For fans of the New York Mets, last baseball season was a painful reminder of the cruel and unpredictable nature of the sport. After reaching the World Series in 2015 and the wildcard playoff game two years ago, the Mets seemed destined to keep producing wins at a high volume. The baseball gods had other ideas.
The Mets suffered a whole rash of injuries — specifically and most glaringly to their pitchers. Starting pitchers Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz all suffered injuries that sidelined them for most of the year.
As one would expect, losses soon followed. The Mets pitching staff ranked in the bottom third of the league’s team-pitching statistics and in the bottom half for all hitting statistics.
However, this year’s Mets team is destined to rebound from such a disastrous season. It will not be because of an offseason player acquisition. Renewed health will be important, but the greatest difference from last year’s team to
this year’s will be the team’s new manager.
Mickey Callaway, hired as the new skipper last fall, will be taking over for Terry Collins. Callaway will become the youngest coach in the majors after Collins, who at 68 was the oldest in league last year. He arrives from the Cleveland Indians after crafting an impressive resume as the pitching coach of the most successful staff in the Major Leagues over the last five years.
Prior to Callaway’s hiring in Cleveland, the Indians pitching staff ranked dead last in the American League with a 4.79 earned run average. Over the next five years, the Indians won the most games in the AL, as well as led the league in ERA and strikeouts.
Last year the Indians staff — led by Cy Young winner Corey Kluber — set Major League records for strikeouts, strikeouts per nine innings and wins above replacement. The Indians’ staff also led MLB in ERA, fielding independent pitching and strikeout percentage.
Callaway will be the first to acknowledge that he is not the one throwing the baseballs. He was never actually a great pitcher in his own right, winning only four games in his MLB career. He always knew though that coaching suit him best.
“I always felt when I was playing that I’d probably make a better coach than pitcher, but I still wanted to play long enough to get the experience,” Callaway said.
As his old boss and Indians manager Terry Francona will attest, Callaway always exudes confidence and is very methodical in his approach. His previous players loved his hands-off coaching style. As Callaway was never one to force pitchers to do something they were not comfortable doing. He stressed communication and knowing what his pitchers were feeling, possibly tweaking only small pitching mechanics that best conform to their own styles of pitching. Callaway has already started working with his new pitchers in New York, even before spring training began last week.
Over the offseason, he and his staff took a much more hands-on approach to the pitching staff, monitoring their routines, after the Mets pitching staff was heavily criticized for last year’s offseason approach. For Example, Syndergaard changed his offseason workouts this winter by lifting less, instead emphasizing flexibility and athleticism.
Even if the rotation can have a bounce-back year and be as dominant on the field as it appears on paper, other areas of concern remain. The bullpen, and specifically the closer role will be by committee, after the Mets lost Addison Reed, their most effective bullpen arm, to the free agency.
Their biggest on-field off-season acquisition, Jay Bruce, played most of last year for them before being traded — a year in which they won only 70 games.
The team did add Todd Frazier at third base to replace David Wright, who is still sidelined with a shoulder injury. The team also added 18-game winner Jason Vargas to the starting rotation, which will strengthen its depth, in case more injuries occur.
As long as the hitting, bullpen and defense can be middle-of-the-pack in terms of team statistics and the Mets starting pitching staff can stay healthy, this year’s team has the potential to return to the playoffs.
As Callaway recently said, “The front office has gotten us the players. … If we do not do something special with the group we have in place, it’s going to be on the leadership. That’s going to be on me.”
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