“My love of the game itself leads me to want the game to be played correctly. That never takes a second step to anything.” That is a direct quote from Terry Collins the day he was introduced as manager in November of 2010. Collins vowed to instill a willingness to teach how to play baseball the correct way. After all, the Mets were coming off a disappointing 74-88 record lead by Jerry Manuel, a manager who lacked energy and enthusiasm. On the surface, some questioned the hiring of Collins, myself being one of those individuals, but it was obvious that Collins had some qualities Manuel did not. Now, heading into the 2013 season, Collins’ third season as manager, and he still has yet to fulfill the task of developing his club into a fundamentally sound team. A basic quality most competitive teams in the Major League possess.
With Opening Day less than two days away, not much is expected of the New York Mets this season. After all, defending Cy Young Award winner R.A Dickey is now a member of the Toronto Blue Jays. Johan Santana will very likely miss the entire 2013 season after an MRI confirmed a possible re-tear of his anterior capsule in the left shoulder, an injury that could very well jeopardize his great career. Although, the Mets’ starting outfield is now known, how much production they will get out of it remains a big question mark. Regardless of how much talent or youth there is on this current roster, playing fundamental ball is essential.
Prior to returning to the Major Leagues for the Mets job, Collins managed the Orix Buffaloes for two seasons (2008-2009) and also managed team China in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. Although his time as manager of the Orix Buffaloes didn’t go as smoothly, as he resigned because of differences with management, Collins stated his feelings about how professional athletes play the game in China during his Mets press conference.
“They are fundamentally sound, they do not make little mistakes. They don’t have the power, but they execute defense. They execute the offensive things, the bunt, the hit and run. They pride themselves on that.”
This sounds exactly like the mentality this current team needs. This Mets’ lineup lacks power and speed. Therefore, they must learn how to execute and play small ball to manufacture runs. Most of this team’s power is reliant on Ike Davis, David Wright and Lucas Duda, although how productive Duda can be remains to be seen, despite showing flashes of having serious pop in his bat.
While Collins mentioned teaching his young team how to play the game the right way during his inaugural press conference, it is still a work in progress, as he’s watched his team commit 217 errors in his two seasons as Mets’ manager. In 2011, the Mets committed 116 errors, which was tied for second most in the National League with the Houston Astros, trailing only the Chicago Cubs (134). Last season, Collins saw improvement in that area, as the Mets committed 101 errors, which tied with the Philadelphia Phillies for ninth most in the National League. Out of the top four teams who committed the least number of errors last season, three reached the postseason.
Being a fundamentally sound team can elevate a good team into a competitive team, despite not having a group of high profile talent. It isn’t necessarily about having the most high-profile athletes on your team, but rather having the right players to fit a club’s needs. Team chemistry can easily outlast a team filled with a number of All-Stars. For example, take last year’s World Series; although the Detroit Tigers had more All-Stars, the San Francisco Giants beat them with their strong pitching while consistently putting the ball in play, despite not having much power in their offense. Execution can go a long way in being a competitive. Whether it’s putting down a sacrifice bunt to advance the runner, being patient at the plate and drawing a walk, or just having a quality six or seven-pitch at-bat to tire out a pitcher before facing the next hitter. Little fundamentals like this are highly effective. And it compensates for not being strong in other areas, in this case, it would help relieve the absence of power and speed the Mets are currently missing.
How much of the fact that the Mets are still a work-in-progress falls on Terry Collins can be debated. After all, during his tenure as manager, management has made minimal moves to improve the roster. Last season, general manager Sandy Alderson stated his club needed “an infusion of productive players,” but yet, not much was done to address the multiple needs of this club. It can be argued the Mets are a weaker team than last year’s 74-win club, especially now that Dickey and Santana won’t be anchoring the top of the rotation. Terry Collins has grown on me during his time in New York, but with the uncertainty of his current status after this season, evolving his team into being fundamentally sound can go a very long way moving forward, for both himself and the organization.