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A Method to the Madness?

Mike SteffanosSunday, July 2, 2006
By Mike Steffanos


There is a nice feature on Willie Randolph by Mike Vaccaro in today's New York Post. Vaccaro does a good job of emphasizing Randolph's biggest strength as a manager -- convincing his team that they're winners. I think Willie is getting a lot better at handling his pitchers this year and other strategic moves, but it's the confidence that he instills in the team that will always be his largest contribution.

I remember last season, after the Mets went into that horrible funk at the beginning of September. We'd seen so many times recently that when a Mets team fell out of contention they'd pack it in on the season. I was as surprised as anyone when it didn't happen last year, when the Mets actually came back and played good baseball and finished strong. After being swept by the Nationals in a 3-game set on September 15, the Mets were out of all but the most remote numerical chance of making the playoffs. They had the Braves rolling into town, looking to deliver the final coup de grâce on another lost season in Flushing.

The Mets surprised everyone by taking 2 of 3 from Atlanta, at least sending a message that they didn't exist to be the Braves' bitch anymore. They ran off a 12-4 streak to end the year. Sure, many pundits dismissed this as too little too late, but I saw this as a sign that there really was a changing of the guard. There was a new sheriff in town, and for all of his faults he really did seem to change the mentality of the ballclub. I've written quite a few positive things on Randolph since then, and almost always get questioned on how I could be so supportive of "Clueless Willie." The simple answer is because he really has changed the mentality of the team from losers to winners. Sure, he may cost them a game or two with a questionable strategic decision, but I'll guarantee the team wins more games because of him than they lose. And yes, I already know some of you don't agree with me.

I've also noticed that Mike Pelfrey bounced back with what is probably his best outing since being promoted to Binghamton: 7IP, 1R, 2H, 11K, 3BB. As quoted by the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin's Brian Moritz, Pelfrey attributes his success last night to effective use of all his pitches -- his changeup and curve along with his electric fastball:

I was throwing all three pitches for strikes. Before I got to pro ball, I didn't need to throw my offspeed pitches, I just used my fastball. But the more I throw (them) in games, I get more comfortable with them because I'm throwing them more.

Pelfrey threw his fastball most of the time in college, and it was good enough to dominate hitters at that level. His other pitches were only fair, and he never had to learn how to throw them consistently for strikes. As good as his fastball is -- and it has both velocity and movement -- it won't be good enough to win at the major league level without effective off-speed pitches to get batters off it. In his Surfing the Mets Minor League Report, Adam Rubin alludes to Pelfrey's efforts to develop his other pitches:

Mets special assistant Sandy Johnson joined superscout Bill Livesey in watching Pelfrey pitch last night. Observers of recent performances say Pelfrey still needs to work on his breaking pitch, which is in-between a slider and curveball. Pelfrey said he's trying to improve the plane on the pitch, getting it to act more like a true curveball. "I feel like I'm getting better every time I go out there," Pelfrey said. [my emphasis]

As tempting as it must be for Omar and company to reach down for Pelfrey, who already possesses a better fastball than anyone but Wagner on the current roster, they obviously feel that the longer they can leave Pelfrey in Binghamton, far from the red-hot glare and pressure of New York, the better he will be equipped to succeed at the major league level. The Mets, from their top management on down to Willie and the coaches, are doing a great job of weathering the storm of all the injuries to the pitching and stopgap measures they had to take. They will not be rushed into premature promotions or foolish trades that will hurt the team down the road at least as much as it might help them this year. Omar really seems to have surrounded himself with some good people, from Tony Bernazard on down, that seem to care about winning ballgames more than winning pissing contests with each other.

The Mets have been run so poorly for so long I still occasionally find myself waiting for the other shoe to drop -- for them to do something stupid, embarrassing or just plain foolish. Can it really be true that, at long last, they have finally got it right?

This posting is being discussed in the MetsMerized Mets Talk Forum.

