Former hitting coach Howard Johnson says benching Jason Bay is “ridiculous”

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Jason Bay was back in the starting lineup tonight against the Pirates following a brief two-game absence. In fact, he snapped his career-worst 0-for-24 hitless streak with a bloop single in the fourth inning. But former Mets hitting coach Howard Johnson told the New York Post that the struggling outfielder shouldn’t have been benched in the first place.

“It’s ridiculous it’s come to that,” the former Mets hitting coach said by phone yesterday. “If he’s supposed to be part of the solution, I don’t see the point of taking him out of the equation. It’s sending him mixed messages. I don’t care if he’s 0-for-50, you’re not going to get him relaxed by taking him out of the lineup.”

I assume Charlie Samuels wasn’t available for comment. I mean, he spent plenty of time in the Mets’ clubhouse last season, too, right? Let’s hear what he has to say about it.

Naturally, Mets manager Terry Collins wasn’t thrilled with Johnson’s commentary. According to Adam Rubin of ESPN New York, he fired back before tonight’s game against the Pirates.

“As soon as I showed up at the ballpark today, I was slapped in the face with Howard Johnson telling us we should play him and not bench him,” Collins said. “I don’t really call it a benching. I would call it more of a time off kind of thing. The other thing, and I think the world of Howard Johnson, but he hasn’t got all the facts. So he should be careful what he actually says when he doesn’t have all the facts.”

It’s not clear what Collins is alluding to here, but he did say before tonight’s game that Bay is going to be his regular left fielder moving forward. It seems like Bay was likely OK with the idea of sitting down for a couple days. Of course, I can’t say that for sure, but I’m pretty sure that Howard Johnson can’t either. We’re both speculating, after all.

More position players have pitched this year than ever

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Yesterday, in Milwaukee, utilityman Hernan Perez pitched two scoreless innings, and backup catcher Erik Kratz pitched one himself, mopping up in a blowout loss to the Dodgers. In doing so they became the 31st and 32nd position players to pitch this season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that is the most position players who have taken the mound in a season in the Expansion Era, which began in 1961. Presumably far fewer ever did so when the league had only 16 teams.

It’s pretty remarkable to set that record now, in this age of 13 and sometimes 14-man pitching staffs. That’s especially true when teams shuttle guys back and forth from the minors more often than they ever have before and when, due to the shortened, 10-day disabled list, it’s easier to give guys breaks because of “injuries” than it ever has been.

Pitcher usage is driving this, however. While teams carry far more relievers than they ever have before, they actually carry far fewer swingmen or mopup men who are capable of throwing multiple innings in a blowout to save other pitchers’ arms. Rather, teams focus on max-effort, high-velocity relievers who go one or two innings tops, thus requiring catchers and utility guys to help do the mopping that actual pitchers used to do.

I don’t know if that’s a bad thing necessarily — some of these backup catchers throw harder than a lot of pitchers did 30 years ago and it’s always kind of fun to see a position player pitch — but it is yet another way the game has changed due to a focus on specialization and velocity when it comes to pitchers.