The Mets Managerial Index

So this post began life awhile ago — I wanted to evaluate Terry Collins’ first season as manager of the Mets in a more objective manner, and I decided I wanted to do so by comparing Collins with other managers of the Mets.

Anyway, fast forward to now, and I still can’t make much of a case either way about whether Terry Collins managed the Mets well or not. I don’t know enough about managers and what goes on behind the scenes. So that totally failed. But I did learn a whole bunch of things about the tendencies of all the Mets’ managers, so I’ll share those nuggets here. Who bunted a lot, who didn’t, who used pinch hitters, who didn’t, all those sorts of things — and we’ll check out where Terry Collins falls in each category. Here’s what I’ve learned about the Mets’ managers:

The Big Winner:
Davey Johnson – .588% winning percentage

Davey Johnson has managed 13 full major league seasons (and two partial-seasons). In those 13 seasons, just one of Johnson’s team finished in third place, the 1999 Dodgers; every other team he’s managed for a full season finished in first or second place. Is Johnson severely underrated as a manager? Serious question. I have no idea.

Sometimes It’s the Players:
Casey Stengel – .302% winning percentage

It’s worth noting that Casey Stengel’s Mets teams weren’t just bad at any one thing; they were bad at just about everything. They finished ninth (out of ten teams) in runs scored every season, and they finished last in Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) every season. His 1962-64 Mets also didn’t field well, didn’t hit for power, and were generally the slowest team in the National League. They were terrible in every way conceivable way.

Random Lineup Generator:
Jeff Torborg – 145 lineups per season

In 1992, his only full season as Mets manager, Torborg used 145 different lineups. (145 different lineups does not include the pitcher. If you include the pitcher, he used 157 lineups.) The closest thing to a regular lineup was this batting order, which Torborg used six times over nine days at the end of May and beginning of June:

LF – Vince Coleman
2B – Willie Randolph
CF – Howard Johnson
1B – Eddie Murray
RF – Bobby Bonilla
3B – Dave Magadan
SS – Dick Shofield
C – Todd Hundley

Howard Johnson in center field. Howard Johnson! That group went 2-4, and Torborg otherwise failed to repeat any other lineup more than once. Over the season, 12 different Mets players hit leadoff, 14 hit third, 14 hit fifth, and 16 hit seventh. Everyone hit everywhere without a discernible pattern.

The Mets’ first two managers, Casey Stengel (137 lineups per season) and Wes Westrum (141 lineups per season), also refused to settle on regular lineups.

Asleep at the Wheel:
Davey Johnson – 90 lineups per season

Johnson used just 66 lineups in 1987, by far the fewest number of lineups used by the Mets in a full season. Good health aided Johnson’s squad: Eight Mets played at least 120 games, and Wally Backman and Tim Teuful both played at least 90 games splitting time at second.

Terry Collins used 121 lineups last season, an average number compared to the other managers of the Mets.

Willing to Sacrifice
Dallas Green – 24% more sacrifice bunt attempts than the league average

Green suddenly and inexplicably caught a severe case of bunt-itis in his second full season with the Mets. He called for 71 sacrifices in a strike-shortened 1994 season — his first full season as manager and second overall — a normal number of bunts in a year when National League teams averaged 73 sacrifices. And then . . . something happened during the strike, because Green ordered 131 sacrifice bunts in 1995, a league leading total and 39 more than the NL average. I have no idea why Green bunted so often that season. The Mets were an average offensive team, and they were a slow team poorly suited for playing small ball. They just bunted a lot.

True SABR:
Casey Stengel – 23% fewer attempts than the league average

I would not have guessed that Casey Stengel is the most SABR-friendly manager in Mets history, but it’s him and it’s not really close. Stengel eschewed bunts and intentional walks, was aggressive with his pinch hitters, and neutral with the bullpen. It’s a scary to imagine how the 1962 Mets might have finished in other hands.

