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.