Twice previously, there’s been an article here with a similar title. The first was when the Mets hired Mickey Callaway. And the second one was when they hired Carlos Beltran. There wasn’t one for Buck Showalter, because he was a veteran manager who knew all the angles. But now we’re back to a first-time hire with Carlos Mendoza, so it’s time to dust off this column again.
Of course, the elephant in the room is how much authority Mendoza will actually have. Perhaps David Stearns’ name should be the one that is in the title, instead. Anyone who’s been around these parts for awhile knows my preference for strong lines of demarcation between jobs. In a perfect world, the front office would set expectations with big-ticket items, provide analytical resources to the dugout and then get out of the way and let the manager, you know, manage.
It came to light after the season was over that Showalter wanted to replace Daniel Vogelbach as the designated hitter early when Vogelbach was struggling. But Billy Eppler insisted that Vogelbach remain in the lineup. In my mind, this is a prime example of the front office overstepping its place. A manager as successful as Showalter doesn’t need someone else telling him who to play on a daily basis.
However, the Mets no longer have that veteran manager. And who knows, maybe Stearns will make a better manager than either Eppler or Brodie Van Wagenen did. The former had a lousy record as manager when he was the Angels’ GM, while the latter had no GM/manager experience at all. Stearns did a good job managing when he was the GM in Milwaukee. We’ll get to see who makes more of an impact, either Stearns with the Mets or Craig Counsell with the Cubs. Stearns certainly seems to be betting on himself.
Up to this point, both Mendoza and Stearns are saying all of the right things about how it will work between them. The cynic says that this is the first scripted performance by Stearns for Mendoza. Hey, it’s always good to get the first one right.
Another long-held belief of mine is that there needs to be creative friction among the various parties. Showalter should have been able to say “screw you” to Eppler over the Vogelbach issue. And if he didn’t feel comfortable enough to do that, he should have made it known to the media that his hands were tied. And, yes, my belief is that it’s perfectly fine to use the media in this way. The front office talks oh so much about how they want the manager to be a great communicator. There are numerous ways to communicate and this is one of them.
The goal should be to win, rather than never rocking the boat so you can keep cashing checks as long as possible. No one is always right and sometimes the individual who’s wrong is the last one to realize it. And for the love of all things holy, don’t be that guy in the comments section saying, “That’s not how things are done,” and then explain to me how things really are, like it’s something that’s never crossed my mind, like this is the first baseball column ever written by me or something. That’s as infuriating to me as watching Starling Marte consistently swing at pitches a foot out of the strike zone.
Perhaps you think that having the front office heavily involved in managerial decisions is an advancement over the previous model. That’s an opinion and that’s perfectly fine. It’s just not my opinion. At the end of the day, it makes no difference to me how other teams do things. My main concern is doing what’s right for the Mets. The best example of this is with the utilization of the LOOGY. It made zero difference to me that that’s how every club operated. My only interest was the complete lack of success for 95% of the lefties that the Mets employed in this way and the impact prioritizing pitchers who threw the fewest innings had on the rest of the pen.
With that out of the way, here are my opinions on what
Stearns Mendoza should change with how the previous Mets manager did things. You’ll notice some similar suggestions to the Callaway and Beltran articles. Those things still need to be changed if you ask me.
1. Establish a position for Ronny Mauricio
2. Find consistent playing time for Mark Vientos
3. Give Francisco Alvarez additional BP versus LHP
4. Find balance between too few and too many PA for hitters
5. Embrace a 5.5 pitching staff
6. Build up SP to go beyond 100 pitches when conditions are right
7. Add leverage to rest when utilizing relievers
8. Have and regularly use a long man in the pen
My goal is to have Mauricio in the Opening Day lineup and have him play primarily one position. Now, depending on who Stearns adds to the roster, that position for Mauricio could be 2B or it could be 3B. The position doesn’t matter here before the Winter Meetings. But the sooner it’s established, the sooner Mauricio can work out at the position to be the best defensive player he can be. And let’s not have him consistently bounce back and forth between the positions. Just because Jeff McNeil can do that, doesn’t mean Mauricio can thrive that way, too.
