I have no coherent thoughts about the team these days, so here is a collection of incoherent thoughts.
This morning, I texted my friend Joe asking the question “So, who gets fired today? Just HoJo or do they have the balls to fire Jerry?” This evolved into a discussion of David Wright (as my conversations with Joe tend to do) and his streakiness. My thoughts regarding Wright’s streakiness are that baseball players are streaky; this is not a phenomenon exclusive to David Wright. Even Albert Pujols will have a two week stretch where he doesn’t look like the best player in baseball. It happens.
What most sabermetrically-inclined baseball fans love about the long baseball season, its ability to sift through small sample sizes, can also work against it to some degree, as fans tend to ignore the larger sample sizes in favor of whatever the most recent sample is. Two weeks ago, David Wright was an MVP candidate. Today, he’s a disappointment, too streaky to be a star. Yet, if you look at his line for the season, you see that David Wright is hitting roughly in line with what he’s done for his career. His career slash numbers are .308/.387/.517/.904, and his slash numbers for this season are .298/.372/.504/.876. That’s three hits, four total bases, and six times on base off of his career lines, essentially two singles, a double, and two walks, for the entire season.
That’s why it’s important to keep perspective throughout the season. The team is never as good as they play during their best stretch (the 12-1 stretch from June 4 through June 18, when they were mainly beating up on the Orioles and Indians) and are never as bad as they play during their worst stretch (it’s hard to think that there will be a worse stretch than this 2-9 road trip).
Things will get better. Carlos Beltran may not be the Carlos Beltran we all know and love anymore, but he’s probably not going to remain this bad. Jason Bay is probably not this mediocre either. Jose Reyes seems to generally be on the right path again after struggling earlier in the season. And yes, David Wright is fine. The Mets will not hit this poorly the entire season. Sometimes, players slump. It happens. It stinks that literally every hitter is slumping right now and that Howard Johnson will probably lose his job over it, but these guys will probably turn things around soon enough.
Speaking of Howard Johnson, it seems like a foregone conclusion that he will be fired today. He may even be fired by the time I post this. While I’m not sure a guy who tried to mess with David Wright’s swing to fit Citi Field deserves to keep his job, it does ring hollow to blame Howard Johnson for the team’s latest slump. Sure, he’s the hitting coach, and the team isn’t hitting, but how much of that should be pinned on HoJo? I’m sure he’s doing his job, which is to try to work out swing issues that players develop during slumps, but it’s not like hitting coaches are generally responsible for team offensive philosophies or anything. The job of a hitting coach is a job of offering positive reinforcement and trying to offer advice when things go south. Generally speaking, by the time hitters establish themselves in the majors, they are who they are.
More to the point, hitting coaches are hired to be fired when things go wrong. Rick Down was fired three years ago as a warning shot to Willie Randolph after the Mets slumped big-time in June of 2007 (and for those who remember the collapse season, the team’s terrible June had as much to do with the team’s ultimate finish as its wretched September). Firing HoJo would seem to be the same for Manuel, a sign that he will be next if things don’t shape up.
The problem is, I don’t see how HoJo can lose his job and Dan Warthen can keep his. Can somebody point to a single positive development of Warthen’s in the two years he’s been the Mets pitching coach? In the time he’s been here, countless pitchers have been hurt, John Maine and Oliver Perez stopped being even league average pitchers, and other than Jon Niese, not a single pitcher has developed into anything worthwhile, while many have seemingly regressed. And I’m not sure Warthen deserves credit for Niese; Niese learned the cutter that has helped him master right handed hitting in the minors, not under Warthen’s watch.
Warthen also earns the award for “dumbest comment of the week” last week. When asked what the rule was regarding Frankie Rodriguez’ usage on the road in extra innings and only being saved for save situations, Warthen replied, “Pretty hard and fast. There’s minute exceptions. I think it’s standard across baseball.”
Of course, managing for the save wasn’t always standard across baseball. The save statistic was introduced in 1969, the year of the Mets’ first World Series championship. Now, this was ten years before I was born, so I can’t say this for certain, but I’m pretty sure that managers did not manage for the save before it was introduced, meaning that for the first 100 years that baseball was played on the planet Earth, managers would use their best relief pitcher available at their disposal at key parts of a baseball game, rather than using their worst. In fact, until Tony LaRussa changed the way in which Dennis Eckersley was used in the late 80’s, I’m pretty sure this was still a standard part of baseball.
