Coming into the 2009 season, I felt pretty good about Jerry Manuel as manager of the Mets. He had an impossible job to handle at the end of 2008, handling the disastrous Mets bullpen, and seemed to do as good a job as one man can do handling that pit. He tried to minimize platoon situations as much as possible. He went with the hot hand at closer. He tried to piece together the best with what he was given, and he seemed to do as good a job as anybody could do in that situation.
I would also be lying if I didn’t say that the man was an engaging post-game interview. Following the days of Willie Randolph monotonously saying one tired cliche after another, Jerry seemed like a welcome change, with his infectious chuckle and animated, lively presence in trying to piece together what went wrong that night. He also proved himself to be a leader who wouldn’t be bullied, when he benched Jose Reyes during his first day in the job after Reyes came up lame running out a grounder. He seemed to be the answer the Mets were looking for, and I was actually happy to have him around.
Things have changed dramatically since last season. At this point, I want nothing to do with Manuel. I think he’s a horrible manager, who doesn’t know how to handle a bullpen, manage for game situations, diffuse problems in the clubhouse, or really accomplish anything rather than deflect the problems away from himself. In hindsight, he probably wasn’t the asset I thought he was last year, and he has definitely been a problem this year, and sadly he doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. That’s a shame, because he is really a horrible manager.
The first red flag should have been raised last October, when Manuel was given the full-time job after managing the team to a 55-38 finish. During the press conference announcing him as the new manager, Manuel said:
“You get so many statistical people together, they put so many stats on paper, and they say, well, if you do this and you score this many runs, you do that many times, you’ll be in the playoffs. That’s not really how it works, and that’s what we have to get away from. And that’s going to have to be a different mind-set of the team in going forward. We must win and we must know how to win rather than win because we have statistical people. We have to win because we have baseball players that know and can understand the game.
We have to put a value on say, moving a runner over. We have to put a value on getting a bases on balls. We have to put a value on infield back, [getting a] ground ball that’s sufficient to score a run. Those types of things have to be accented in order for us, in my opinion, to kind of get to the next level.
You don’t see a lot of guys that have statistical numbers play well in these championship series. What you see is usually the little second baseman or somebody like that carries off the MVP trophy that nobody expected him to do. That’s because he’s comfortable in playing that form of baseball, so therefore when the stage comes, it’s not a struggle for him.”
Most of that is nonsense and shows a lack of understanding for “statistical numbers.” While it’s nice that Manuel values walks, most of the talk about “productive outs” and bunting was a precursor for what was to come, to hideous excess. Only three teams in all of baseball have had their position players put down more sacrifice bunts than the Mets.
Is it any surprise that two of those teams, the Mariners and Reds, rank with the Mets among the seven lowest run scoring teams in baseball? Only the Tigers, with a surprising 45 sacrifice bunts, are even close to league average in run scoring. While it might not be fair to blame excessive bunting as the reason the Mets aren’t scoring runs this year, what with the increase of injuries, it makes stringing together runs that much more difficult when Manuel is so bunt-happy. It’s an especially large waste of Luis Castillo, tied for second in baseball in sacrifice bunts, considering he’s one of the few Mets who has shown an ability to get on base this season.
Another example of Jerry’s managerial blunders is his bullpen handling. I’ll give you an example of a recent blunder that nearly drove me up a wall while at the Mets/Phillies game where Pedro officially ended the Mets’ season. After pitching a scoreless seventh, Manuel brought out Sean Green to start the eighth, presumably to make the Phillies burn a pinch hitter for when he brought in Pedro Feliciano to actually start the inning. The problem with that logic is, of course, that the Phillies bench is a lot deeper now that the 40 man rosters have expanded, and of course Charlie Manuel would counter by bringing in a right-handed hitter for Feliciano. Feliciano’s platoon splits this season.
|vs RHB as LH||51||85||72||.264||.357||.486||.843|
|vs LHB as LH||77||150||143||.224||.255||.364||.619|
Feliciano gets lefties out, and struggles against righties. He’s not one of Manuel’s vaunted “crossover guys.” Yet Manuel brought hiim in to face what would surely be a right-handed pinch hitter, followed by Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino, two switch hitters who would bat right-handed against Feliciano. Now, what if I told you that the Mets have a pitcher in their bullpen with the following line:
|vs RHB as LH||19||53||.159||.283||.295||.578|
|vs LHB as LH||27||62||.302||.387||.472||.859|
You’re probably thinking, “Yeah, but this guy is probably right-handed, so what’s the point?” Nope, this guy’s a lefty, meaning that the Phillies would play right into their hands; as my friend Will has pointed out to me, Ken Takahashi has a weird reverse platoon split that sees him get righties out with regularly, but he struggles against lefties. When the lineup card reads pinch hitter/switch hitter/switch hitter, there isn’t a better guy in the bullpen to go to in that situation; going to anybody else, particularly a pitcher with a straight platoon split, is asking for trouble.
