old school approach took a while to kick in. Remember, this was a team that started 5-13 last year, but ever since that rocky beginning Collins has navigated through the murky waters and has this team believing in each other. One of the main reasons why the Mets struggled towards the end of last year was because the team traded Beltran (who was carrying the team last year) and Rodriguez thus conceding in the hopes of bolstering the future success of this squad. Not to mention, the team had to work around serious injuries to David Wright, Daniel Murpy and Davis.

With a year under his belt, Collins now knows what he’s truly working with while continuing to push all the right buttons. Now might be an ideal time to reward Collins with a contract extension as it has been proven that his players love playing for him. Collins and his players are enjoying a harmonious time together. Even when things get shaky, this team never quits and that’s a testament to the way Collins coaches.

Collins current contract runs through 2013 (with an option that was picked up last year). It would send a good message if Alderson would go the extra mile and reward Collins with a multi-year deal. A contract extension would signify a good deal of trust in Collins.

Collins is coaching with a team that nobody gave a shot at any success, and I know it’s early, but rewarding him with a contract would go a long way in building more team unity. Collins has had to once again battle the infamous injury bug (with Thole, Ruben Tejada, Bay, Mike Pelfrey all dealing with injuries), but he won’t let that define the team. Collins makes no excuses and won’t allow his players to make any either.

Collins is as hard knocks as they come.

He was the right man for the job at the right time. It’s time to make him the man for the job a little longer. I think he’s earned that much.

Follow me on Twitter @Stacdemon

The maturation of Terry Collins as a manager

Terry Collins has always been known as a manager with a lot of fire. There were some Mets fans who followed his career and did not want him as a manager for the New York Mets. It was felt among some that because he never managed a playoff team and players from Anaheim wanted him out, left many thinking he was not the right fit.

However, Collins has proven his detractors wrong.

During the 1999 season in Anaheim, Mo Vaughn led a group of veteran players to management in order to convince them not to extend Collins’ contract. His confrontational style rubbed many players the wrong way. It was said that he was too intense. Ultimately, he resigned. It took 11 years for Collins to come back to manage in the majors again.

When he came to manage the Mets, he brought with him the lessons he learned from his time with the Houston Astros and the Angels. He knew he needed to communicate with his players. Not a single member of this team can argue with the communication. Collins is still the intense manager he has always been, but now he is willing to listen to his players. There is an open-door policy between the player’s locker room and the manager’s office. It was proven when the change from centerfield to right field happened with Carlos Beltran last year. Collins spoke with Beltran about the move to see how he felt about it. They agreed that it was the best move to keep Beltran fresh and successful. It worked. Everything thought and felt by the manager, has been communicated to management, the players, the coaches and the fans.

In New York City, intensity is important. It was one of the reasons so many wanted Bobby Valentine back or Wally Backman to get his first managerial job here. Collins has shared his intensity with the players in several ways: during drills, batting practice, team meetings and through his post-game press conferences. No one thinks ill of Collins as in the days of the Anaheim Angels. Why? He has matured. He can communicate to his players and they can communicate back effectively.

Ruben Tejada should stand his ground in spat with Terry Collins

In today’s New York Post, Mike Vaccaro weighs in on the little spat over Ruben Tejada reporting to camp. Here’s a short excerpt:

“As a parent might, Collins wants Tejada to know he’s not furious at him, he isn’t angry that he didn’t settle his visa issues early enough to be here sooner. No, he’s disappointed. He expected more from Tejada, given what he saw of him last year, so there is a measure of paternal dissatisfaction.”

Well, here’s my message to Collins, Vaccaro and anyone else disappointed with Tejada – take your paternal dissatisfaction and use it to wipe off the bottom of your shoes. Because any other use of this dissatisfaction is a waste of time and energy.

MLB and the MLBPA have a collectively bargained date by which players are responsible to report to camp. If Collins or anyone else wants players to be in camp earlier, they should make it a priority for their owner in the next CBA negotiations.

I cannot stand this attitude that elevates trivial stuff to such important heights. If Tejada reports to camp on Friday rather than Saturday, it is not going to make him a better hitter. It is not going to make him a better fielder. And most importantly, it is not going to make him a better person.

