Fernandog Revisited

First off, I am absolutely stunned by every spineless apologist out there defending Fernando Martinez for his disgraceful lack of effort on his infamous popup off of Wil Nieves’ chest two nights ago.

Second, I would like to point out that it wasn’t a “one time thing”, nor “a mistake that won’t happen again”. Because it DID HAPPEN AGAIN, and in fact it happened on his very next at-bat, only moments after the Citi Field crowd treated the youngster to a chorus of boos.

If you weren’t at the park, then you didn’t see the young millionaire once again watch his popup — this time to centerfield — and JOG halfway up the first base line, while, ironically, rookie Justin Maxwell was busting his tail trying to catch the blooper. It wasn’t until Martinez noticed that Maxwell might not catch the fly ball that he started to run hard. Again, you did not see that, because the TV camera was focused on Maxwell making a sliding catch.

Which brings up another thing: if you don’t have the opportunity to watch this team in person, then you only see about 10% of the game — the 10% that Emmy Award Winning producer Bill Webb thinks you should be seeing. You therefore miss:

– every time an outfielder misses a cutoff man;
– every time a pitcher fails to back up a base;
– every time a position player fails to back up a base;
– every time a batter watches the ball in flight off his bat, instead of busting it out of the box;
– outfielders not re-positioning themselves from batter to batter
– infielders not re-positioning themselves from pitch to pitch
– cutoff men who are out of position, or not in position at all
– runners who get poor leads
– runners who get poor secondary leads
– runners who do not pay attention to their base coaches
– runners who do not properly read an outfielder’s route to the ball, and don’t take an extra base
– on-deck hitters who do not clear bats and do not tell the incoming runner whether and where to slide

There are other “little” things that you may or may not see on your TV, but if you never played baseball then you may have no idea why I’m making a “big” deal out of these “little” things. And you’re excused for your ignorance, because from the focus of the centerfield camera, you’re led to believe that the most important things are homeruns and strikeouts.

But the truth is, there’s more to baseball than that. Just because the dungeons and dragons nerds sabermetricians haven’t yet created a stat for “missed cutoffs on balls in play”, doesn’t mean such acts can’t affect the outcome of a game. They do. They’re called “fundamentals”, and they often go hand in hand with “winning”. That is, until Bud Selig watered down the competition, allowed steroids and other PEDs to permeate the game, and changed the rules so that more balls would go flying over outfield fences. Even then, a few teams that specialized in executing fundamentals (Braves, Twins, Yankees of the late 1990s) were able to win consistently against the Moneyballers worshipping OBP and the three-run homer.

Times have changed, folks. Steroid testing has begun to wash out some of the derelicts, which in turn has slowed down bats and arms. Second basemen are no longer hitting 25 homers a year, and middle relievers are no longer able to throw 94 MPH on back-to-back-to-back days. Everyone is exposed, and the teams with weak fundamentals and/or less than 100% effort are losing games for those “little” deficiencies.

My friend Matt at MetsBlog noted last week, in regard to the Mets inattention to detail:

… it’s not rampant, but this sloppiness always seems to rear its ugly head at the worst times…
…the good news is that the Mets seem to be making less and less of these mistakes …

I don’t mean to call out Matt, but his comments are indicative of what many Mets fans see and think. The truth is, the Mets’ sloppiness, and lack of hustle, IS rampant, and they are making MORE and MORE of these fundamental “mistakes”. However, 95% of fans only notice these issues when they either a) lead to a run; or b) a TV announcer sees it and points it out on a replay from a camera angle that wasn’t used to capture the original/live action. The Mets are making mistakes, and not hustling, frequently — but you’ve only been made aware of it when it was blatant (F-Mart’s popup) or a potential game-changing play (i.e., Carlos Beltran not sliding). While your eye (or camera angle) is focused on following the ball, a number of other actions are occurring all over the field — it’s a fact, and not something to apologize for. But also, don’t take for granted that all those actions are happening as they are supposed to.

