Hire Wally Backman! He tries to win!

13 Comments

Interesting conversation in the comment thread to yesterday’s post about how much impact a manager has on team performance.  In response to a commenter who asked if I thought managers had absolutely no affect, I said, no, I thought that managers are ultimately limited on the top end by the talent on their team, but that they can do harm by not using their resources optimally, pursuing short-sighted, one-run strategies when they’re not called for and by creating dissension in the clubhouse.  All of this, mind you, was set against the backdrop of the Wally Backman situation, so I was not terribly surprised when I received this comment in response:

I hope all the other candidates lead with “My view of it is that while managers can’t really help too much on the top end, they can certainly do harm” That should seal the deal for Wally, he simply tries to win and does.

Which pretty much encapsulates the Backman lobby.  “Hire Wally because he’s a winner!” they cry.  To which I respond:  name me one manager who doesn’t “try to win.”  They all try to win. If you ask them what their job is, they’ll say that they try to win. Yet, somehow — amazingly! — there are still bad and unsuccessful managers out there.

Which means that the measure of a managerial candidate, in my view, isn’t solely how badly he wants to win. It’s about whether he’s aware of what a manager can and can’t control in doing so.  A guy who is aware of his limitations and his team’s limitations — and strengths, of course — and who doesn’t assume he can win by force of will.  The only guy I can even think of who came close to simply willing his team to victory, talent limitations be damned — was Billy Martin. And he wore out his welcome everywhere he went due to being a near-psychopath, by burning out pitchers’ arms and by alienating the players on his team that he needed to help him win over the long term.

None of which, I must add, I can say describes Wally Backman.  I have no reason to believe that he thinks he can rah-rah his way to the World Series.  Indeed, my guess is that Sandy Alderson wouldn’t have given him a second interview if he gave off such an impression.  For all I know, Wally Backman is the most centered, thoughtful managerial candidate in the slate the Mets are considering, and would be, if hired, a revelation.  I haven’t spoken to the man, nor have I heard him speak on such matters.

But neither have the Backman backers, and basically the only thing I hear them citing in Backman’s favor is their perception that Backman is “a winner.”  That he has passion and fire and all of that.  That stuff alone isn’t enough, and taken too far is probably counterproductive to a team’s long-term health.

If Backman gets the Mets’ job it will not be because he has impressed Sandy Alderson that “he tries to win and does.”  That should be assumed. It will be because he has shown himself to be a well-rounded candidate, aware of his strengths and his weaknesses, and willing to work within the framework of  both of those things, the roster provided and the front office’s philosophy in order to steer the Mets towards winning baseball.

In other news, I hope Alderson chooses someone soon, because I don’t think I can handle five Wally Backman stories every single day.

Yoenis Cespedes should be ready for Tuesday’s game

Getty Images
1 Comment

The Mets are off today, and that day off may be just enough to get outfielder Yoenis Cespedes ready to start their next game, on Tuesday, against the Braves. At least that’s what he’s telling Mets manager Terry Collins.

Cespedes did not play in the weekend series against the Nationals, but was available as a pinch hitter yesterday. He was even on the on-deck circle at the end of last night’s game.

Cespedes, who tweaked his hammy running to second base on Thursday, is hitting .255/.364/.636 with six homers and 10 RBI in 15 games on the young season.

Marcus Stroman was called for an illegal quick pitch for some reason

Getty Images
5 Comments

A “quick pitch” is an illegal action in which the pitcher pitches the ball before the batter is prepared. What makes a quick pitch a quick pitch? According to Rule 6.02(a)(5), it’s this:

 . . . Umpires will judge a quick pitch as one delivered before the batter is reasonably set in the batter’s box. With runners on base the penalty is a balk; with no runners on base, it is a ball. The quick pitch is dangerous and should not be permitted.

There are a couple of reasons why you don’t want quick pitches in baseball. In one respect, it’s about safety, as mentioned specifically in the rule. You don’t want a pitcher throwing a 90 m.p.h. fastball in the batter’s general direction if he’s not ready for it, because if it goes off course the batter will have no ability to defend himself and bail. But there’s also a spirit-of-the-game reason for it. The essence of baseball is the face-off between batter and pitcher. While everyone wants the game to move along promptly, the game isn’t really the game if the batter isn’t ready.

There is more art than science to all of this, of course, as all batters and pitchers have different pre-pitch routines, but when you watch a game, there’s a rhythm to all of that. You know the batter is gonna take a couple of practice swings and settle in. The pitcher tends to respect that. The quick pitch rule is rarely invoked for this reason.

It was used in yesterday’s Angels-Blue Jays game, however. And used badly in my view. Watch Marcus Stroman pitch to Kole Calhoun. The ump is Ramon DeJesus. The count was 3-1, so the automatic ball resulted in Calhoun being awarded first base:

Calhoun was obviously upset about something, calling time after Stroman is into his motion (which is not allowed) throwing his hands up and stuff after the pitch. But tell me, in what way was he not “reasonably ready” for that pitch, to use the language of the rule? He’s facing Stroman, looking at him. He’s done with his warmup swings, his bat is up and cocked and he’s standing in hitting position. I understand that it’s a judgment call by the umpire, but it seems to me like the umpire just called time too late because Calhoun didn’t feel ideally comfortable or something.

Either way, it set off Stroman and manager John Gibbons. Gibbons was ejected arguing the call. Stroman, who was otherwise excellent yesterday, was rattled for a bit, giving up a couple of hits and a run afterward. It was Calhoun who scored, natch.

It didn’t affect the outcome, but it certainly seemed like a bad call. And possibly a bad precedent, as batters may now try to lobby harder for quick pitch calls, given its success yesterday. Or, if umpires tend to think that was a bad call too, maybe they’ll overcompensate for it and be less likely to call quick pitches? You never know how this stuff will play out.

Whatever happens, I’ve been against Major League Baseball’s habit of increasingly taking judgment calls away from umpires, trying to make the subjective objective and making a flawed instant replay system the Supreme Court of Baseball Calls. But jeez, it’s hard to argue for allowing umps to hold on to judgment calls when they blow ’em like this.