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Comments (11)

I get the feeling that as Willie's Mets tenure extends, his lighter side will come out, especially if we make a nice playoff run. As they say in business management classes, you've got to start off strict and then gradually let go a bit (take the facial hair rule for example). That being said, I can never see myself liking him as much as Bobby Valentine. Elan beats Joe Torre anyday.

I think Willie could very well be a more effective manager in the long run, because Bobby V will always wear out his welcome eventually, that's just who he is. Willie will never be called a genius or inspire the love that Valentine did, but he won't alienate some of his players or stab them in the back to the press the way Valentine did.

Bobby V always had to be the center of attention, and Willie deflects it away from himself. If you're looking for a quick shot of life for a dead team, hire Bobby V. I like Willie for the long term, though, I really do. I think he's better suited to sustain a level of success.

Willie has allready started to lighten up. The guys can have gotee's now where last year was stash only....

You're right. I think he made a point last year with all the rules, and then was smart enough to back off.

Mike, you're a better man than I; Randolph has to rank as one of the the worst in-game managers of a baseball game and pitching staff as there is in baseball. I'll give you that he seems to have the support of the players, and has changed the mentality of the team, but as a 30+ year major league veteran, shouldn't some of the strategy of the game have entered by osmosis? He has basically conceded a game to the Yanks tonight; an unforgiveable sin in my book(especially a nationally-televised game against the Yankees, and after getting beat-down in Boston). I don't find myself agreeing with Joe Morgan often, but his questioning of Randolph's handling of Soler, and taking Jon Miller to task over his saying Randolph was "saving" Oliver for tomorrow(and Oliver is warming up while Bell is getting hammered), was right on! Today's game is the important game; letting this game get out of control without a fight, sets a bad tone, and embarrasses your team. Not one of his finer games, for sure.

Mike, Joe Morgan basically stuck it to Randolph during the in-game interview about leaving Soler in, and even gave him the opportunity to say he'd do it differently if he had it to do over; Randolph repeated that "everything happened so fast", and that there was nothing he could do(the fact that everyone watching could see what was happening escaped him, I guess). Again, he gets credit for changing the mentality of the team, but it boggles my mind how little "feel" he has for the game while it's going on; and this from a guy who was always thought of as a "smart" player.

George, he did a bad job today, but I don't agree with you that he hasn't been getting better at managing the pitching staff and the game. But just like players screw up, so do managers. Nothing in the game prepares you for managing other than managing. When Willie does things right, no one really pays attention. When he screws up, they do. You hope he learns from games like this.

Mike, I agree that experience is key(although Willie didn't feel the need for such experience, as he would never manage in winter ball to prepare for the majors), but one would think that a veteran all-star 2nd baseman, longtime 3rd base coach, and bench coach for multiple Series-wining Yankee teams, there wouldn't be this much of a learning curve. I did make my son aware not long ago, when Willie actually did a true double-switch during an inning; I was afraid that he either didn't know how to do one, or that it "happens so fast" that he couldn't get to it in time. It is not a pretty sight, and it astounds me that the Mets have as big a lead as they do, because it is certainly not because of Willie's bold, instinctive strategy, that's for sure. So far so good I guess, but I am sure that at some point(especially during the playoffs), Willie will need to step up and "steal" a game from an opposing manager, and right now, I just don't see that happening. I think I feel like many Met fans that were hoping to have seen a lot more "spark" or surprising strategic moves every now and then, only to be consistently frustrated. One has to be open for learning and experience, in order to obtain it.

George, my point is that I don't believe that Willie is making nearly as many mistakes as you think he is. When he makes one, you blow it up out of proportion. You just don't like him as a manager, and you want Bobby V or someone like him. For me, I can live without the "genius" manager and all the baggage that goes with it. We're not going to change each other's minds here, George, let's let it go.

Maybee Willie left him in because he knows something we dont ??? Maybee Solar is done in the majors for now and is going down soon so they left him in the eat some innings... Who knows... I personaly like Willie. Dont forget hes a sophmore with kinks to still work out.

It was the wrong game to let the guy eat innings. Willie needed to get him out of there and give the bullpen a chance to win it.

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