Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Things That Are Overrated (and Underrated): Baseball Managers

Argh. 23 wins, 26 losses. 7 losses in the last 8 games. Ladies and gentlemen, your New York Mets!

I hate to be Chicken Little here, but the goddamn sky is (very close to) falling. As Side Bar and I have said repeatedly this year (in bars, not here so much), the Mets just ain't that good. Certain very respectable baseball outlets predicted the Mets not only to win the division, but win as many as 99 games. That would now require the Mets to go 76-37 the rest of the season. That's a .667 winning percentage. That's winning 2 out of every 3 for the rest of the year. That's...unlikely.

Some have been saying that firing Willie Randolph is, if not a perfect solution, the right first step. I have no idea if the Mets would win more games the rest of the year with Willie or without him. I happen to think baseball managers receive waaaay too much credit and blame for the performance of the team. Joe Torre became the yankees' manager in 1996, a year after Buck Showalter utterly failed by getting his team to the playoffs for the first time in 14 years but lost in 5 games in the ALDS. What an asshole. Put that Torre guy in! He's got a career managerial record of 894-1003. That's a .471 winning percentage!

Lo and behold, Torre (single-handedly, from the bench, without ever pitching or hitting or fielding) won the World Series 4 of the next 5 years. And as we all know, he totally shat the bed the next 7 years, getting his team to the playoffs every year, the World Series twice, and tallying a 686-445 record (.606).

But hey, these are the fucking yankees. No World Series wins in 7 years? Fuck him. Gimme Girardi.

Girardi so far? 25-26. Last place. Um, Mr. Torre? You around? What's that about Los Angeles? Oh, okay. Well, call me!

You know what Willie Randolph is bad at? Selecting a lineup (Luis Castillo still bats second. Barf.), using his relievers (putting Aaron Heilman in, ever), responding appropriately and effectively when the umpires blatantly steal a 3-run Carlos Delgado home run. It took the bench coach, Jerry Manuel, a few pitches before he realized Willie wasn't gonna do shit, so he took things in his own hands and got himself booted. Well played, Mr. Manuel. Do you have a resume?

So what is Willie Randolph good at? I'm not really sure, but he seems to be respected by his players. I hear a lot of this “leader of men” talk about him, and I'm sure that's valuable in a manager. But ultimately, much like the esteemed Joe Torre of 1996-2000, the manager doesn't throw the ball, hit the ball, or field the ball. His main jobs are filling out a lineup card every game, choosing which reliever to use and when, handling the media (in New York especially), and leading the team (which can be defined many, many ways). You might say a manager makes all kinds of in-game decisions too, and you're right, but I'd say about 99 percent of those decisions are fairly easy to make if you know as much about baseball as a manager should. The remaining one percent should not outweigh any of the other factors.

Willie does okay handling the media (notwithstanding his recent comments about people getting pissed at him being somewhat race-related). And as I said, I hear he's a decent leader. But his lineups and bullpen usage suck. So I give him 2 up and 2 down. So keep him? Fire him? It's a coin toss. If you can find me a (currently unemployed) candidate who you are certain will be better than that, let me know. Better, email Fred Wilpon. (I don't have his info, so just post it in the comments. Fred's a reader.)

But back to Joe Torre for a sec. 1996-2000: too much credit? 2001-2007: too much blame? That's what I'd say. I'd say that the players played a bit better early in Torre's tenure than later. Pitching especially. That 1998 yankees team was so fucking good, I guarantee you I could have “managed” the team to, maybe not 114 wins, but a good 96 or so.

The 2006 Mets? What an awesome team. Much moreso because Carlos Delgado could still hit, Duaner Sanchez (pre-Phillies-fan-driven-taxi incident) was disgusting, Endy Chavez made that kinda half-decent catch, and much more.

Although, if you think about it, that roster really wasn't that much more than the current roster. Swap out Jose Valentin for Luis Castillo at second? Wash. Pedro was there for a while, then he wasn't, and didn't really make much of an impact (as a pitcher); this year, even less Pedro, still no impact. Most of the differences in the rosters are insignificant, even if they are many.

Certain players on both the '06 and '08 teams, despite wearing the same number, using the same name, and (allegedly) still being the same person, have not so far this season resembled their '06 doppelgangers.

I think you may already know who I'm talking about. But it really explains things quite clearly.

The Mets have 5 really good players (Reyes, Wright, Beltran, Santana, and Wagner), a bunch of mediocre guys (the always-hurt Alou, the fast-aging Delgado, the way-overperforming-but-I-love-it Ryan Church, some of the bench guys), and a bunch of guys who suck (the also-way-overperforming Brian Schneider, Castillo, the rest of the bench guys and most of the bullpen).

Currently, of the 5 good players, Wright, Santana, and Wagner have done what I expect of them – play really well – if not playing exceptionally well. (Though you could make a case for Wagner being the best closer in baseball so far this year.) But Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran have – much like '01-'07 Joe Torre, except in reality, not like what dumbass talk radio callers claimed – shat the bed. There is absolutely no way the Mets will get anywhere near first place this year if those two can't remember how to hit. The rest of the lineup can't cover them. Ryan Church has done his best (and made me forgive Omar for trading Blastings – possibly a greater feat than his play so far), but he can't make up for both Reyes and Beltran. Thus, 23-26.

Even if Beltran and Reyes revert to their 2006 form, I still don't see us winning more than 85 games or so. We need another bat and another arm – just like almost every other team. The problem is, we mortgaged the farm system to get Santana (a move I still support), so we have no one to offer. Therefore, the odds of us getting the extra player or two we need are slim, unless Omar can pull off another Santana-style miracle.

In case you hadn't noticed, I didn't really make any notes before I starting typing. Hence the total lack of structure. Sorry 'bout that. Whereby I now return to Willie Randolph. I guess my thoughts regarding his status now are:

  1. I don't think it'll make much difference if he stays or goes;
  2. I do think that the team's performance is largely due to the fact that Reyes and Beltran are sucking; and
  3. Please understand that if a manager's players aren't playing well, it's highly unlikely that he can hold enough team meetings or get fired up on the field often enough to somehow “will” the team to a better record.

In conclusion, despite my disappointment and occasional display of irrational anger at the Mets so far this year, there is a very clear reason I've been able to maintain my emotional sanity:

The yankees are in last place.



ChuckJerry said...

So, Open Bar, you're saying that you could have taken the '98 Yankees and managed them to 96 wins and that the manager makes no difference in the same sentence? If we had played the '98 season Triple Play Baseball style with the Yankees vs. the Yankees you would have taken the exact same team and finished 18 games out of first place and somehow the manager makes no difference?

Open Bar said...

The point was you could put a numbskull like me on the bench and that team would still win a shitload.

If I had been completely honest, I would've said I'd win 133 games, but modesty always prevails with me.