Fancy Fiddling: Terry Collins and the Mets’ Lineup

By Will DeBoer

Apr 23, 2013; Flushing, NY,USA; New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy (28) singes during the fifth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Last Friday, one game into the Mets’ now-extinct six-game losing streak, Terry Collins slid David Wright down to cleanup and put Daniel Murphy third in the batting order for the first time all season. Murphy went 0-4 in the game and New York lost to Philadelphia 4-0. It was the beginning of a career-long 18-at-bat hitless streak for Murphy, who went back to the 2-hole two days later, only to move back to #3 on Monday night in Miami, #5 Tuesday night, and #2 again yesterday afternoon. While he got two hits Wednesday and increased his average to .295, it was a far cry from the .346 mark he sported before the change in the batting order. Murphy’s slump begs an obvious question: is Terry Collins fiddling with the Mets’ lineup too often?

In the past, Collins has been criticized for not doing enough to fix his lineups – remember when he couldn’t move Jason Bay out of the cleanup slot in 2011? But whereas Terry was undermanaging two summers ago, now he’s overcompensating and can’t stick with any sort of regular lineup. In 26 games so far this season, Collins has used 21 unique starting batting orders. Even when taking the short Interleague series in Minnesota into account, the number only goes down to 20, meaning whichever way you look at it, over three-quarters of the time the Mets are lining up in a way they have not before.

Apr 9, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; New York Mets manager Terry Collins in the dugout prior to playing the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies defeated the Mets 8-3. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

David Wright, of course, is the least affected by the constant shifting of these tectonic plates; he has hit third in 23 of the 25 games he has started. Until this past week, Daniel Murphy was solid as a rock in the 2-hole, making 21 of his 25 starts there. But what of guys like Ike Davis, Lucas Duda, and Marlon Byrd? It’s hard to get a rhythm going at the plate when you’re being tossed around the order more than pillows at a teenage slumber party.

Baseball is a game of routine. If you don’t believe that, you can bring it up with Wade Boggs and the thousands of chicken coops he decimated over 18 major-league seasons. I’m not suggesting that if locked into the order Ike Davis will suddenly regain his pre-injury form or Marlon Byrd will start hitting like he did in Texas. What I am suggesting is that maybe their respective slumps are related to not getting into a comfortable routine because their spot in the order changes on a day-to-day basis. If the Mets want to get back to .500, and Terry Collins wants to keep his job beyond this season, he needs to pick a lineup and stick with it for more than just one night. I’ve been a big supporter of TC throughout his New York tenure, but if he remains this antsy with his lineup card, a change must be considered.

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