Since he took over as Mets manager in 2018, Mickey Callaway has never been mistaken for a shrewd tactician. The egregious mistakes started piling up early in his tenure, and they haven’t gone away. While many of his tactical mishaps last year could be waved off as a rookie manager learning the ropes, Callaway has simply has not gotten much better during his time as manager. And now that the Mets are playing meaningful games, the poor decisions are now legitimately costing the team.
Just in the past few days, we’ve seen Callaway handle certain situations like a manager who has clearly never managed a big game. On Saturday, in the seventh inning of a tie game, Callaway had Amed Rosario, one of the hottest hitters in the National League over the last two months, try to bunt Jeff McNeil over from second to third with no outs. Bunting with Rosario after the last two months is bad enough, but McNeil was already in scoring position, so there was very little added value in bunting him over. On top of that, Rosario has never been a good bunter anyway, so expecting him to get one down there was foolish. And Callaway was trying to play for one run in the seventh inning with a shaky bullpen, which is something he should know by now that he shouldn’t do (the Braves would wind up winning by four).
Rosario predictably didn’t get the bunt down, was forced into an 0-2 count because of it, and grounded out to shortstop. McNeil was thrown out trying to get to third base.
That wasn’t it for Callaway in that inning, though. With Rosario at first and one out, Callaway tried to hit and run with Joe Panik at the plate, needlessly pushing the envelope with Pete Alonso due up next. While one would usually expect Panik to make contact most of the time, it’s still a bad play. Panik swung and missed and Rosario was thrown out. Panik grounded out, and Alonso didn’t bat in the inning.
That wasn’t the first time we had seen something like that, either. Callaway has been bunting with position players and calling hit-and-runs quite a bit over the last few weeks, with limited success. The Mets are tied for the ninth-worst stolen base percentage in baseball this year, and they are tied for the fourth-most outs made at third base. There is a reason teams don’t really play like this anymore.
Callaway’s tactical errors go beyond just offensive strategy, as well. We’ve seen questionable-at-best bullpen and starting pitcher management with the last several managers the Mets have brought in, and Callaway is no different. The big gaffes like pulling Steven Matz at 79 pitches to get to his unreliable bullpen an inning earlier than he needed to are the ones that get magnified, but it goes deeper than that. Matchups are not optimized, and relievers aren’t played to their strengths.
Brad Brach and Luis Avilan illustrate this perfectly. Brach has allowed a .475 wOBA to left-handed batters this year and a .269 wOBA against right-handers. This is clearly someone who should be shielded from lefties at all costs. Since joining the Mets on August 11, Brach has faced 11 left-handed batters to 16 right-handed batters. The right-handers are hitting .200 off of him; the lefties .400. Conversely, Avilan, who has made a career out of being a LOOGY, has faced 15 right-handed batters and only 10 left-handed ones in that same time frame. The right-handers are 6-for-15 against him; the lefties are 0-for-10. This is a fantastic way to ensure the worst possible outcomes for your relievers.
Bullpen management is always a tricky thing and is the easiest thing to second-guess, but Callaway has made some errors in spots where there simply should not be errors. For example, after the Mets exploded for a six-run seventh inning in Kansas City last Sunday, the game was well in hand, but Callaway chose to send Jeurys Familia out for a second inning anyway. Familia has never been good at sitting down and going back out again, and he had just sat idly for nearly 30 minutes. Having a five-run lead over one of the worst teams in the game is not the time to start pushing your important relievers. Familia gave up a run in that second inning of work.
That is in direct contrast to how he managed last night: a huge, must-win game against a good team, and Callaway chose to take his foot off the gas pedal. With the Mets down three in the eighth and desperately needing to keep it close, Callaway opted to go with Chris Mazza in relief against the heart of the Cubs’ order. The end result didn’t wind up mattering much, but going all-in on the Royals while waving the white flag against the Cubs isn’t much of a plan.
With the Mets currently in the midst of the most important stretch of games they’ve played in years, Callaway cannot keep managing the team this way if they want to stay in the race. The team has already put itself behind the eight-ball by being terrible for the first half of the year; they now need any kind of leverage they can gain over their competitors for the last five weeks of the season. These little things matter now more than ever, so having a manager who willfully ignores useful information 85 percent of the time is going to actively hurt their chances.