Terry Collins’ Mets are 43-37 as of right now, in second place in the NL East and would play the Pittsburgh Pirates in the wild-card play in game if the season ended today. (It doesn’t.) So that’s all good. Let’s give Terry Collins a report card/review of sorts:
Okay, so let’s start with the quantifiable, because therein is the easiest stuff to measure: The Mets have issued the fewest intentional walks in the National League. They have the fifth-most sacrifice hits and sixth-most sacrifice attempts. They have used more pinch-hitters than any NL team save the Brewers, and Mets’ pinch-hitters have hit for a .834 OPS. Mets batters have held the platoon advantage — that is, their left-handed hitters have faced right-handed pitchers and vice-versa — 61% of the time, a mark better than the 55% league average and the fourth-highest percentage in the NL, maybe a testament to Collins’ lineup construction and pinch-hitter management or maybe a testament to having a ton of left-handed hitters. And Mets hitters see the most pitches-per-plate-appearance in the NL.
Take as a whole, Terry Collins has adopted forward-thinking baseball strategies (e.g., the Mets emphasis on plate discipline, his eschewing intentional walks and aggressive use of pinch-hitters, etc.) while holding to tradition in only a few areas, basically standard bullpen roles and sacrifice bunts.*
*And even regarding bunts, most of Collins’ calls can be defended with advanced statistics. It seems — to me at least — that baseball fans are now too quick to complain about bunts, if that’s now possible. Not all bunts are poor plays for the offense, and the bunt has gradually become a better play over the last decade as run scoring decreases. Playing for one run has become a better strategy now that everyone isn’t on steroids. And though trading an out for a base remains a bad idea — this fact being the crux of the pro-swing movement — once the bunt is on the ground the defense still has to pick up the ball and record an out, and this bunt-for-out exchange doesn’t always happen. And then there’s a whole number of other factors that require thought with respect to the bunt: The position of the infielders, the fielding ability of the corner infielders, the ability of the hitter, the ability of the pitcher, the speed of the runners, the score, the hitter-friendliness of the park, the quality of each team’s bullpen, the inning, which team is at home, the weather, etc. Tweak one or two factors and a bad bunt becomes a good one or vice-versa. Forming an informed opinion on a bunt requires some serious neural networking; it’s more complex than just “all bunts are bad” or “all bunts are good.”
So not every bunt is a poor call by the manager, and I think this goes for Collins-issued bunts in particular. Which isn’t to say that Collins is exactly Mark Zuckerberg in the dugout or even remotely insightful with his postgame explanations re: the bunts. But he’s not dumb either and I think there’s a little more going on than meets the eye.
The other knock is that Collins has positioned his infielders conservatively, whereas aggressive shifting is a strategy that may help the Mets’ poor defense. The Mets have used a handful of big shifts against some pull-heavy hitters — notably against Jose Bautista and less notably against poor Brian Schneider — but tend to play straight-up on the infield. Though there really isn’t a shift that hides Lucas Duda and Daniel Murphy, so who knows if they miss anything.
The bullpen management may be a knock, but it’s difficult to separate Collins’ management from the bullpen’s own performance.
But from a playing-the-percentages perspective, Collins generally aligns himself with new-school approaches, or is at least open to them. He’s not quite Joe Maddon, but he’s closer than it might seem.
On to the unquantifiable.
– This section will be less coherent.
– I’ll note here that despite sometimes lackluster performances, Willie Harris and Jason Isringhausen played an entire season with the Mets in 2011 without being DFA’d, and Mike Nickeas and Justin Turner have done the same this season. These four all being players whose on-field performances could be replaced and maybe upgraded – maybe — without real effort, yet the players themselves somehow stick around for the entire season. The common thread weaving these four together being that each seemed or seems to be particularly well-liked by his teammates — Harris and Turner have served as the unofficial deans of the whipped-cream pie, whereas Nickeas and Isringhausen both acted as player/coaches of sorts. The Alderson-Collins Mets do appear to place some value on good clubhouse guys.
If we pretend this is fantasy baseball, the Mets could probably pick up an extra win via upgrades for Nickeas and Turner — not a guarantee, but it’s possible. But Nickeas and Turner remain on the roster, seemingly without jeopardy. So I’ll put forth that there may be actual win-loss column value in their presence. Either because they’re fun guys to work with, or because creating a sense of job security for the Mets’ young players and allowing them to develop and work through slumps without fear of banishment, as Ike Davis did this year and Lucas Duda did last season, has value. And if a team’s going to take chemistry over performance, those bets are best made with bench players and middle relievers. So the Mets are making those bets in the right places.
How much these roster decisions have to do with Collins, I don’t know. It seems as though the Mets are happy and like each other, though every winning team might appear that way simply because they’re winning.
– Also of note: TC doesn’t let guys rot on the bench. Everyone plays, be it Jordany Valdespin, who saw eight starts and steady pinch-hit appearances across his two months in the Majors, or Scott Hairston getting semi-regular work against lefties.
– Speaking or writing of Valdespin: He, who had discipline problems in the minors, was sprinting to second base on popups at the major league level. R.A. Dickey beaned Dee Gordon after the Dodgers hit Ruben Tejeda, and I can’t remember the Mets’ previous retaliatory beaning.* Collins likes his players — he’s shed tears multiple times during press conferences — and his players seem to like and respect him and abide by typical baseball rules for him.
*Not that I support beanball wars, which are both barbarian and profoundly unfair for innocent bystanders like Gordon, who got a nice welt and bruise because either A. his teammate is a jerk or B. Ruben Tejada did something to tick off the Dodgers. Either way, Gordon’s only crime is playing the same position as Tejada and wearing Dodgers blue. Beanball wars are basically Hatfield-McCoy/Capulet-Montague/T-Birds-Scorpions type gang violence.
– Collins did throw D.J. Carrasco under the bus — or at least didn’t stick up for him — after the David Wright/Brewers incident. That’s all I’ve got for TC not supporting a player.
And that’s all I’ve got. Those are my mid-season notes on Terry Collins.