Ever since Abner Doubleday started this game of baseball, superstitions have long been a part of its colorful lure. Whether it’s not talking about a no-hitter until it’s in the books, or Wade Boggs eating chicken before every game, a pitcher hopping over the base lines on the way back to the dugout, or some player refusing to shave until his batting streak (or the team’s winning streak) comes to an end, there are any number of nonsensical rituals that bear no outcome on results, yet people cling to them as if they have meaning.
This topic arose recently with the early season success the Mets have been having. Yes, a lot of things have gone wrong for them in terms of player health, but shockingly they still sit atop baseball with the best record in baseball (as of Tuesday morning). Consequently there are a great many people expounding the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy which is akin to not washing your socks because doing so will somehow have a negative impact on the outcome of the game.Take the Washington Nationals, for example. Last season they cruised to the NL East Division Championship primarily on the backs of their starting rotation. Did they stand pat and not change anything? No. They booted Tanner Roark, he of the 15-10 record and a 2.85 ERA, to bring on Max Scherzer, the Cy Young Award winning ex-Tiger pitcher who had become a free agent.
Smirking “stay the course” types are licking their chops, saying, “You’re making our point for us! The Nats are in last place!”
Yes, of course they are. However, that move to Max Scherzer is not the cause. He’s pitching to a surprising 1-2 record considering he’s got a 1.26 ERA and a miniscule WHIP of just 0.84. He is not the problem. The trio of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman pitching to ERAs of 4.88, 5.01 and 5.23 respectively has a lot more to do with Washington’s losing ways. Throw in injuries to Denard Span, Anthony Rendon, Craig Stammen, Nate McLouth and Casey Jansen. Then look at the slow starts offensively by everyone but Bryce Harper and Yunel Escobar. Believe me, Scherzer isn't the reason they're losing. (And by the way, Roark has been very solid out of the bullpen with a 2.89 ERA.)
So looking at the Mets, what changes could be made that might seemingly tamper with the so-called primal forces responsible for the team’s success?
Ride the Hot Hand
Without going into the innumerable times we’ve heard the phrase, “We’ve got to get him going” when some player is slumping, it might make sense to move the hot hitting players into run producing spots in the batting order rather than sticking steadfastly to what’s not working. Until these past two days Daniel Murphy was a good example of someone totally lost at the plate, yet he was continually put in the upper two thirds of the batting order where he got more opportunities each game to flail away helplessly at the plate. Ditto Curtis Granderson. Recently Juan Lagares was surprisingly moved up to the number two spot in the order as he was on fire with the bat. Wilmer Flores, however, continues to reside in his 7 spot despite his recent surge in offensive production. Is there a reason he’s hitting behind the likes of .237 hitting Eric Campbell? (A side note – when Flores hit his 2nd home run and his 5th RBI in a 3-game span after a slow start, did that seem like a good time to take him out of the lineup? I certainly didn’t think so, but hey, I’m advocating riding the hot hand.)
Learn to Play Small Ball
Believe it or not, there’s been an uptick in the Mets’ power game despite residing 9th of 15 teams. That is an improvement over the previous several years, yet it seems at times Collins manages as if he’s Earl Weaver with the 1969 Baltimore Orioles slugger-filled lineup, just waiting for the 3-run homer. Recently Collins uncharacteristically flashed a hit-and-run sign and it worked. Imagine that! More power should come as some players get into the groove and/or recover from their injuries, but until then you have to think how to maximize what you have in the lineup NOW instead of what you expect it will be later.
Don’t Burn Out Your Closer
Ever since the current regime took over, we’ve seen pitcher after pitcher burn out from overuse in the bullpen. Usually it’s the middle reliever getting the brunt of it, but this season Jeurys Familia has been in a lot of games already. When the team has a lead of say 4-1 going into the 9th inning you don’t necessarily have to pitch Familia on that day just because it is save-eligible. That might be a day to let another pitcher finish the game and hold Familia back for some rest or to come in if that alternative pitcher gets into trouble.
The overall message here is a simple one. Don’t be afraid of change. Embrace it. When something works, great! When something doesn’t work, try another approach. When things are going well, don’t rest on your laurels. Instead, pile on and do what you can to make things even better. After all, there’s no mercy rule in pro ball.