Hypothetical scenario: Imagine you’re at a restaurant. You order, let’s say, spaghetti with meatballs and a side salad. When the food comes, your waiter instead presents you with a hamburger. Well, no, that’s not right, and you point out the mistake. The waiter apologizes, and then returns moments later with just spaghetti; no meatballs, no salad. No, still not right, and you point out the mistake again. The waiter returns, but again forgets to bring the salad. Almost there, but not quite, so you once again point out the error. The waiter returns, and on the fourth try brings the entire correct order. Finally.
So now, the hypothetical question: What are you going to tip? Are you going to tip the waiter the same amount you would had he brought the order correctly the first attempt? Are you going to tip him more because he corrected his earlier mistakes?
This is a really easy one, right? I suspect a great deal of people would not give a generous tip in this situation, and I don’t think anyone would tip more than they normally would. I would guess that a majority of people would probably just tip less. The waiter came up with the right combination eventually, but only after a few trials and errors. A waiter really does his job well if he prevents the mistakes from occurring. He probably shouldn’t get extra credit for correcting mistakes he himself created. I think most everyone can agree on that.
This is why I don’t understand why people are congratulating the Mets for correcting mistakes made during their initial roster construction — and by “people,” I really just mean “me, two months ago, when they designated Mike Jacobs for assignment.” It’s like watching someone drive their car into a lake, seeing them notice that they have, in fact, driven their car into a lake, and only then do they stop driving any farther into the lake. Then you pat them on the back and exclaim, “Good job! You stopped driving any farther into the lake!” The Mets are fixing mistakes, but they’re fixing mistakes that they made.
Now, every team is likely to make one or two “d’ohs” on the Opening Day roster, but the Mets seem to have made more than their fair share. The Mets made at least six (John Maine, Oliver Perez, Frank Catalanotto, Mike Jacobs, Gary Matthews Jr., and Jenrry Mejia), and possibly a few more if you want to count “not having a bullpen” as an ongoing mistake. They have moved ahead and fixed most of these wrongs, and as the season has progressed, the Mets have continued to improve their roster via subtraction. One one hand, that’s a good thing. Unfortunately, this is also generally a sign that someone calling the shots is wearing a pair of Bad Idea Jeans — something is wrong with the organizational philosophy when Plan B keeps succeeding where Plan A fails. The Mets are fixing mistakes, but they’re not fixing the cause of their mistakes.
Take, for example, the recent demotion of Jenrry Mejia. The Mets sent Mejia down because his ability to throw strikes (15 walks against 17 strikeouts) was not consistent enough for him to lock down the eighth inning role as they (or just Jerry Manuel) envisioned. That’s the thing: I don’t think the Mets suddenly came to a general agreement that sticking a 20-year-old minor league starter in the major league bullpen to begin the season was a bad idea — even though, best I can tell, it’s only happened one other time in the modern bullpen era of the past 30 years (Brent Knackert for the Mariners in 1990). The Mets sent Mejia down because he wasn’t very good, not because they decided having him up wasn’t a very good idea. There is a world of difference between the two. One is seeing the problem with the results; the other is seeing the problem with the process. One is just backing out of the lake; the other one is figuring out why you drove into the lake to begin with.
Similarly, the Mets didn’t cut Gary Matthews Jr. because they realized their reasoning behind trading for him was flawed; they cut him because he hit .190. Same for Mike Jacobs, same Oliver Perez. They didn’t see the flawed processes, just the flawed results.
It seems to me that the Mets problem is a lack of faith. A running joke is that certain GMs, notably Omar Minaya and Dayton Moore, repeatedly acquire players from their former organizations — Sam Page at Amazin’ Avenue mentioned this recently. I suspect what this reflects is that plenty of teams still haven’t embraced ideas like (1) baseball players actually peak and decline earlier than previously thought and (2) minor leagues statistics are the best predictors of major league success. Instead, teams stick to their personal experience — which, in a way, makes plenty of sense. Most of us trust what we already know and like to stick to our comfort zones. But maybe that’s not always the best plan, particularly for baseball teams. Many of the decisions the Mets made in spring training — “known” veterans over “unknown” youngsters and career minor leaguers — seems to reflect this thinking. Maine over Dickey, Perez over Takahashi, Jacobs over Davis, and Catalanotto over Carter. They didn’t have faith in things they hadn’t seen for themselves. And to channel my inner Darth Vader, I find their lack of faith disturbing.
On the other hand . . . the Mets currently have the third best record in the National League. So it’s not that big of a problem, or at the very least, it’s less of a problem this year than in years past. The Mets brought in better options this season; they didn’t use them immediately, but they did bring them into the organization. That’s an improvement of sorts. R.A. Dickey, Hisanori Takahashi, and Chris Carter didn’t just come out of nowhere. The Mets brought them in as depth, and that’s a good thing.
Still, it’s as if instead of ordering just the bad items on the menu as they did in the past — I apologize for so many restaurant metaphors — the Mets have moved on to ordering ALL of the items on the menu, but still insist on trying out all the bad ones first. At least the good ones were on the table this time around.
But the Mets are going to keep choosing bad stuff first, until they figure out a better way to separate what’s going to be good from what’s going to be bad, preferably in advance. I don’t know what the answer is. I do know when a majority of bloggers and writers say, “No, what you’re doing with Jacobs/Matthews/Maine/Perez/Mejia is a bad idea,” and they ALL turn out to be bad ideas, maybe it’s time to rethink things. Maybe it’s time to check and make sure no one is wearing Bad Idea Jeans.
Still, the Mets have the third-best record in the NL — I know, right? How’d that happen? — so maybe I should put away the hater-ade and just enjoy it.
Jenrry Mejia photo via (slgckgc).