Terry Collins called for 90 bunts last season, against the NL average of 97 bunt attempts, placing him in the relatively bunt-unfriendly section of Mets managers.

Biggest Chicken:
Art Howe – 36% more intentional walks than the NL average

Shocker. Howe’s 2003 Mets led the National League in intentional walks – Howe ordered intentional walks for a mind-blowing 28% of the batters that faced the Mets with runners on second and third that season. He also had Mike Stanton intentionally walk Richie Sexson with the bases empty in the eighth inning of a tied game. Again: Art Howe once intentionally walked Richie Sexson with no one on base in a tied game.

Casey Stengel — 48% fewer free passes than the NL average

Casey Stengel’s Mets finished last or second-to-last in intentional walks in all three of his full seasons at the helm. Stengel called for 52% of the free passes his contemporaries called for. Though he may have figured, with the talent available to him, it really didn’t matter all that much what he did.

Terry Collins called for 48 intentional walks last season; the NL average was 48 intentional walks.

Everyone Gets to Hit!
Casey Stengel – 34% more pinch hitters than the NL average

The Stengel/Westrum Mets of 1965 used 328 pinch hitters, more than any other Mets team. I would have guessed, based on the rise of the modern bullpen and a drop in complete games, that teams used far more pinch hitters today than thirty years ago, but that’s not the case. National League teams average about 220-230 pinch hitting appearances a year, and, except for a dip in the late 60s and early 70s, that number has held steady for decades.

What? What Game?
Davey Johnson – 14% fewer pinch hitters

Johnson had a lot of buttons, but he didn’t press them all that often.

Terry Collins was aggressive with pinch hitters last season: The Mets used 267 pinch hitters, the most in the league, and 17% more than the NL average.

Wearing a Path
Joe Torre – 12% more pitching changes than average

Bobby Valentine has made more trips to the mound than any other Mets manager, but Valentine managed during the modern bullpen era and actually made slightly fewer pitching changes than his contemporaries. Relative to the other managers of his time, it’s Joe Torre who wore a path to the mound faster than any other Mets manager.

You know the argument that managers don’t matter because Torre’s Mets were terrible and his Yankees were great? I think that argument is stupid. Joe Torre probably was terrible as manager of the Mets and much better with the Yankees.

He’s Got a Few Left in Him
Joe Frazier – 30% fewer pitching changes

Here’s something I didn’t know: The 1976 Mets, a team that lead the National League in ERA, strikeouts and shutouts, used just 13 pitchers the entire season. Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Jon Matlack each had an extraordinary season, and gobbled up 780 innings between the three of them. The rotation was so strong that Joe Frazier basically got away with a two man bullpen of Skip Lockwood and Bob Apodaca for the entire year. The Mets’ five starters and those two relievers accounted for 89% of the team’s innings in 1976.

Terry Collins has made 6% more pitching changes than the NL average so far, the third-highest mark for a Mets manager.

Davey Johnson, +14 wins pythag

The 1984 Mets scored 652 runs and allowed 676 runs, scoring 24 fewer runs than they allowed. Most teams with a negative-24 run difference win around 78 games. Johnson’s squad outperformed that by 12 games, winning 90, the largest such over-achievement in Mets history.

Bobby Valentine’s teams finished with 13 more wins than their run differential suggests, while Yogi Berra’s teams finished with nine more wins than expected.

Joe Torre, Casey Stengel – minus-15 wins

No surprises here, right? Bad teams that played even worse.

Terry Collins’ 2011 Mets underachieved by two games.

They’re Here to See Me
Jerry Manuel – 112 Doing Stuff Index

The doing stuff index is the composite of bunts, intentional walks, pitching changes and pinch hitters compared to the league average. A score of 100 is average, 125 is 25% more than average, 75 is 25% less than the average. Jerry Manuel comes in at 112, and was the most active manager in Mets history, making 12% more moves than an average manager. He called for 18% more bunts than the league average, 19% more intentional walks, 11% more pinch hitters and made 2% more pitching changes.

