Reese Kaplan -- Callaway's Honeymoon Over Already?


While the Mets fans were giddy and drunk with power after the first two weeks into the season, it was only natural and expected that they would come back down to earth a bit, particularly against formidable competition like the Washington Nationals.  Many are already pushing the panic button and declaring with the injuries to Jason Vargas, Anthony Swarzak, Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki that the sky is falling and it's once again the same old Mets.

While none of the latter developments can be spun to be good things, the fact remains the club is in first place, has one of the best records in all of baseball and is doing so with relatively few people hitting.  If you polled anyone prior to the season starting and asked who would be leading the club in hitting three weeks into the season, no one with any degree of candor would have said Asdrubal Cabrera, Brandon Nimmo and Todd Frazier (and Nimmo can’t even get steady at-bats!)

Take a gander at the rest of the rather offensive offense (if you have a strong stomach).  Yoenis Cespedes is threatening to be on the interstate.  Jay Bruce is at but .216.  Adrian Gonzalez has plummeted back to earth to the tune of .222.  His RH counterpart at 1B Wilmer Flores is at .226.  Amed Rosarios is at .240 and even Michael Conforto is struggling at just .250.  Let’s not talk about the cumulative stats of the four-headed catching aggregation or the Anthony Young-like anticipation when Jose Reyes will finally get something on the positive side of the ledger.  Just to show you that spring training numbers are meaningless, the 2nd leading hitter on the club is the man with the revamped swing – Juan Lagares – at .385 – after hitting as paltry .200 in almost twice as many ABs. 

Where the club has excelled (at least until the last few days) has been pitching.  As a team they’re 12-4 with an ERA of 3.06.  That’s 2nd behind only the Diamondbacks.  They’re tied for the league lead with 8 saves.  They’re 3rd in strikeouts and 2nd in Batting Average Against – just .219.  Seemingly the pitching gurus have done what they were asked to do.

It’s therefore interesting that the strongest criticisms levied against new manager Mickey Callaway have had to do with his handling of the pitching staff.  While he said he won’t necessarily be a slave to set roles for the bullpen, Jeurys Familia certainly seems to be the designated closer as evidenced by his 1-0 record with a 0.00 ERA and 7 saves in 8 opportunities.  It’s hard to argue with success.

However, there are things he’s done in the Washington series which are causing Terry Collins flashbacks.  He seems married to the LOOGY concept for Jerry Blevins which is a bit puzzling since he’s the only lefty in the pen.  It would seem you’d want him to face more than one batter so as to get to the other lefties in the lineup.  

He also demonstrated that by-the-book stubbornness that had him pinch hitting an O-for-the-season Jose Reyes when he had bats like Michael Conforto and Jay Bruce on the bench.  At the time the Nationals had a right handed pitcher on the mound and you had stronger left handed bats.  Now, to Callaways' intuition and credit, the Nats did bring in a lefthander which spun the switch hitting Reyes around, but he did what he's done all year -- failed to deliver.  What's even more disturbing is Callaway's quote about Reyes, "I think he'll get going."  Yikes...how many times did we hear the Skipper utter the pathetic justification, "We've just got to get him going."?

Callaway was similarly second guessed when, after a shaky first, Steve Matz was on cruise control and unhittable.  Yet after just 74 pitches and in the 4th inning out came the hook.  Considering he was soundly criticized for removing Jacob deGrom he stuck to his guns and did it again.  That's a Collins-like formula for burning out the bullpen, but thankfully seldom used Paul Sewald gave him three full innings giving up just a single run.

His biggest challenges are yet to come.  What becomes of Zack Wheeler and/or Matt Harvey when Jason Vargas returns?  You can't always throw people in the bullpen as there are just so many roster spots to go around.  Ditto Anthony Swarzak.  Does it mean that Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman are pitching for their major league lives?  Hansel Robles has already been banished.  Gerson Bautista may be the first to go as he was brought up more due to the need for a fresh arm than as a testament to his fine start in Binghamton.  There are going to be some egos in need of stroking and that will be a major test for the new manager.

Everyone is entitled to a few mistakes, particularly during a rookie season.  Callaway is no exception.  However, after all of the good vibrations of the first two weeks it would be a shame to see them devolve into a temblor that highlights the team’s fault lines.  You can’t blame anyone for the injuries that happened and theoretically Sandy Alderson is working to address these vulnerabilities. 

However, you can and should hold the manager accountable for doing the best with what he has.  Some asked if I would be as critical of Mickey Callaway as I was of Terry Collins.  My answer was that I would be if he deserved it.  For now I’m willing to write off some of these past few days as growing pains.  However, there are a lot of folks watching because they’ve seen a lot of these same tactical mistakes for the past 7 years and want to move forward, not back. 


Mack Ade said...

Everybody has nothing but love for this guy right now, but I REALLY do not understand some of his decisions.

The removal of Matz was close to criminal. The guy just retired 10 batters in a row.

Sure, the game worked out because of a freak inning, but it was a horrible decision.

Thomas Brennan said...

Mack I agree on Matz...he does also have a decent bat, so he is not an automatic out.

Is there a reason why Jose can not go to Vegas and play every day to either show he can hit, or show he needs to retire? Would someone claim him? He is 0-18 this year after an 8 for 46 spring. At what point is his lack of hitting viewed as time to retire? Why not prove you can still do it in AAA? How about an "injury" that gets him on the DL, but after 5 days, he plays 5 "rehab" games to see if the bat revives? He hits, he returns, he doesn't hit, he stays in Vegas.

Reese Kaplan said...

Gavin Cecchini is trending downward in a hurry, having gone from .364 before arriving in El Paso to .257. Ty Kelly is trending downward, though still holding his own at .319, but only with 8 games as SS for his career. Phil Evans has had 302 games at SS and is trending upward to the same .257 as Cecchini. Guillorme is trending upward at .189 after having been around .125 before the El Paso series. Kelly seems to be the odd man out as he's not on the 40-man roster.

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