That’s a huge problem with Jerry Manuel, his usage of the bullpen. He needs players in set roles, because he’s not smart enough to think outside of these set roles. He needs an 8th inning guy to pitch the 9th inning of a tie game on the road because he saves his closer for the save situation, because “that’s baseball.” It wasn’t baseball 40 years ago, it only became baseball when the save was introduced. It’s appalling that Ken Rosenthal tweets that Manuel says “Wow” after Ollie Perez gets out of a 2nd and 3rd, 1 out jam in the 13th inning of a tie game on the road, because Manuel did not have to rely on his worst pitcher in the bullpen in that situation. He chose to because of his own reluctance to break from baseball’s norms and manage for a win rather than a save.
Watching the tag team of Manuel and Warthen work their magic the past two seasons has made me reevaluate how I look at the Mets’ 2008 collapse. At the time, I remember not wanting to blame Manuel for that collapse, because the Mets’ bullpen that season was terrible and there was little he could do. And it’s true, there’s only so much a man can do with the likes of Duaner Sanchez, Scott Schoeneweis, and Luis Ayala, plus an inexplicably horrible Aaron Heilman. But knowing now that Manuel is a man who thrives on roles and doesn’t thrive on thinking, was it also a self-fulfilling prophecy? Was it that Manuel simply did not know how to properly use what he had? Was Ayala used in so many high leverage situations in such a short amount of time because Manuel cannot manage without hard and fast roles?
Taking this a step further, we can blame Manuel’s reliance on roles for the Frankie Rodriguez signing and the J.J. Putz trade made the following offseason. The two acquisitions gave Manuel his closer and his 8th inning guy, two guys he would be able to mindlessly slot into roles without having to think too much. A smart manager would not need to rely on two pitchers with “proven closer” labels available for “proven closer” prices. The money and players needed to acquire Frankie and Putz merely to placate a manager who, frankly, is not very smart, is another expense of the Jerry Manuel Era.
That’s why I got a kick out of Jerry Manuel’s passive aggressive comments a few weeks ago about the lack of eighth inning guy. The one time Omar Minaya did bend over backwards to get an eighth inning guy (or perhaps more appropriately, was bent over backwards by Jack Z. to get an eighth inning guy), it failed spectacularly. I hope shortly after that manager’s press conference, Omar Minaya sent Jerry a two word, seven letter text message that started with “F” and ended in “U.”
Of course, I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m no fan of Jerry Manuel. I hate his love of the sacrifice bunt. I hate his love of the intentional walk*. I hate his press conferences, where he offers dimwitted responses to reporters’ questions and is never called out on any of this. He stinks, I get it. Even if he managed a team like the Yankees or Red Sox, with little waste on the major league roster, he would still fail to efficiently use his available resources.
* Jerry called for two highly questionable intentional walks in Saturday’s debacle. Both were sort of defensible on the surface, but not really. One was of Garrett Anderson in the bottom of the fourth with a runner on third and one out. Garrett Anderson has been one of the very worst players in major league baseball this season, with a .205 OBP, a .483 OPS, a .211 wOBA (a woeful WOBA if I’ve ever seen one), and a -1.1 WAR. Shouldn’t we be pitching to him, or am I crazy?
The other crazy intentional walk was Ollie Perez pitching around Rafael Furcal with first base open. I’m sorry, Oliver Perez should never be put in a situation where if he allows a walk, the winning run scores. Never mind the fact that he shouldn’t have even been in the game at that point, only a damned fool would add that level of difficulty to that situation with the game on the line. No wonder Jerry was surprised when it worked out. He should have been fired for that call alone.
All of that said, even if we had a good manager on this team, the roster makeup has often been untenable. Jeff Francoeur was the worst right fielder in the major leagues before he was mercifully benched this week. Luis Castillo’s only major league skill at this point is plate discipline; he literally brings nothing else to the table. Alex Cora gives Garrett Anderson a run for his money for the title of “worst player in the major leagues.” It somehow took Fernando Nieve four months to play his way off of the major league roster. Mike Jacobs, Frank Catalanotto, Gary Matthews Jr, all of these guys somehow broke camp with jobs in the major leagues.
The point is, as JamesK has said on Twitter, Omar Minaya does not deserve the right to fire his second major league manager. He tried that trick once. It didn’t work. At some point, the failures at the major league level have to fall upon him. There’s too much waste on this team to where Omar should continue to skate for this team’s failures. It’s time to bring in a real GM who knows how to properly evaluate major league performances and doesn’t continue to overpay for garbage that can’t contribute. Jerry’s performance deserves a firing, no doubt, and maybe Howard Johnson’s does as well, but in the end, it’s Omar Minaya who deserves the blame for all of the empty Citi Field seats in August and September, and he’s the one who needs to go.