In April, new Mets manager Mickey Callaway was adored and viewed as terrific. In June, during which the Mets were 5-21 and killed their season, he was labeled a fool. Not surprisingly, with his team 31-27 in the second half, including 12-7 during September, he's back to being revered.
The above is the life of a baseball manager, especially in New York.
I tend to judge managers based on wins and losses. To nitpick specific moves in the moment is a dangerous game because -- despite having access to tendency and predictive stats -- we can never know how the human element and luck factored in to the manager's choice in the moment.
I'd give Callaway a B- grade because 75 wins from a first-year manager in New York -- with a roster that was decimated by injuries -- feels about right, despite his team finishing with 10 or so fewer wins than we initially expected.
To judge Callaway on only wins and losses would mean a below average grade.
However, managing in New York brings with it a different terrain than is found in other markets. And that Callaway had to endure a lot of ups and downs, with praise and criticism, all in his first season may prove to be a good thing. By living through what was a miserable June and dealing with a barrage of negativity and boos and frustration from fans, columnists and talking heads on radio and TV, Callaway hopefully got beaten up enough that now he knows what to expect and can better prepare heading in to next season
It's easy to forget that less than a year ago Callaway was a lot of people's top choice to replace Terry Collins. Callaway was highly touted within baseball, by colleagues and by national reporters. In the days before announcing their decision, multiple reports had the Mets leaning toward hiring their former hitting coach Kevin Long, which no one was excited about.
However, when it was announced that Callaway would be getting the gig, most everyone was relieved and inspired by the type of thinking, culture and discipline he talked about bringing to Queens.
In the days after his introductory press conference, it was said by Mets people that Callaway was hired mostly because of the following four traits...
1) He will work well with the young, modern player
I never believed reports that stated Terry Collins had "lost the clubhouse," mostly because that's not what I had been hearing at the time and because it all stemmed from anonymous sources.
Sure, there were certainly some people that did not like Collins, but this can be expected in any work environment. By and large, though, he was respected and players appreciated him. That said, more or less everyone connected to the team clearly agreed the time had come for a new leader.
The key to Callaway's future is mostly tied to the talent that is put on his roster, which is not his responsibility. After that, though, the pre-season chatter was right -- a lot would be riding on his relationship with the next core group of talent.
According to people who are in the clubhouse every day, Michael Conforto, Amed Rosario, Jeff McNeil, Brandon Nimmo and the entire starting rotation respect Callaway, regularly communicate with him, listen to him and believe in his ability to eventually get this team back to the postseason.
I often pick up on some static between a few pitchers and pitching coach Dave Eiland, but that is not necessarily a bad thing if what he's preaching is the right approach.
In the end, I think the key to Callaway's connection to his core probably stems from letting them play, day in and day out, while being honest about their success and struggles along the way. This was not the case under Collins. Just ask Conforto...
Conforto is on pace to play in a career-high 153 games, as is Rosario (154) and Nimmo (141). McNeil, who was a late-season call-up, will play in a career-high 142 games, while starting 44 of the 49 games he's been with the big-league Mets.
It's a lot easier to love your manager when he regularly talks with you, says you'll play and you play. By doing this, and having these players see success while doing it, Callaway almost certainly has earned this next generation's trust... at least for now.
2) He'll use medical data to protect the health of his pitchers, who will thrive due to Callaway's experience as a pitcher and pitching coach
I recently talked to a baseball technology expert that works closely with several MLB teams who said, despite the hype, Callaway rarely took advantage of biomechanics and medical data when with the Indians. The same has been the case with the Mets, who reportedly invested in new technology for their peak performance department.
That said, who cares? The fact is, despite Noah Syndergaard missing 7-8 starts due to injury, everyone else in the rotation has been uncharacteristically healthy. In addition, Jacob deGrom is having the season of a lifetime, Zack Wheeler had the best season of his career, while making 29 starts, and Steven Matz (though he mostly had average results) remained healthy, formed a bond with Callaway and will log the most innings and starts of his career.
For what it's worth, I've heard from team insiders that Syndergaard's inconsistent results this season have less to do with Callaway and more to do with aches, pains and pitching coach Dave Eiland, who has been more hands-on and aggressive than his predecessor, Dan Warthen.
Under Callaway, the foursome combined for a 3.01 ERA and threw 50 percent of all innings played by the Mets. The collection of players that were used as the fifth starter even did well, combining to throw 151 innings with a 3.57 ERA.
The thorn in Callaway's side, however, has been his relievers, some of which had to do with how he used them, but most of which is because of their overall talent, injuries and the number of new, young arms making their big-league debuts. Overall, Callaway's bullpen helped contribute to tons of the Mets' losses. And their 4.94 ERA and 1.40 WHIP are both second-worst in the National League.
