With new general manager Brodie Van Wagenen getting all the media spot light so far with his positive demeanor, creative personnel moves and bold claims of turning the New York Mets into an instant contender; I wanted take a look back and see what this team was up to last off season -as the Metropolitans were gearing up for the 2018 year.
Around Thanksgiving of last year, the big story surrounding this team after a disappointing 2017 was the new hire of former Cleveland Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway to replace Terry Collins as the Mets new manager. Callaway came in preaching a sort of new age style to managing by emphasizing open communication, transparency and a lot of accountability from both himself, his coaching staff and his players. In fact, he went as far writing a 7,000 word manifesto during his hiring interview, outlining his managerial vision and coaching beliefs with which he wanted to manage this Mets team with. (Talk about “out there”….)
But what about this off season?
So far, not as much spotlight or scrutiny has been placed upon the Mets skipper and his role in 2019. But he will, no doubt, be playing an integral part in getting this new look Mets team try and “gel” together to play a cohesive and (hopefully) winning brand of baseball.
What Can We Expect?
Well last year was one that was almost too good to be true, as the Mets started out 11-1 and every move Mickey Callaway made essentially helped the team get early season wins. Turned out it really was too good to be true, as this team went an abysmal 27-54 from May 1 to August 3rd and were pretty much done for the season by then.
As early as the first week of May, Callaway’s lack of experience as a managerial tactician started rearing it’s ugly head with moves like warming up pitchers in his bullpen who never ended up being used in games (sorry Jerry Blevins), bringing in relief pitchers before the opposing team could announce what pinch hitters they would be bringing into the game (thus tipping his hand early) and by batting out of order in the first inning of a game against Cincinatti (where the Mets would have scored and won the game had the right line up card been given to the home plate umpire before the start of the game! )
To make matters worse, players like Matt Harvey, Jason Vargas, Kevin Plawecki and Amed Rosario were not carrying their weight in production early on. Injuries to key players like Todd Frazier and Jacob deGrom were also piling up. Even more troublesome, the bullpen turned out to be wearing thin towards the end of the year as Lugo, Gsellman and Sewald were all over used earlier in the season and became less effective during their outings in August and September.
Despite all these set backs and the harsh media criticism Mickey faced as a result, he did stand fast to his beliefs – maintaining a poise and taking accountability when it was rightfully called upon him to do so. Right after the May 9th game against Cincinnati, where he cost his team the win due to the mixed line up card debacle, he immediately addressed his team and let them know that their 2-1 loss fell squarely on his shoulders.
“I called them in after the game and told them I messed up big time and we need to do a better job moving forward. I took ownership of what happened and I wanted them to hear that from me, not through media.“
– Mickey Callaway post game press conference – May 9, 2018; (Courtesy of ESPN)
Callaway’s mild mannered humility and even-keeled openness about him seems to be what the Mets ownership and front office admire most about him. To his credit, for every major mistake he had made (as far as in game decisions or team management went) he had shown an aptitude to not repeat that same mistake a second time. I think the Mets front office saw that as a sign of growth and improvement and will only see him becoming a more effective manager in 2019 as a result.
Callaway also showed that his strength in working with the starting pitching staff to get maximum results from them without doing much damage to their arm was successful in 2018. He and pitching coach Dave Eiland knew exactly when to pull back with deGrom when he suffered an elbow set back early in May and how to ease him back in when he was ready return. That went a long way into Jacob taking off towards his Cy Young run later on. Both Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler also put up impressive numbers as starters, while the oft-injured Steven Matz pitched the most innings he ever had in a season as a major league starter.
The key to Mickey being an effective manager this season will be his ability to bond with the new players that the Mets brought in. He and his coaching staff will have to be more “hands on” in assessing what he has to work with with these new players and then encourage and advise them as to what they need to do to get the most out of their skill sets. I believe Callaway’s own social skill set as a “player’s coach” will allow him to do so as he continues to establish trust with all his players -both new and returning.
But, in the end, if Callaway is to truly excel as a manager he has also got to clean up his in game managing. Questionable pitching changes, pinch hitting moves and bullpen management situations will have to be dealt with and improved upon. I believe adding a knowledgeable bench coach in Jim Riggleman should help with correcting a majority of these issues. But ultimately, Mickey is gonna have to keep in contact with upper management and the analytics department to let them keep him informed of what they really expect him to accomplish on a daily basis. I think the more familiarity with what they expect, the better he will do in executing it for them.
I only hope that whatever the plan of attack is from the top brass that is relayed to him turns out to be the right one to get this team an opportunity to make the postseason…..