Joe Torre (111) and Art Howe (109) are the second and third most-active managers in Mets history, although before we jump to conclusions, Bobby Valentine (106) is fifth.

Eh, I’ll Do It Later
Davey Johnson – 82 Doing Stuff Index

Far and away the least-active strategist the Mets have ever had. Johnson didn’t issue intentional walks, didn’t change pitchers, didn’t send up pinch hitters, and didn’t change his lineup. Maybe the best managers really do just get out of the way?

Bud Harrelson (88) is the second-least active manager, George Bamberger (91) is third. Both Gil Hodges (102) and Terry Collins (104) fall right in the middle.

Favors Mashers:
Terry Collins

Terry Collins has thus far shown a preference for hitters over glove men, though this may be less by choice than necessity. His 2011 Mets finished sixth in runs and 13th in park-adjusted defensive efficiency, the largest gap between offensive and defensive performance for a Mets manager. Seeing that the Mets are looking at Daniel Murphy at second base, Josh Thole behind the plate, and a Lucas Duda-Jason Bay outfield in 2012, this may not change any time soon. Terry Collins will remain the most-extreme “sacrifice fielding for hitting” manager in Mets history.

Favors Fielders:
Gil Hodges

Hodges’ Mets team falls on the opposite end of the spectrum, his teams being a slick-fielding, light-hitting bunch. Hodges team’s finished first, first, second and third in park-adjusted defensive efficiency, while finishing tenth (of twelve), ninth, ninth and eighth in run scoring. Jerry Grote and Bud Harrelson, light-hitting but solid defensive players, are fairly representative of the players Hodges seemed to favor.

Hodges called for a decent number of bunts and intentional walks, and gave up offense for fielding in his lineup. If he managed the Mets today, we would relentlessly mock him on Twitter.

Is Terry Collins Any Good?

Here’s my attempt to evaluate Terry Collins’ style as a strategist: Slightly SABR-friendly in terms of intentional walks and bunts, and aggressive with pinch hitters and relievers. His position players have been disciplined, but fielded poorly and not hit for power. He gets his batters into the lineup, even if he has to play them slightly out of position. His pitching staff, mostly contact-oriented groundball pitchers, has struggled. Collins is most similar to Bobby Valentine and Jeff Torborg in terms of strategy, and similar to Gil Hodges and Dallas Green in overall activity-level.

And that’s what I learned about Mets managers.


Filed under Columns, Mets, Words

6 responses to “The Mets Managerial Index

  1. I know I can’t be the only Mets fan who felt that Collins bunted way, way too often last year. But there he is, at league average. Boy, managers are weird.

    • Patrick Flood

      It seemed like he bunted a lot, right? But he really didn’t — maybe it was just that the bunts he ordered tended to become particularly painful?

      • Also, it feels like he bunted like a madman the last two months of the season (and his decision making on when to bunt got progressively worse).

  2. P.s. this is awesome reading Patrick, thank you for the thorough research!

  3. Sound and fury, signifying nothing. Hodges favored Grote and Harrison, for instance, because they were better than anyone else on the team at those positions (Do you want to claim Al Weis and J.C. Martin were better hitters?).

    A manager forms his strategy based upon the available players. Collins goes with hitters over defense because the team had an overload of good hitters and mediocre fielders.

  4. “Is Johnson severely underrated as a manager?” — I believe so. He’s my favorite Mets’ manager, with Gil Hodges a clear second. Beyond those two it all gets kind of hazy, but I did like Yogi Berra, who I also thought was underrated, even while with the Yankees.

    This was a great report. I especially appreciate that you brought in Casey Stengal’s pythag. I remember reading that if the ’62 Mets had played to their pythag (and played a full season) they’d’ve finished 50-112. While a fifty win team still both sucks AND blows, it isn’t historically bad.… and in the end, maybe it’s a good thing that los original Mets were both bad and unlucky. I shudder to think what our self-concept would be without that forty win season to start us off.

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