MMO Mailbag: Callaway’s Decision Process

When your team goes through a rough patch, some are going to question some of the things the manager is doing.  That is something that goes with the territory.  When you fail to hand in the right lineup card, any concerns you might have had about the manager will become amplified.  In this week’s mailbag, there seemed to be many questions about Mickey Callaway‘s approach as a manager.  We tackle some of those questions here:

@leapie454 asks . . .

Interested in your take on managers using metrics/analytics vs gut instinct and what to do when they clash – will computer reports be the death of managerial strategic decisions?

John S. replies . . .

In the modern game, it does seem as if managers are being criticized for being less fly by the seat of their pants.  We all miss the days of seeing Lou Piniella running out hopping mad at an awful call made by an umpire.  We all smile about the genius of Casey Stengel pinch-hitting for Hank Bauer, who already had three hits on the day because Bauer had “hit his quota.”  It was part of another era of baseball which seems to have gone by the wayside.

In place, you have managers like Dave Roberts, who is seen as someone whose job it is to keep a clubhouse together while carrying out the moves seemingly dictated to him by the front office through the bullpen phone.  You also have former Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who was derided for making decisions based upon his binder instead of his gut.

If we think about it, the era of the old manager is dead for many reasons.  In many ways that is a good thing because we will no longer have situations like Dallas Green ripping through the arms of Generation K, and we won’t have another manager like Terry Collins doing all he possibly could do to cost the Mets the 2015 World Series.  As a fan, the most you can ask from your manager is they keep the team healthy, and they put the team in a position to win games.

That’s what metrics and analytics do.  They inform decisions like don’t let Seth Lugo go three times through a lineup, or make sure Noah Syndergaard pays attention to the base runners because his delivery to the plate coupled with the catchers pop times makes for an easy stolen base.

In the end, as a fan, you want the manager to put your team in position to best win a game.  That’s searching for and trying to exploit the best match-ups.  Metrics and analytics do that.

That isn’t to say gut instinct isn’t a part of that.  We saw Callaway go to his gut when he brought in Adrian Gonzalez to pinch hit against a left-handed pitcher in Miami.  That one worked.  There may have been others which have not.  In the end, a manager is going to have to go with his gut a certain percentage of the time.  He has to learn to try to rely on his instincts and somehow know when the analytics and metrics need to be disregarded.

However, in the end, a manager should at least know what the analytics and metrics say, and he better have a good reason why he’s ignoring them.

The Hammer asks . . .

I’ve been a bit puzzled by Callaway’s in-game decisions.  Besides his seemingly erratic (and unsustainable) bullpen management and not letting starting pitchers (Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom) get out of their own jams late in the game around the 100 pitch mark, his double switches have been very unorthodox, he doesn’t sub in for defense late in games when leading, and he constantly burns his starting catcher (with no No. 3 on the bench).

Is this a rookie manager learning the ropes, a guy (and bench coach) less familiar with the NL style of play, or did the Mets just make a wrong hire?

John S. replies . . .

Tackling these in reverse order, it’s fair to say Callaway is still learning the ropes here, and he’s going to spend most of his first year with the Mets doing so.  It’s quite possible that process could have been sped along had the Mets hired a bench coach with managerial experience like a Robin Ventura or Dusty Baker.  Maybe they weren’t interested in the job, but there were plenty of former managers available who would have been an enormous benefit to a manager like Callaway, who was a pitching coach with zero professional managerial experience.

Instead, the Mets front office decided to build a coaching staff with an eye towards executing their vision instead of helping their somewhat unorthodox managerial hire succeed.  That’s not to say Callaway won’t succeed.  In fact, in his first month-plus on the job, there is a lot to like with him.  That said, the Mets have made an already difficult learning curve all the more difficult.

As for Callaway’s decisions, it has seemed as if he has struggled more as he became less himself and more orthodox.

Earlier in the season, Callaway was making decisions like putting Juan Lagares in center field because deGrom is a fly ball pitcher and Michael Wacha has reverse splits.  Seemingly, this was the real Callaway.  He was a man comfortable in his position, and he had an energy and fresh take on the job.

However, once everyone got healthy, it seemed as if he became less and less interested in doing the deep dive into the numbers and more following the status quo and executing decisions seemingly every Mets manager who preceded him would have made.  Instead of exciting players like Brandon Nimmo in the lineup or finding an excuse to get Lagares’ glove in the lineup, he was filling out the lineup card the same way day-in and day-out.  Maybe this was inevitable, but it did seem as if he was moving away from a strength of his.

And maybe this is reading too much into the situation, but lately, he is a man seemingly stuck in his own head.

He set up an inning against the Phillies to have Jerry Blevins face Nick Williams, and he stuck with Paul Sewald, who was near his pitch limit and has struggled all month because he didn’t want to double switch in the event Blevins doesn’t get the out.

He’s fallen into the same trap of feeling compelled to keep a hobbled Yoenis Cespedes in the lineup rather than using it as an opportunity to get him some rest and use it as an excuse to get Nimmo and Lagares some more playing time.

He’s been going to the whip with Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo, and AJ Ramos even when the Mets are either ahead or behind a lot, instead of finding time to get Corey Oswalt into a game.  Moreover, he has become a guy who is reserving Jeurys Familia for save situations in extra innings rather than using him in higher leverage situations.

And yes, he’s keeping his superior defenders on the bench with a late lead because he’s afraid of losing his bigger bats in the event the team loses a lead.

In sum, it seems as if Callaway is stuck in his head a bit of late, and there is a certain element to his managing out of fear over what could happen instead of his attacking the game to do all he can do to make sure the Mets win.  Early on, this was an area in which he seemed to thrive.  Lately, his aggressiveness and unorthodoxy has seemed to go by the wayside.

At this point, we probably need to chalk this up to the natural growing pains of a rookie manager with no professional managerial experience who has a staff with no coaches with any Major League managerial experience.

In the end, Callaway should be fine.  He’s shown some really good things early in his tenure, and he has a great sounding board in his mentor Terry Francona, who is arguably the best manager in all of baseball.  We shouldn’t panic, and we should give Callaway some room to become the great manager he is capable of being.

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Hopefully, you enjoyed this mailbag as much as I enjoyed answering your questions. Keep the questions and comments coming and make sure to send them to AskMMO@metsmerizedonline.com

About John Sheridan 618 Articles
John was raised to be a Mets fan by birth, and now he is raising a Mets fan of his own. He also uses Sabermetrics to either confirm the proverbial eye test or to see if we're seeing things with Mets colored glasses. He looks forward to bringing this perspective to MMO. His work, including the tales of raising his son a Mets fan, can also be seen at MetsDaddy.com.