Now, if Tejada’s visa issues keep him from reporting to camp on time, that’s a completely different issue. Tejada, and all players, know ahead of time when they need to report to camp. They need to have everything taken care of to allow them to meet that deadline and they should be both ashamed and fined if they report late.

By the end of Spring Training, everyone from the manager to players to writers is ready for the real games to start. There is more than enough time allocated for everyone to get ready to play by Opening Day. So why make it a big deal when a player does not come to camp early?

I want my team’s manager, and myself as a parent, to worry about things that actually matter – not things that give the appearance of mattering. If Tejada was learning a new position, then it would matter and he should be in camp early. You know, like Daniel Murphy is – getting all the reps that he can. But Tejada has been a shortstop all of his life. He doesn’t need the extra reps fielding and he’ll have plenty of time to get used to Murphy being his double-play partner.

When Tejada reports to camp and has his first meeting with Collins, I hope he is prepared for his manager to give the “I’m disappointed in you, son” talk. I hope he listens respectfully and allows Collins to say everything that he feels he needs to say. Then I hope he looks him in the eye and says, “Skip, I’m in great shape, I’m ready to play and I’m going to show you all season long how unimportant it was for me to report to camp earlier than the collectively bargained deadline.”

Then hopefully the parent can learn something from the child.

Terry Collins on hot seat as year two is pivotal for Mets managers

If fans picked the team’s manager, it is highly unlikely that Terry Collins would have gotten the job last season. But if you asked those same fans a year later what they thought of Collins, the vast majority would give him a favorable job rating. Collins did an excellent job of keeping his team together throughout the season, despite the numerous obstacles he faced.

Collins comes into this season in a rather unusual, perhaps even envious, position. He obviously has the support of management, he has won over the fans and apparently he has the support of his players, as there have been no loud whispers of unhappiness coming from any of the troops. To top it all off, nobody has any expectations of a winning season in 2012.

It is about as close to a fool-proof situation that a manager could possibly imagine here in the 21st Century. Collins can lead and teach his players, build relationships and do his best to position his club for success in the future. If he wins 75 games in the process, most will consider that an unqualified success. If he loses 100 games, many will see that as an indictment of the talent on hand and not put any blame at Collins’ feet.

Still, if we view this season in terms of the history of Mets managers, this is a make-or-break year for Collins. The Mets have had 20 managers in their existence and the successful ones all made their mark by their second season with the club. No manager in club history has ever produced a winning record in any full season if they were below .500 in their second full year at the helm.

Gil Hodges led the Mets to the World Series in his second year
Yogi Berra was 82-79 in his second season
Davey Johnson’s second squad won 98 games
The Mets went 88-74 in the second full season under Bobby Valentine
Willie Randolph guided the club to 97 wins in his second season

Now let’s look at the other side of the coin. Here are the managers who finished under .500 in their second full season and what happened to them afterwards:

Casey Stengel led the Mets to an 11-game improvement in his second season with the club. The following year the Mets won 53 games, 13 more than they did in their inaugural season. In 1965 Stengel broke his hip and was replaced as the team’s manager. His lifetime record as skipper of the Mets: 175-404.

Joe Torre went 63-99 in his second full season as skipper, a drop of three games from the previous year. Torre managed the Mets for two more seasons and finished with a record of 286-420 in his first managerial stint. The 67 wins in 1980 was the high-water mark for the Torre-led Mets.

Dallas Green went 69-75 in the strike-shortened 1995 season, his second full year as Mets manager. Green returned the following year but was fired after the Mets started out 59-72. In parts of four years guiding the team, Green finished with a lifetime 229-283 record. That 69-win season was his best mark in Queens.

Art Howe went 71-91 for the 2004 Mets. While it was a five-game improvement over the previous season, it was not enough for him to be asked back for a third year. Howe finished with a 137-186 mark.