My hunch is that without Jeurys Familia in the mix, Callaway and the next GM will be able to build the kind of modern-day, multi-use bullpen that was talked about when he was hired.
For what it's worth, Callaway's bullpen had the worst mark in the NL with a -1.3 WAR and a league-worst 4.81 FIP when Callaway had to include Familia. In games after Familia was traded to the A's, Callaway's bullpen performed middle of the pack with a 0.7 WAR and a 4.29 FIP. This may be total coincidence or it may be that Callaway figured out a better way to use his talent... or it has everything to do with the second-half schedule and fresh arms being promoted from the minor leagues. In either case, it's a decent gauge of what's available to Callaway next season and, based on that alone, it's encouraging.
3) He'll be more in tune with the front office and open to using their statistical evidence to create lineups and manage his bullpen and in-game situations...
This is difficult to judge because we have no way of knowing for fact what information is being communicated to him from upstairs, how often and what he's doing with it.
That said, team insiders say he had been communicating regularly with Sandy Alderson and that level of contact has continued with the current leadership.
4) His players will fight for him, because he'll fight for them...
I don't get a sense of passion (good or bad) about Callaway from his players, and I don't get a sense of passion from the players (good or bad) about Callaway. That may seem like a useless sentence, but it isn't. It says to me that there is a balanced relationship in the clubhouse, everyone is doing their jobs and there is order in the air. The truest test of this is in the way Callaway and his players responded to being 5-21 in June.
The flame turned up beneath Callaway in early July. There were reports and fans questioning whether he should return in 2019. The Mets put that to rest by leaking to every possible news outlet that Callaway's job was safe and that he'd 100 percent be back next season, during which he's under contract, regardless of what happens to the front office.
To be fair, Callaway never broke a sweat. During the midseason crisis, he remained calm, jovial, even keel, and his players did the same. In the middle of a slide in the standings, this casual approach was frustrating to me and other fans. However, as every successful team and manager ever will tell you, while fans may like fire and brimstone from their skipper, actual baseball players and coaches do not. They strive for routine and never getting too up or too down.
"There's been sleepless nights,'' Callaway told USA TODAY Sports in July. "It's not that I'm worrying about myself, but when you see these guys working so hard, and when the results don't come, you can't help but think about that. You lay in bed at night and say, "OK, what am I going to say to this guy? What am I going to say to that guy? Do you leave him alone? Do you let him work through it?"
He stuck with them and, as a result of not panicking, I truly believe Callaway created an environment in which his young leaders, specifically Conforto, Nimmo and Rosario, could simply do their thing. Thankfully, their "thing," and contributions from people returning from the DL and being promoted from Triple-A, such as McNeil, resulted in a terrific turnaround during August and September.
I'm not a person that says, 'If the Mets played better in June they'd be in a pennant race," because the same can be said in reverse about April or any random week of the season.
"You are what your record says you are," legendary NFL head coach Bill Parcells often said. And he's right. It's also right to say the Mets play for Callaway because that is what the evidence has shown during the final 10 weeks of the season.
He and his team didn't quit, they remained calm and focused, they continued to work and prepare and live up to their talent, which is what Callaway hoped to instill as a team culture, and "Mets way," when he was hired. Thankfully, his way helped translate in to more wins than losses during the second half of the season.
"Everything is hunky-dory when you're 11-1, but you learn from challenges like these," Callaway added, during his talk with USA TODAY. "Our team will get to know each other a lot sooner than we would have otherwise. I don't know if that makes sense, but that's the way I feel about it.''
My hope is that given how his team stuck with him, and how they won because of it, and given how they survived a summer fire, it's going to bond this group and have them in a great spot to compete and trust one another next season. This, to me, is the single best and most important aspect to judge when looking at Callaway's season. In this area, he passed with flying colors, which is why I'll be expecting more from him in 2019... assuming he's back.
Two extra things I'd like to mention...
I bet Callaway and the front office will mull over tons and tons of data and moments from the past year, reflect on it and make changes where and when needed. And, Callaway has proven himself to be insightful and aware enough to internalize that information and adjust. If he doesn't, he'll aptly be ripped for it, but to treat it that way in year one, in a new league to him, in a city with passionate, 24-7 fans and a rabid media serving them red meat, I'm willing to let his mistakes slide.
Also, I know, I know, the Mets said Callaway will be back, but what are they supposed to say three months in to his first season? My hunch is he'll be here, but I won't believe it 100 percent until a new GM is hired and commits to Callaway instead of hiring his own guy.
In my opinion, Callaway has earned a second season -- unless Joe Girardi is interested in the job. Girardi is the only realistic option I would consider as a replacement. His resume, pedigree, understanding of the market and media and the respect he'll command from veterans and rookies would make a meaningful difference.
In other words, for me, if Girardi isn't interested, it's Callaway all day...
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!