Feliciano got out of the inning, which doesn’t make the bad process any more forgivable. In fact, getting out of the inning compounded the error. Feliciano was due up 4th in the top of the ninth. In a 1-0 game, that means if the Mets were to do anything to tie the game, they would have to hit for Feliciano. The 3-4-5 hitters for the Phillies were Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Raul Ibanez, all left-handed hitters. The way Manuel set things up, if the Mets did anything to tie the game in the ninth, the Phillies were guaranteed to either face a right-handed pitcher or Takahashi, who has a reverse platoon split.
I don’t bring this up as an isolated example, but moves like this are far too common for Manuel, who just doesn’t seem to be very tactically oriented. He fails to understand his personnel at all. This season, the Mets will have attempted to take more extra bases (meaning 1st to 3rd, 2nd to home, or 1st to home) than any Mets team in the past eight seasons, according to Bill James Online. Conversely, they have made more baserunning outs than any Mets team since 2002. This despite the fact that the team’s two best baserunners, Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran, have been out since mid-May and mid-June, respectively. A good manager recognizes his personnel and adjusts his gameplan due to injuries. A bad manager preaches aggression for the sake of aggression, and blames others when his players get thrown out left and right.
Then there is his bench handling. “Nasty” Nick Evans is likely going to be a part of this team next year. As I’ve said before, Evans probably isn’t going to be an everyday player in the majors, but he can be effective as a 1B/OF who starts against left-handed pitching. In Jerry Manuel’s world, that means he rots away on the bench as players like Fernando Tatis and Gary Sheffield leach at-bats from Evans.
Tatis and Sheffield are not signed through next year. Sheffield almost surely won’t be back, and I can’t see any possible justification for bringing back Tatis, not when Evans can do what he does without costing $2 million. Evans is going to be here next year unless he’s traded. Use him! He hasn’t started a game since September 11th, and he’s appeared three times as a pinch hitter since then. This is a criminal handling of a guy who has some value to this ballclub beyond this season. As my astute buddy Will has pointed out, he was good enough to start Game 162 last year, with this team’s playoff hopes on the line, why isn’t he good enough to get garbage playing time in the OF and at 1B against left-handed pitchers this year?
I won’t even get into the other stuff that irritates me, like his on-going love affair with Omir Santos, or the way he’s botched the Daniel Murphy situation this year, or how Cory Sullivan clearly has blackmail material on the man, or how he starts Anderson Hernandez at SS when Mike Pelfrey pitches when Wilson Valdez is clearly a better defensive shortstop, or how his inability to put aside his feud with Ryan Church ran a good player out of town. If I went on about everything that drove me crazy about Jerry Manuel, this would be as long as War and Peace, or a typical Faith and Fear in Flushing post (sorry Greg, your stuff is great!).
The point is, Jerry Manuel is a bad manager. It sickens me that he’s going to keep his job next year, because I’m going to have to watch all of these same problems with the team because he’s been doing the same dumb stuff since he managed the White Sox. It’s not fair to hold the injuries against him, but it is fair to hold against him the numerous dumb things he’s done since taking over the Mets. I was wondering where he ranks among the worst Mets managers in my lifetime, and I’m willing to put him at #2, ahead of Art Howe, ahead of Buddy Harrelson, even ahead of Willie Randolph (and long-time readers of this blog know I have little love for Willie).
The only Mets manager in my lifetime who I’d rank as worse is Dallas Green, and he ruined the careers of Bill Pulsipher and Paul Wilson, and forced Jason Isringhausen into the bullpen. I’m never actively happy when a man loses his job, especially in this economy, but I’m going to make an exception for Manuel, Razor Shines, and the rest of this inept coaching staff, with the exception of Howard Johnson. Ironically, the man least likely to keep his job is HoJo, which is a shame because I’d love to see what he could do as a manager. It’d sure beat the heck out of what we’ve seen out of Manuel.