Wednesday, May 5, 2021

I'm Okay With Replacing the Hitting Coaches

Not the new hitting coach
Although I was somewhat of a late convert to the value of analytics in baseball, FanGraphs has become one of my go-to sites just about every day. It's an incredible resource for fans such as myself who enjoy digging deeper into the game. Respectfully, though, I really have to take issue with a piece Jay Jaffe wrote today on the firing of the Mets hitting coaches. I thought it was an unwarranted cheap shot, and I promise this isn't just a fanboy take.

As I wrote yesterday, the Mets' effort to make the playoffs this season will require somewhere around 90 wins, something the Mets have managed to accomplish only 4 times in the past 30 years. One of their biggest failures over those 3 decades was the mind-numbing dysfunction that was allowed to fester in that organization — a level of dysfunction that guaranteed any run of success would be brief, and the losing seasons would far outnumber the successful campaigns. Not surprisingly, every move the club made was viewed by the press as a reflection of their organizational incompetence. And that's the way Jaffe's piece paints this one.

When I wrote my piece about it yesterday, I pointed out the oddness of the timing. Now, when I was writing, the Mets hadn't discussed all of their reasons for letting Chili Davis and assistant hitting coach Tom Slater depart. However, it seemed fairly obvious that a modern thinking front office and the old school Davis weren't a great fit for each other. In fact, I somewhat expected them to make the move over the winter. Once they allowed him to start the season as coach, conventional thinking would demand that Chili Davis be given more leash than a mere 23 games.

Still, even before the move was fully explained, I didn't have a big problem with it. This isn't to say that I didn't like Davis or enjoy seeing anyone lose a job. I'm not completely sold on the modern approach to launch angle and accepting more strikeouts as part of the cost of more power, either. But clearly, the new front office has a process in mind that Davis wasn't completely buying into. They want to build an organization-wide approach to both hitting and pitching, and I'm for that, assuming that standardization is more nuanced than just trying to build an assembly line of guys who approach the game exactly the same. I think a system-wide process is one of the things this club has lacked, to their detriment.

Clearly, this decision should have been made over the winter, but I could give this front office a pass due to their late start and the Jared Porter blunder. Not ideal, but understandable. Joel Sherman had a piece in the New York Post last night that delved into why the firings took place when they did:

So Davis and Slater were dismissed after Monday night's loss in St. Louis. But the decision had been planned for days — or before the birth of "Donnie." Alderson and Scott were disenchanted not only with the results, but more with process. Scott had observed hitting meetings — to Davis' annoyance, a source said — and what emerged in the front office's belief was a lack of individualized plans, mechanical adjustments and authoritative instruction in the meetings...

...A quick move, however, could not be made. Too much was ongoing. An alternate site was closing, the minor league season was about to begin and both of the hitting replacements — minor league director of hitting development Hugh Quattlebaum and director of player development Kevin Howard — needed their jobs covered and, in a time of COVID, to reorganize where they and their families would be spending the summer.

Again, in a perfect world, the change would have taken place in the offseason — no denying that. I would bet that Alderson, Scott, and Cohen all understood full well that there would be blowback for making this move along the lines of what Jaffe wrote on FanGraphs and other scribes wrote locally and nationally. But they made the move anyway because they were convinced that was the best move for the team. Frankly, I appreciate that mentality.

While offense is clearly down this spring — most likely due to cold weather and the changes to the ball — the Mets offense has been abysmal, with a large chunk of the team in a prolonged slump. Alderson and Scott were clearly convinced that Davis' approach to his job was not, in their opinions, utilizing all of the tools in the chest to turn things around. They saw a problem, and Steve Cohen encouraged them to do something about it. They were all willing to take a PR hit to take action. But I don't believe this is any indication that they're going to hysterically dismiss hitting coaches every time the Major League club slumps.

Jaffe accused the Mets of a "clown show" with their handling of this move, but I thought that characterization was way over the top. I think it reflected a sense of urgency rather than panic. It's May now, and the Mets offense is still struggling to put up any runs. We're getting to the point where the oft-repeated Bill Parcells quote, "you are what your record says you are," is starting to apply. I don't think Hugh Quattlebaum and Kevin Howard will perform magic with the Mets hitters but implementing a better process gives them a better chance to turn things around.

A consequence of the lack of success by the Mets over the past three decades has been a certain comfort level with losing and bad performance. I don't necessarily think it's a bad thing to shake things up a bit. Again, I don't support firing folks just for the sake of making a statement. But I don't believe that it's somehow preferable to wait for a certain amount of games to go by or some ideal moment to make a move the team feels is the right move to enhance their chances of competing. It's not always wrong to rock the boat a little in the process.

That's not to say I want to see some George Steinbrenner-level horror show where any period of underperformance leads to a revolving door of firings and change for the sake of change. I don't believe that's what's happening here now. I see a sense of urgency and a desire to ensure the process in place has the maximum chance of ensuring success. Some may choose to brand that as a "clown show" because their perception of the Mets is still rooted in the Wilpon-era follies. I see it as a state of mind that's long overdue.

Please stay safe, be well, and take care.


 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos.

6 comments:

  1. Hi Mike! a very non-baseball related question: I think I recognize the fellow in the picture at the top of the article, but can't quite place him. is he an actor who, among other things, was in a western mini-series about the Alamo? or has the Mets slump effected my memory? Jon

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  2. Jeffrey Dean Morgan. He did play a role in Texas Rising. This one is from his Megan character on The Walking Dead. That man knew what to do with a bat

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  3. Freaking autocorrect. Negan, not Megan. LOL

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  4. thank you! boy, I was 2 for 2 last night, recognized the actor - sans name - and the Mets won the 2nd game; maybe we'll both keep it up...

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  5. No problem, Jon. Hope your streak continues

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