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Tim Marchman Gets It Wrong

Mike SteffanosMonday, May 5, 2008
By Mike Steffanos


Last Friday, the NY Sun's Tim Marchman wrote a piece calling for the immediate firing of Mets' manager Willie Randolph. Marchman, who enjoys a cult following among younger fans and bloggers, is usually coolly analytical. For this particular article, however, he chose to take a walk on the melodramatic and illogically reactionary ground usually reserved for talk radio hosts:

It's time for the Mets to fire Willie Randolph. They should fire him if his team sweeps the Arizona Diamondbacks this weekend. They should fire him if his team wins all three games by a total score of 27-0. They should fire him if his team puts on such a display this weekend that the greater Phoenix area literally burns to the ground around them, lit by nothing but the intensity of their passion and brilliance. The man's time is up, and nothing can change that.

Now I know many of you are anti-Willie and may concur with the sentiment, but that doesn't alleviate the irrationality of blaming Willie Randolph for such varied sins from the horrible final game of the Pirates series as Ollie's poor pitching, Reyes not covering a base and the lineup falling asleep again. According to Marchman these were not "random failures of talent, but unforgivable errors of concentration and execution."

Marchman can be a little pompous at times, but I usually find his pieces logical and thought-provoking. Not here. In paragraph after lurid paragraph, Marchman makes himself the judge and jury which declares Randolph guilty of such various things as Carlos Delgado getting old and Mike Pelfrey failing to pitch well. Ultimately, it all adds up to utter nonsense.

Look, there are legitimate complaints to be had with Randolph, and it's fair to say that his job is in the balance now -- and deservedly so. But that doesn't give me, Tim Marchman, or anyone else any legitimate license to blame Randolph for everything that is wrong with the Mets while glossing over anything that's going right.

You know, I was going to leave this one alone until Marchman followed up with a second article today that seems to be an attempt to back off from some of the illogical melodrama of this first piece:

The question that needs to be asked about Willie Randolph, then, is whether he's likely to manage well or not. There are some good reasons why he should keep his job, not least that the Mets have won more than they've lost and are just a half game out of first place. The point those of us who think he should be fired are making, though, isn't that he's so awful that he should be turned into a burnt offering to appease the angry baseball gods, but that under his leadership the Mets are likely to keep muddling along, not doing too badly but not doing especially well, either. The team is capable of something more.

Part of the reason that this is a difficult argument to make is that there is no generally accepted way to judge a manager other than by wins, which is the point Williams was making. Dusty Baker was a great manager in San Francisco when he had Barry Bonds, and in Chicago when Carlos Zambrano, Mark Prior, and Kerry Wood were all healthy; when he no longer had the best player of all time or a trio of aces, he was ripe to be fitted for a dunce cap. Along this line of reasoning, Randolph has done fine; the Mets may have looked flat in April, but then Moises Alou and Pedro Martinez were hurt, and after all he's won more than he's lost three years running. It's far too early to say he should lose his job, some would say, especially coming off a series win this weekend over Arizona, whom I claimed would flay the Mets.

With the notable exception of 2006, though, the Mets haven't done especially well under Randolph. In 2005, they won seven fewer games than they should have, given how many runs they scored and allowed; last year, they won two more, but kicked away a seven-game lead with 17 left to play, and this year, under pressure, they opened the season playing apathetic, unfocused baseball. I've come to think this isn't coincidence, and that Randolph's style is largely to blame.

The idea that the Mets underachieved in 2005 doesn't hold water for me. The bullpen was putrid and blew a lot of leads. It was so bad that Danny Graves received 20 chances to prove how done he truly was. The 2005 Mets bullpen lost 20 games and blew 17 saves. The offense wasn't that great, either, as Beltran struggled all year, Piazza declined, and Mientkiewicz was among the least productive first basemen in baseball. They looked like a .500 team to me from the get-go, and that's how it went.

By the same metric that Marchman uses to indict Randolph for 2005, Pythagorean Win-Loss, he grudgingly allows that the Mets outperformed it by two games last season. What he doesn't mention is that they also outperformed it in 2006. Despite one injury after another to the starting pitching, the 2006 Mets won 6 games more than they should have. So basically, Randolph's Mets outperformed their expected Pythagorean win total in 2 of his 3 years managing the team.

