Part of the fun of baseball is supposed to be strategy: Two managers are supposed to square off against one another in a battle of the minds. If you watched the Mets game last night, instead you saw Terry Collins shadowbox with himself and lose, as his team dropped a regrettable 10-inning game to the Braves, 4-3. Oh sure, the offense didn’t do what it needed to do to win, as the Mets managed only three baserunners after Atlanta starter John Gant was removed with two out and two on in the fifth. Yet Collins took another several steps towards backing a recent ranking among sabermetricians which named him the worst manager in baseball.
Of course that ranking revealed at the SaberSeminar in August was not based on his work in the clubhouse—where statistics do not pry—but instead his face-melting on-field decisions. So let’s fast-forward to the decisive 10th inning, where Erik Goeddel started the inning instead of Hansel Robles because of a botched double-switch two innings earlier. (Don’t worry; we’ll get to that.) You may recall that Goeddel had a nice four-week run through the summer where he allowed only three hits and one run over 11 appearances; that was before Collins used him seven times in a stretch of 11 days, and he hasn’t been the same since. So the base hit-wild pitch-base hit sequence that led off the inning for the Braves wasn’t that much of a surprise at this point.
What was a bit of a surprise was leaving Goeddel to face pinch-hitter Tyler Flowers when you needed a strikeout and you have your best reliever—ostensibly to be used in the highest-leverage situation—sitting in the bullpen. You could also use an intentional walk to set up a force at any base, but you don’t if you don’t have a ton of confidence in your pitcher and want to give him some more rope in case of an inadvertent walk or beanball or something. Flowers, despite reverse splits on the season and slightly better numbers against righties for his career, did indeed strike out against Goeddel. Okay, Terry.
Then Collins brought in Josh Smoker to face lefty Ender Inciarte. There’s no way you’re going to double up the speedy Inciarte to get out of this, and Collins isn’t going to walk him because he would have left Goeddel in with a righty up next. So what’s the move? Evidently five infielders playing in and two outfielders shallow, with no one in right field. Ok, so again Inciarte has reverse splits on the season in terms of batting average and the same OBP against both lefties and righties, though he has shown normal platoon splits in his career. So why not; let’s go with this. A shallow pop-up to left later and Collins looks like maybe he should write his own ‘book’.
So what’s the next move? There is a next move, right, Terry?
You’re not really going to tempt fate a third time, with the third straight hitter you are giving a split advantage to? Not leaving in a lefty to face Adonis Garcia, who I’m sure you’ve seen enough of in his short career, who has beat the hell out of your pitching (.349 average), and in fact only has double digit RBI against your team in his career (an amazing 17 RBI in 64 ABs)? You do know the difference for him against righties and lefties is the difference between below-average and borderline all-star (.721 vs. .821 OPS)? You know you still have Jeurys Familia in the pen, no?
It’s hard to say if the game-winning base hit that Garcia sent flying into center will change anything in the mind of Collins. Two innings before, Wilmer Flores doubled with two outs and represented the go-ahead run. With a full bench thanks to roster expansion, Collins—in his own words—“forgot” to pinch-run for one of the slowest runners in the majors. Naturally the ensuing base-hit by T.J. Rivera (in against a lefty to replace the previous night’s hero, Kelly Johnson, who hits lefties as well as righties) resulted in Flores trying to score and instead getting thrown out attempting to take an extra base for the 56th consecutive time, tying Joe DiMaggio’s record.
Flores was shaken up on the play, making an ill-advised head-first slide into A.J. Pierzynski’s shin guard when the ball had him beat by 20 feet. This marked the first time when a poor strategic decision by Collins put the health of a non-pitcher in jeopardy, but x-rays after the game were negative, although Wilmer may need a little time for his neck to recover. At least we know the Mets won’t be playing with a short roster in the meantime, but anyone short of James Loney or Jay Bruce probably would have scored on that hit and likely given the Mets a win.
But in giving attention to the fallen Flores, Collins didn’t tell the umpires that he intended to double switch the incoming reliever Addison Reed for Flores until Reed was already on the field. Despite a quick 11-pitch eighth, Reed would have to be pinch-hit for in the ninth instead of allowing him to face one more righty; instead it was Robles who came in to face one hitter before Jerry Blevins relieved him to face two lefties. (If you were already thinking about double-switching the two, why didn’t you just pinch-run for Flores in the first place?)
Anyway, this is what you get as a Mets fan for being smug about the Mets scoring two first-inning runs without a hit. This is what you get for secretly feeling glad that New York had traded John Gant to Atlanta and leaving Braves fans awash in feelings of awkwardness while watching Gant’s strange wind-up again and again, which looks like a timid deer stepping over a fence to relieve itself in someone’s yard.
This is what you get for feeling confident after a Yoenis Cespedes solo blast put the Mets up 3-2 in the fifth. You probably figured Bartolo Colon is on the hill (six innings, four hits, one walk, three runs, two home runs allowed), what could go wrong? Did you not note that this was Larry Jones bobblehead night out at the stadium? Did you not realize when that this game was cursed once Gary and Keith started telling Turner Field horror stories on air, probably with the lights out in the booth and a flashlight trained below their chins? Was there no recognition, even after the mid-game countdown to Turner Field’s doom, where the number of games left in that Mets graveyard was revealed as THIRTEEN for all the tomahawk-chopping zombies to cult-ishly cheer, that all was lost?
Either way, if you have read this far, you are a true glutton for punishment / Mets fan. You can hope that Seth Lugo has recovered from the troublesome blister that bumped him from starting this game by Sunday afternoon, and try to forget that last night’s horror show knocked the Mets back out of the second Wild Card spot for the time being.
You can’t win them all, but you should at least put your team in the best position to TRY to do that. While it seems unlikely that anyone but Collins will be the manager next year—given Sandy Alderson’s patient hand and propensity for the ‘slow play’ and ownership’s positive relationship with our skipper—can we at least start a petition and/or chant for well-regarded Binghamton manager Pedro Lopez as bench coach?
Until then, meaningful September baseball awaits. LGM.
SB Nation GameThreads
Win Probability Added
Big winners: Yoenis Cespedes, +11.1% WPA; Addison Reed, +10.1% WPA
Big losers: Bartolo Colon, -22.0% WPA (-14.1% hitting, -7.9% pitching); Erik Goeddel, -19.1% WPA; Josh Smoker, -18.1% WPA; Asdrubal Cabrera, -11.3% WPA
Teh aw3s0mest play: Ender Inciarte flies out to shallow left with runners on first and third and one out in the 10th, +18.7% WPA
Teh sux0rest play: Adonis Garcia’s game-winning single in the 10th, -36.8% WPA
Total pitcher WPA: -13.6% WPA
Total batter WPA: -36.4% WPA
GWRBI!: Adonis Garcia