Buck Showalter is closing in on half of his first season as New York Mets skipper, and there are a lot of things that have gone right from the Mets compared to years past as a result of the hire of Showalter.
Showalter was Steve Cohen's first new manager hire since taking over team operations nearly two years ago, and the introduction of an experienced, culture-changing manager was part of the hope and optimism surrounding the franchise upon the ownership change.
So, for this exercise, we shall look at the following five components of a manager's job: Ability to bring about change, bullpen management, in-game managing, lineup construction, and handling of the press.
Buck Showalter's long track record of changing cultures carried into his first three months with the Mets. Grade: A+
This franchise desperately needed a signal of experienced leadership and respect in the clubhouse after Mickey Callaway and Luis Rojas couldn't manage their way out of a paper bag. Showalter was the perfect hire because everywhere he's been to, he changed the culture, from the Yankees, the Diamondbacks, the Rangers, the Orioles, and now the Mets. The players play hard, they are aggressive, they don't take anything for granted, they believe in themselves, and have been tough and clutch all year. The reward: first place in the National League East.
Considering the lack of depth in the bullpen the Mets' front office gave Buck, he's done a very good job with the roster he's had: Grade: B
Buck has done a lot of savvy moves with his bullpen this season, more recently having Edwin Diaz pitch in the eighth inning if the opposition's best hitters were due up. That move probably won them a game against the Dodgers (which could be big in the standings later on). He also created new weapons in Colin Holderman and Stephen Nogosek, while keeping faith in Adam.
But he's also been rightfully scrutinized for leaving his starters in too long at times. The biggest example was leaving Chris Bassitt in for too long in the game Jerrar Encarnacion hit the grand slam for the Marlins in his debut. There have been too many losses like that.
Buck Showalter has been outfoxing his opponents in the baseball mind games with brilliant in-game managing, often making the difference in some games: Grade: A-
Good managers know their players and what their strengths and weaknesses are, and the emphasis in spring training was about the rules, and not having his team lose with mental mistakes. He played a big role in coaching the on-field drills in spring training for this very reason. Have the Mets been overaggressive at times? Yes. But is that aggressiveness sending a message to the players that this team is to do whatever it takes to win? Yes. The seriousness of this team to win was apparent from the day pitchers and catchers reported to Port St. Lucie.
Consider this too: Between Mickey Callaway and Luis Rojas the last four years, Mets managers won just 41 of 97 challenges, or 42.2 percent of them. Buck has won 16 of 21 challenges this season, or 76.2 percent. Not bad. No challenge was better than a double challenge on June 24 that set up the game-winning hit the next at-bat.
The Mets preached relentlessness from their offense, and it is reflective in Buck Showalter's lineup construction for much of the first half: Grade: A-
There has not been a lineup combination that has been the same more than three times in the first half, and a significant amount of that has to do with Showalter and his coaching staff formulating the lineup that gives the Mets the best chance to win against different pitchers. The offense has been struggling as of late, but writing in Francisco Lindor and Pete Alonso in the 3-4 spot has paid off with their high RBI totals.
The Mets also have a manager who can handle the press, where newfound wisdom is a part of the daily mantra for Mets fans: Grade: A
New York is perhaps the toughest sports media market, and for a press that has been foaming at the mouth over the Mets' drama over the past 40 years, Buck Showalter has given them fewer negative headlines, with his wit, charm, knowledge, IQ, and his poise. It has been a delight to hear for the fans. That's quite a tall task for a team that was built to win now.