Fixing Mistakes

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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).

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12 Comments

Filed under Columns, Mets, Words

12 responses to “Fixing Mistakes

  1. Brian Clarke

    >Well, the Mets had no choice but to start Perez in the rotation this season, right or wrong, that's just economics, you don't sit your 12 million a year starter in favor of a million dollar a year starter. Takahashi was great in the bullpen and Dickey didn't show enough in Spring Training to warrant making the starting rotation. The organization pulled Maine and Perez as soon as was feasible given both their contracts and their history with the organization. Matthews was acquired as back-up for Pagan, who has been both oft-injured and inconsistent in his career. Once Pagan proved himself as a capable everyday player, Matthews was jettisoned. Mejia could have just as easily proved to be a capable 8th inning man, it just didn't work out. Hindsight's 20/20. No argument from me on Cattalanato, he never should have made the team over Carter. I could see why the Mets wouldn't want to hand Davis the 1B job right out of Spring Training too, Jacobs had proven major league power, and the Mets needed a clean-up hitter. No one could have predicted that Davis would play as well as he has (or that Jacobs would play that poorly). Bottom line, your article makes sense to a degree, but what organization guesses right 100% of the time, all the time. Look at the Yankees with the Nick Johnson signing and trading for Javy Vasquez. I'm not going to beat the Mets up over this, they have corrected their mistakes, which is all you can ask.

  2. Anonymous

    >What is happening this year is not unprecedented in Met history. In 1984 the opening day roster included 3 veteran pitchers.Mike Torrez , Craig Swan and Dick Tidrow.Swan and Tidrow were gone by early May and Torrez by early June. The 84 team was the beginning of a great part of Met history. Maybe something similar is happening right now.

  3. gbaked

    >BC – many problems with your comment"you don't sit your 12 million a year starter in favor of a million dollar a year starter."Yes you do. You put in the best player. OP has shown no signs of being a good player for a long time. "Matthews was acquired as back-up for Pagan, who has been both oft-injured and inconsistent in his career."But GMJ has been really really really bad. Reverse what you said: "Pagan was given the starting job out of ST because Matthews has been an extremely bad player contributing negative value for a long time. "Mejia could have just as easily proved to be a capable 8th inning man, it just didn't work out."That wasnt the issue anyone had. I think most are surprised he didnt pitch that well. The issue was that he should have been in the minors, learning to be a starter because a starter is soooo much more valuable to a team then a bullpen arm. Its not even close. "Jacobs had proven major league power, and the Mets needed a clean-up hitter."No he wasnt. he was a proven failure of a Major Leaguer. A guy who can occasionally hit a home run, but cant do anything else on the field. "No one could have predicted that Davis would play as well as he has (or that Jacobs would play that poorly)."Yes… many many people predicted that Jacobs would play that poorly.

  4. Patrick Flood

    >@ Brian ClarkeYou're absolutely right when you say "no organization is going to guess right 100% of the time." Other than that, I have to (respectfully) disagree with you on just about every point.There were plenty of people who said — since spring training — that Jacobs was a bad idea (because he hit .228/.297/.401 last season), that Gary Matthews Jr. was a bad idea for similar reasons. I argued both those points then, and I particularly have to disagree with you when you say "no one could have predicted Jacobs would have played so poorly." The .208/.296/.375 he put up with the Mets in 2010 is almost identical to what he did in 2009. I don't see that as something that would be unpredictable, or even difficult to predict.As for starting Oliver Perez over Dickey — if one pitcher is out-performing another, shouldn't the better one play? You're going to shell out 13 million to both regardless of who pitches where. Shouldn't you go with the pitcher that will win your team the most games? I believe that's better economics than blindly starting the more expensive one.My overall point is, yes, no one can guess correctly all the time — but it's NOT a guessing game, or it doesn't have to be one. There are all kinds of projection systems, statistics, and knowledge about how players age that bloggers and writers used in spring training to say, "no, what you're doing is wrong." If you guess wrong, that's one thing; if you're guessing when you don't have to, that's another thing entirely.

  5. Douglas Lee

    >Brian, how is this about hindsight when the gist of the story is that so many of us knew these decisions were mistakes the moment they were made?

  6. Curtis

    >I've been surprised by the dinging Catalanotto has taken in the blogosphere in the past few days. The places I read, at the end of spring training the feeling was, 'They're going to keep two out of three; let it be Catalanotto and Carter.' When it turned out to be Catalanotto and Jacobs the response was, 'At least we got Catalanotto, so it's not all bad.' Now suddenly Catalanotto was a mistake? THAT'S hindsight.And there was a respectable minority of bloggers and commentators who thought Meijia as a reliever this year was better than Meijia as a starter next year, so that wasn't a completely cut-and-dried issue, either.The other four really were mistakes that only the Mets' management couldn't see coming.

  7. Patrick Flood

    >@ CurtisThinking about it more — I think you're dead on about Tony Catts.Catalanotto put up a .770 OPS against RHP last season. It's really his only skill, but it seemed to have decline much quicker than anyone would have expected. You're right, that's probably hindsight talking there. I can't bash them for that.Still, I have to disagree with you about Mejia. The argument never seemed to me to be about whether or not Mejia would be a good reliever — he looked SO good in spring training, I don't think anyone thought otherwise. It seemed to me more about whether or not it was in the best interest of the team (and Mejia) to stick him in the bullpen now, because it would hinder his development, his secondary pitches, put unnecessary strain on his arm without "Joba Rules" placed on him, ect. I can't imagine that pitching on three consecutive days at his age is a good thing.That Mejia happened to be only okay-to-not-so-great as a reliever I think came as a surprise to most. That's the only reason he's gone now.Obviously, there is going to be a minority on just about every issue (except for something like if Francisco Cervelli is annoying). Not everyone was against Mejia in the bullpen, but a majority of people were.

  8. andeej

    >I have a question, though.Suppose your hypothetical waiter first brought you spaghetti with no meatballs, then took it back, and then brought you meatballs with no spaghetti, then took it back…and then brought you a lobster (or substitute any other expensive dish you prefer over lobster), and told you that if you like lobster, you might as well eat it, because they made one too many?I don't know about you, but I'd be tickled pink.

  9. andeej

    >(At no extra charge, that is.)

  10. Patrick Flood

    >@AndeejInteresting scenario. The only problem is . . . I'm not a fan of sea food. I would not be tickled quite so pink.If we turn the spaghetti into steak, then that's an entirely different conversation.

  11. Curtis

    >"Still, I have to disagree with you about Mejia. The argument never seemed to me to be about whether or not Mejia would be a good reliever…. It seemed to me more about whether or not it was in the best interest of the team (and Mejia) to stick him in the bullpen now…"The blogs/commentary I was reading (mostly over at the Daily News site) appeared mostly to be arguing whether it was better to win this year and 'ruin' the pitcher (a la your example of Joba) or call this a rebuilding year and develop Mejia for next season — maybe late next season. I was surprised by the number of posters who wrote that as long as 'we' won it didn't matter whether Jennry ever played another inning. Those are the some of the same posters whose primary support for the notion of sending him down in June came from believing he could be stretched out in a month and be a full-time major league starter by the All Star break.It's things like this that make me glad I don't live in the city; I'd get in too many fights.

  12. I love how my name pops up so often. It cracks me up…

    Brent Knackert

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