Jerry Manuel went 79-83 in his second full year with the Mets. Like Felix Unger before him, Manuel was asked to leave his place of residence. In his two-plus seasons leading the Mets, Manuel posted a 204-213 record. The highpoint of his Mets tenure came in his partial year, when the Mets went 55-38, as Manuel benefitted from being in place just shortly after Carlos Delgado began his remarkable turnaround.

*****

The remaining managers were either interim skippers or did not make two full seasons with the club.

Getting back to Collins, it is interesting to speculate how things will turn out for the man who will turn 63 this May. Most people considered him a transitional manager when he got the job last year, perhaps someone to keep the seat warm for fan favorite Wally Backman, while the former Mets star got experience managing in the upper levels of the minors.

But the Mets have already picked up Collins’ option for the 2013 season, making it a near certainty that he completes two full years at the helm of the Mets. Does Collins buck the trend, becoming the first manager for the club to finish over .500 when he was below that mark in year two with the club?

Or is Collins destined to end up more like Torre, a man on the job for several seasons but never finishing with a winning record? And if Collins does indeed follow this career path, how will he be remembered? Will fans recall him as the man who brought professionalism back to the dugout and accountability to the team? Or will they look at him as more like Green, an old guy who once he was replaced by a younger, more dynamic skipper, the team immediately became contenders?

There is one scenario not mentioned. What if Collins leads the team over .500 this season?

The 2012 Mets: Trusting Sandy Alderson

The two League Championship Series have just concluded and we’ll see a never-before matchup in the World Series. Texas-St. Louis offers a couple of fresh – and one most unlikely – faces on the national stage. This will be the first Series in recent memory in which both teams got there on the backs of their offense. “Pitching wins championships,” the hoary bromide goes, but neither team has shown that dominant, lock-down starting pitching which has been a hallmark of World Series winners past, save for Chris Carpenter’s performance against the Phillies – he said, hiding a giggle.

What does this have to do with the Mets and Sandy Alderson’s 2012 off-season plans? In a broad sense, this latest chink in the armor of “conventional wisdom” might bode well for whichever moves Alderson might make. If nothing else, it should take some of the pressure off. The recent Series and the popularity of the Moneyball film/book will allow for a lot of out-of-the-box thinking on several fronts, with a minimum of ridicule from all but the most entrenched troglodytes of the MSM. The Jose Reyes situation could go either way: in a decidedly un-scientific observation, there are equal numbers of Met fans who would keep him at all costs as would let him walk. That will be Alderson’s biggest decision of the off-season and after that, there are almost no bad moves Alderson can make, short of bringing back Jeff Francoeur, signing Mike Pelfrey to a 15-year extension or some other such ridicularity. He can cast a wide net and when something doesn’t work, he can cut bait quickly – as he showed a willingness to do this past season, with mulligans on Brad Emaus and Blaine Boyer. Beyond paying lip service to building up the system, the Alderson regime has actually taken steps to doing just that. It’s not the sexy way to build a team – we leave that to the guys across town, who, for all their regular season success this year, played a grand total of five more games than the Mets – but it is the most sustainable and cost-efficient. There are hardly any two more important words bandied about nowadays.

The question is this: will New York fans be patient with this? With this team, that’s the key ingredient. Ownership – such as it is – has shown themselves to have rabbit-ears when it comes to “the will of the fans.” If public perception turns against the admittedly slow-going process, there is a chance that the Wilpons may cashier Alderson and bring on a more malleable personality to steer the ship, even if they’re being pushed out the door. This, of course, would be the ultimate spiteful act and final proof that Jeff Wilpon is no more than a spoiled brat who was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.

So it’s up to us fans to trust the process. If mid-season 2011 is any indication, the attitude shift and the clubhouse fumigation begun with Terry Collins’ hiring and continuing with the installation of Bob Geren as bench coach, the process is well under way and should bear fruit sooner, rather than later.

I, personally, have no other choice.

