Mets: Terry Collins has matured as a manager

Sep 10, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; New York Mets manager Terry Collins (10) reacts during the eighth inning against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 10, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; New York Mets manager Terry Collins (10) reacts during the eighth inning against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports /

There’s no such thing as a must-win game in April. But Friday night’s showdown against the Washington Nationals was, unfortunately, pretty close.

Even the most stoic, the most “even-keel” of Mets fans felt the pressure to win. Clearly, Terry Collins felt the pressure as well.

This Mets are built to win a lot of games. Regardless of the recent outcries to fire everyone, to start another rebuild, or to dissolve the organization entirely (I saw a tweet about it), the Mets still have an elite core of players. But, they have certainly made the remainder of 2017 an uphill climb.

Some optimists — myself included — have pointed to the Mets’ remarkable runs in 2015 and 2016, miraculously escaping “rock bottom” mid-summer moments and sprinting into the postseason.

But, the Mets benefitted from a lot of help in these years. Not only did they catch fire, but the teams ahead of them went into complete free fall. This isn’t a formula that we can rely on annually. So the Mets really need to start… winning. Soon.

And Collins knows this. He is no stranger to April panic attacks. After the Mets started 2-5 to begin their 2016 season, Collins deployed Jeurys Familia for a five-out save. In April. It was the third consecutive day Familia had pitched.

Collins came from the Jim Leyland school of managing. While Leyland enjoyed a wildly successful career, culminating in his recent World Baseball Classic championship, he was amongst the premier “old school” managers in the game. Runner on first to lead off the inning? Expect the bunt. Tie game on the road in extra innings? The closer won’t be getting anywhere near the mound. And up until recently, Collins’ managerial style largely mirrored his old mentor.

But over time, as pressure has built, baseball’s oldest manager has gotten a bit more malleable.

Collins made two controversial moves in last night’s game. With a lead in the eighth inning, rather than use his elite setup-man Addison Reed, he opted for Jerry Blevins with two lefty batters due up in the inning. I loved this move.

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Blevins has absolutely dominated lefties this season, striking out a staggering 50% of batters faced. Reed, meanwhile, has already surrendered two home runs to lefties this season and hasn’t yet shown his dominant 2016 form — as we later saw when he allowed yet another home run to Babe Ruth.

And then, there was the ninth inning. Collins once again ignored his player’s track record and prioritized the matchup, pulling Familia in favor of Josh Edgin. Didn’t love this move. While Edgin has held the opposition at bay this season, he has largely benefitted from good fortune.

"“I know we’re going to look up in a month and [Familia] is going to have 20 saves and he’ll be OK,” Collins said. “But as he’s getting his feet back on the ground here, I just didn’t like the matchup.”"

Since a 27-inning flash of brilliance in 2014, the Mets have been infatuated with Edgin. They refuse to accept that he is nowhere near the same pitcher anymore. His fastball barely touches 90, making his mid-80’s changeup wildly ineffective, both of which compound his problems locating his pitches. Edgin has a paltry 4.66 K/9 rate this season, which is 10th-worst amongst 186 qualified relievers.

He has benefitted from his “ability” to keep the ball in the ballpark. While he has yet to allow a home run, he has a 48.3% fly ball rate, leading to a xFIP of 5.59. This is 16th-worst in the league.

The Mets needed a double-play or a strikeout, and Familia was more likely to deliver that than Edgin. But that’s not the point. This move highlighted Collins’ willingness to ignore conventional managerial dogmas.

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This season, we have seen him bring his closer into a tie game on the road multiple times. We have seen him bat his pitcher eighth. We have seen him bat a guy with two career stolen bases leadoff. This isn’t the work of a “young” 2011 Collins. This is the work of a more mature Collins– and a guy that wants to win really, really badly.

It’s refreshing.