We don’t have a big enough sample size in the majors to make any determinations about if Vientos is a potential starter. But his minor league track record is positive enough to give him a shot. Maybe he’s a DH or maybe he’s a platoon player at 3B. Perhaps he fills in at 1B, 3B and DH. Whatever the role, he needs more than 233 PA this season. Last year he had a .245/.290/.489 line over his final 100 PA, when he was regularly in the lineup. That OBP isn’t pretty but that .779 OPS is 58 points higher than what Alvarez gave the club last year.
Maybe it’s just a fluke but Alvarez had just a .611 OPS versus lefties in 2023. And that was in 148 PA. Now, that could easily be a small sample issue. Still, my preference would be to have him get as much time in the cage and in exhibition games versus lefties as possible. If Lucas Duda could use that approach to offset the platoon advantage lefties had, Alvarez can do the same versus hurlers where he enjoys the advantage. The Mets desperately need better production versus LHP and Alvarez is the one who offers the most chance for improvement, especially given his results a season ago.
Eduardo Escobar was benched after 60 PA. Marte had 326 PA before leaving the starting lineup. It’s a really tough part of the managerial job to determine when to pull the plug on a guy who leaves Spring Training with the job but who isn’t producing. And it’s different for different players. My take is that 60 is too few and that 326 is too many. My hope is that Vientos isn’t moved to the end of the bench if he struggles with his first 60 PA. Additionally, my hope is that he doesn’t keep playing five times a week if he has a Plaweckian OPS after 275 PA. This is definitely a case for managerial feel over a front office mandate.
The Mets bent over backwards to pitch Kodai Senga with extra rest and the results were terrific. Overall, Senga had a sub-3.00 ERA. In his three starts with normal four days off, he had a 4.61 ERA. This is not making an opinion off three starts. Rather, it’s making one on 26 starts. And if Stearns ends up with Yoshinobu Yamamoto, it will make sense to pitch him with extra rest, too. They can use a pitcher who’s stretched out in the pen or they can call up a pitcher from the minors when there are no days off in the schedule. It’s certainly not ideal and it won’t always be easy. But a 5.5 pitching staff can be done and it’s likely to give the team the best-possible results.
We all want pitchers to be healthy and productive. That goal has led to the near extinction of 125-pitch starts. Unfortunately, there’s exactly zero proof that limiting pitches has led to healthier hurlers. It sounds good in theory. There’s more evidence that keeping pitchers from facing batters a third time in a game is a benefit. But not all pitchers are created equal. Senga limited opponents to a .614 OPS when he faced them a third time, while Carlos Carrasco had a 1.011 OPS allowed the third time around.
In his last start in Japan, Yamamoto threw over 130 pitches. Senga said he regularly threw that many. My hope for the new regime is that if the pitcher is properly stretched out, the weather is good and the starter is cruising, that he’ll be allowed to go deeper in games. You don’t let a guy in windy April throw 125 pitches. A warm night in July is a different story.
Showalter did a fabulous job with his relievers giving them rest. It wasn’t that long ago where multiple relievers had pitched three times in the last four games and were considered available for the next game. But while he excelled in that phase of managing a bullpen, where he came up short was utilizing leverage in determining which reliever to pitch. A game where you trail by a single run is a higher-leverage spot than one you’re ahead by five runs. But we saw Showalter use his “A” relievers whenever they had a lead and his “B” relievers whenever they trailed. It’s just not a good use of resources to avoid considering leverage. Unless he needs work, you should avoid using your second and third-best relievers with a big lead.
It used to be common for all teams to carry a long man (or two) in the pen. Now, it’s just as likely for a team to be without one as it is to have a mop-up guy. The Mets need that type of pitcher for several reasons. One, it’ll be good to have a pitcher stretched out in the pen to use as a starter to give Senga extra rest. Two, it’s a great way to keep from having multiple relievers needing days off because they all pitched one inning instead of having the long guy go four innings. Third, instead of making a SP who clearly doesn’t have it throw extra innings to save the pen, pull him early and use your long man.
My opinion is that it’s easier to have multiple guys in the pen to fill this role and you aren’t caught short if your SP gets bombed in back-to-back days. With multiple depth starters on the team, the Mets could have Jose Butto in the rotation, along with Joey Lucchesi and Tylor Megill in the pen. Not every outing by Lucchesi and Megill would need to be more than an inning. But the team would benefit if you used them for three or more innings when necessary.