Don't get me wrong, I don't read as much into this one metric that Marchman apparently does, but fairness and consistency would demand that he not selectively utilize it only when it backs up his point. Shame on you, Tim Marchman.

I'm not going to launch into a big defense of Willie here. I thought he did a good job in 2005 in altering the defeatist mentality here and in 2006 in piloting a club that overcame tremendous adversity (losing your top two pitchers) to come within a game of the World Series. Given that not even Randolph's biggest proponents find him to be a particularly sharp strategic manager, his strength before last season was getting his club to play the game right and not give in to misfortune.

Last season he failed to find the right notes to accomplish any of that. It's possible that Willie does not have the flexibility to adjust to the changing motivational needs of his club, and that his style no longer suits the club. The difference between managers who succeed for a short time -- as Willie did in 2005 and 2006, whether Marchman can admit it or not -- and those who stick around for the long-term is their ability to adjust their style to suit the current needs of their team.

Willie didn't make the adjustment last season, and now he is on a short leash because of that. I'm not convinced he can make the adjustment this year, but he deserves a chance to try. If he can't guide this club into the playoffs he should be fired. It will be time for a different voice.

Make no mistake about it, though, there are problems with this team that go beyond any manager's skills. Carlos Delgado (.213) actually has a higher AVG than Carlos Beltran now (.210). Beltran edges Delgado slightly in SLG .370-.361. These are the two highest paid position players on the team. The bullpen has allowed 11 HR in 29 games. The club is old and fragile.

Yet if Willie earns more than his fair share of the blame, he is his own worst enemy in that matter. He has alienated the local press and seems incapable of projecting a face to the public that shows any fire and passion. A lifelong New Yorker, he should be smart enough to get the writers on his side and show the fan base that he isn't just a bland, businesslike drone. Willie is stubborn and inflexible in these matters, and it will likely cost him his job.

If that does happen, so be it -- as long as he's fired for the right reasons.

About Mike: I was the original writer on this web site, actually its only writer for the first 15 months of existence. Although I am grateful for the excellent contributions of my fellow writers here, I have no plans of stepping back into strictly an editorial role. I started this thing in the first place because I love to write and I love the Mets, and blogging here keeps me somewhat sane. If you haven't had enough already, more bio info can be found here.

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Comments (10)

Nice piece Mike...I agree, Marchman just got this one wrong. It's as if the little bit of publicity he got for his first piece inspired him to write another.

What's so funny is that the Mets took 2 of 3 from the hottest team in baseball, and they are just now fielding the "real" team.

I wrote on my blog that it is not time to Fire Willie in response to Marchman (and others), and I stand by that.

If the team is struggling 6 weeks from now, then a move is probably in the offing. But on May 3rd? No chance.

Agreed, Dave.

I agree that Willie must make some changes to his managerial style. He has to get his club motivated, get them fired up, show some urgency. He can't go field or hit for them, that is what the player gets paid to do. But, he has to get them to play with some consistancy. There is (for the 50 millionth time) too much talent on this ball club for it to be so up and down like they are. I do agree that this team is rather old and needs to encorporate some youth soon. Muniz should get another crack at getting in the bullpen. Bring up some younsters, even if it is just to get the vets a blow here or there. Do something besides waiting for things to go wrong. I respect Willie as a baseball man, a lot of knowledge. Sometimes knowledge and experience don't always translate into long term success. Now I don't expect him to be Davey Johnson, Bobby Valentine, Billy Martin, Earl Weaver, or Lou Pinella. However, I do think he can take a page or two from each to help light that fire under this awesome baseball team. They deserve (and so do we)some good results for all their efforts, and I truly believe they want to win.

I really like Marchman and his sabermetric approach he uses. While I don't agree completely with him like most Mets fans I believe Willie is not a good manager. He does not think outside the box and sticks with his veterans way too long. He never saw a platoon that he liked. However I think he will make it through the season as I see the Mets winning the East is a fairly close race.