Mets Will Have An Impact On The Wild Card Race After All

They’ve infuriated me. They’ve puzzled me. At times, they’ve even bored me. They can follow sparkling play with utter ineptitude – in the space of a heartbeat. They’ve gone through such violent “mood swings” this year, that you can’t even chalk it up to “Well, that’s baseball…”

Vin Scully has said many times that winning never feels as good as losing feels bad. This year, the Mets have embodied that. The stretch in the summer where we fans allowed ourselves to believe in this year’s edition seems a foggy bygone. August hit us in the back of the head with a sledgehammer and all I could see was desolation row. They hit their usual seventeen-games-left doldrum – 2-6 so far, if you’re scoring at home – same as it’s been since aught-five. Let’s face it: it would take a minor miracle to get these guys over .500.

And yet, the 2011 Mets keep pulling me back. A series like the one just concluded in Atlanta makes me go all old-Michael-Corleone on them. Coming off a six-game losing streak, incurring the stifled wrath of their famously hot-headed skipper and heading into their own personal nether region, the Mets showed us again that this bunch will not be pigeon-holed. The question for this week is, who will they help, if not themselves? These three with the Cards could derail the St. Louis express and hand the playoffs to the hated Braves – please retire, already, Chipper – or propel the Redbirds right past them. It’ll be a little strange to have the final three with the Phillies mean less than zero at this late date — and why on earth are they closing against the Reds?

Meanwhile, the questions for the off-season remain: how much cash will Sandy Alderson have to work with? How different will the 2012 roster be versus 2011? How much ground will the Mets be able to make up on the Phillies/Braves/Cards? Sadly, the answer to all three will probably be “not much.” But that won’t take away from the job Terry Collins did in clearing the air that room and the shrewd moves Alderson made in the middle of the year.

That’s baseball. As Dick Young told Roger Kahn in The Boys Of Summer, “Don’t be so damn sure.”

Will Terry Collins brimstone approach spark Mets in final weeks?

After Thursday’s debacle against the Washington Nationals in which the Mets were down 2-1 in the seventh inning, but lost the game 10-1 and thus completing a four game sweep for the Nationals, Mets’ manager Terry Collins had a few choice words for his ball club.

“Perception is reality in our game and the perception I have right now is we’ve folded it up,” Collins said on Thursday to reporters. “You want to see intenseness? You want to see me be intense? You guys are going to see it. I won’t play that game. You come and play the game right. I don’t care what the situation is. I don’t care about anything but playing the game correctly. That’s all I care about. Our fans should be upset. I don’t blame them one bit.”

Collins had every right to be furious.

The Mets have been going through the motions, playing the game lackadaisically with blatant disregard for fundamentals and hustle. From horrible pitching (mostly from the bullpen) to lazy, unmotivated fielding to inept hitting, the Mets hit a new low this week.

Perhaps Collins speech can motivate the Mets to finish out the season with some pride.

Well, if Friday night’s game vs. the Braves was any indication, the Mets’ players got the message loud and clear.

The Mets busted out the whooping stick and blasted the Braves 12-2. The Mets, who had scored all of five runs in the four game sweep, scored 12 runs on a season-high 20 hits and snapped their six-game winning streak.

Talk about a wake up call!

It shouldn’t have even gotten this far.

After sweeping changes last offseason in which the Mets made wholesale changes to the front office and management, the feeling around Queens was that there would be no more country club atmosphere in the Mets’ locker room.

And to Collins credit, that lazy and apathetic approach was vanquished for most of the season.

While besieged by injuries, distractions, trades depleting the team of major talent and general bad luck, Collins had the club always prepared to play to the final out. However, in September it seemed like the Mets gave up. The Mets were 6-10 for the month prior to visiting the Braves this weekend. With nothing to play for, the Mets rolled over looking like a team just trying to finish out the season.

Collins though, sees merit in finishing the season strong-with jobs possibly on the line-and is not afraid to let the players know it.

“We spent some time talking to a couple of guys about some things that have to change,” Collins reiterated to reporters on Friday.

This team, as I have stated before, has to start gaining an aggressive edge and winning down the stretch-despite not having much to play for-could do this team a lot of good.

Hopefully, the Mets respond to Collins impassioned plea and will get it in gear for these remaining 11 games and perhaps there could be some carryover next April.

Friday was a good start, but Collins-and deservedly so-wants more. Again, can you blame him?