First off, you have to be crazy to want to manage in this town.That said, I agree that there are certainly very valid reasons to fire Willie, as there are valid reasons to retain him. Hence the plight of a .500 manager...or slightly better in Willie's case this season. Any opinion Mets fans have this season, concerning Willie or anybody related to this team, probably has their roots in the collapse we endured last season.I try hard to be patient and weather the bad times, knowing that over the course of a 162 game season there will be numerous ups and downs, along with plenty of reasons to question a managers decision making ability.But I find myself often looking at this year as an extension of last year. Maybe that's just me but I don't think so.The 2008 season appears to be shaping up to be one that would make a manic depressive smile...get blown out by the Pirates (the sky is falling), take two of three in Arizona (we are the best), etc...I just believe it will be that type of season. I also believe, if it goes as I expect, Willie will survive it...but may be on medication by season's end.

http://www.myteamrivals.typepad.com/mr_mets_daily

Well here we go again. This club needs a boost and it's not getting any earlier. Watching the game the other night. The umpire made a bad call against us and everyone knows that Willie would not argue it. The umps know if it's a close one; they can call it in favor of the other team because they will only get mild resistance. Willie isn't the only issue I know, but he really doesn't motivate these guts either. As said in another post, bringing up some young guys is a good idea. Muniz should have never been sent down in the first place. Someone needed to go and it shouldn't have been him. But bottom line, if upper management doesn't do something soon, it will end up being another underachieving season.

I totally agree with Marchman... Willie is not the right manager for this team and should be terminated ASAP... Team looks like its playing with no fire and motivation...

While the sting of last year remains, we need to move on. Otherwise, everytime we lose a game this season we will find some reason to find a parallel to last season. If you can't find hope in a new baseball season, you might as well find another hobby because your fan experience will be like that of Red Sox fans pre-2004.

Next, outside of a couple of games this season (e.g., the Pittsburgh disaster; the Braves game against Jair Jurrjens), this team has actually played pretty hard and been motivated. As for fire, I've seen several players already express "fire," emotion or anger (Reyes slammed his bat and helmet on Sunday after striking out; Wright and other players have done similar things as well at different points during the season). What this team needs more than anything is for Beltran, Delgado and Castillo to heat up (i.e., hit .280; .250 and .280, respectively). If that doesn't happen, no amount of "fire" shown by the team (players and manager alike) will matter because teams can play with emotion and fire and still lose if they don't execute and produce. You can play with all the urgency in the world and still lose.

I read one of the Marchman articles, haven't had time for the other (so why am I here, you ask?).

At least in the piece I read there was no rancour shown against Randolph, which I am sure you will agree is NOT so common a tone in the tabloids, on any sports subject. Marchman's point seemed to be that Willie has a typical American League mindset, and I don't know that he is wrong about that.

In player deployment the true test is what a manager can get out of the talent he has on hand. The good ones adjust to field conditions; Whitey Herzog didn't run-run-run when he managed the Rangers, nor even the Royals to the extent he did with the Cards.

So, maybe Willie isn't the best maximizer of talents; many years it wouldn't matter so much, and (like Torre in the Yankee years) his other strong suits would cement his job status while the Mets went on to championships. Not so this season, I fear; this Mets team is thin, seems to be underpowered so far at least, and has a few pitchers struggling. Additionally we have seen a few really shameful performances in the field, the type of games that lead one to wonder if the players are focussed.

Willie might need to get his team to overperform to hang onto his gig, sort of the way Valentine delivered more wins than we had a right to expect early in his tenure. To pull that trick off, he would have to show me something I haven't seen from him yet.

hi mike, you know i wanted willie out at the end of last year.i felt that management had to show some accountability to the fans after the collapse.the wilpons decided to keep him.therefore he had to realize he's working without a safety net this year and he has to make the playoffs to keep his job.that said, with beltran slumping, delgado and castillo being past their primes, with rickety moises in left, a very weak bench, 2 starters he can count on and an inconsistent bullpen, it's almost a miracle they are 2 over .500.willie would help himself immeasurably if he canned the robot routine in the post game interviews and showed a little life.fans have no other way to judge a manager other than wins or losses and the little u see in interviews.he is not at fault that delgado and castillo are done and he has no replacements for them..he can control the negative perceptions the fans see in the post game stuff but chooses not to.as long as they stay close to the philles, he'll survive.if we fall 4-6 games back by the all star break, i think he's toast..

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