And here is my point: the Mets, for several years now, have developed a culture that excuses inattention to detail and, yes, a lack of hustle. The detail thing is part laziness, part lack of focus (some argue that they are one and the same). As a ballplayer myself, I don’t have a problem with physical errors — they happen. Mental errors are more difficult to excuse, but if a player is young and inexperienced, they’re tolerated — to a point. Players — and teams — can minimize mental errors through education, preparation, and simply paying attention. What can never, ever be tolerated, though, is lack of effort — because it is the one thing that every ballplayer has complete control over. Most Mets players often hustle, but few ALWAYS hustle.

In fact, the Mets have assembled a group of players that routinely take their foot off the gas pedal as they see fit. There’s a particular first baseman whose effort was so abominable that his manager once made a joke of his getting his pants dirty during a game. That “clubhouse leader” set the example for the younger players, some of whom are now also looked to as examples themselves. When you see the “leader” jog to first on a grounder to second base, you may believe that it’s OK, and acceptable, to do the same. And so on. Unless the “other” leader — the manager — does something to make clear that less than 100% will not be tolerated, all 25 players are free to approach the game as they see fit. Some guys may hustle, others may not. Some may put their full focus on the task at hand, some may not.

If you’ve watched the Mets over the past 2-3 seasons, and heard what’s been said by some of the players themselves, then you can’t argue that the Mets have given “their all”. For example, there are direct quotes from David Wright admitting that the team coasted through parts of 2007 and 2008, be it due to overconfidence, lack of intensity, or disinterest. In other words, the team has been so talented, it operated / operates as if controlled by an on/off switch: they coast along through the schedule, and “turn it on” when they think they need to. Several times this year we’ve seen them play down to the level of their competition — they just did it against the Nationals, but were lucky to have enough talent to still sweep them.

In a way, you can’t necessarily blame Fernando Martinez for dogging it. After all, he’s approaching a big league game in the same way he’s seen the veterans approach one. What Met could have taken F-Mart aside and said, “hey kid, you have to run everything out, all the time — that’s what we do here.” ? Martinez would have laughed out loud and responded with, “oh yeah? Tell that to guy on the crutches, or the backup catcher, or any of a dozen other guys who I’ve seen dog it, plenty of times”. Jerry Manuel should have disciplined Martinez immediately, but didn’t, perhaps partially because he’d never discipline any of his stars. And before you say “all Major Leaguers dog it here and there” or “no MLB manager benches star players for lack of hustle”, ask Jimmy Rollins what Charlie Manuel did to him the last time Rollins didn’t run out an infield popup.

Here’s the thing — the Mets have enough talent to stay in the hunt through September, despite their lack of focus, their mental errors, their poor fundamentals, and their frequent lack of hustle. They might even have enough pure talent to get into the postseason. But is that the team you want to root for? One that succeeds despite giving less than their best?

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. Walnutz15 May 29, 2009 at 8:08 am
    Be prepared for the “you think you know everything because you played ball” comments from any visitors that may be linked from other blogs.

    100% spot on, though.

    Especially this:

    “In fact, the Mets have assembled a group of players that routinely take their foot off the gas pedal as they see fit.”

    Hopefully, they realize that they’re not getting any younger — and that this team actually seizes an opportunity in 2009….whether by force, or by capitalizing on some other opportunity that’s presented to them during the season.

  2. isuzudude May 29, 2009 at 8:50 am
    “Spineless apologist?” Is that really necessary?

    And it’s understood I’ve never played the game at a professional level, while you have, Joe. But that doesn’t mean the people of my ilk deserve to be talked down to as if we don’t know the difference between 1st and 3rd base.

    The only retort I will post is that you believe FMart’s failure to run was a “lack of effort,” while I would choose to categorize it as a “mental mistake,” which you have already deemed as tolerable up to a certain point. And I agree with that 100%. As long as FMart learns from his mistakes then all is swell. That’s why I think FMart deserves more than 2 games before he is lumped into the half-ass bunch. Allow him the chance to redeem himself, and if he continues to make these same mistakes, then send him packing to the minors until he learns to get it right.

    That’s all this spineless apologist has to say.

  3. Walnutz15 May 29, 2009 at 9:19 am
    My opinion in regard to Mr. Martinez?

    He’s already taken more accountability for his non-action, than any of the veterans have throughout their Met-careers…..and has done so through the NY media.

    At least he’s staying to talk with them, and is acknowledging that he may have let his fans down.

    So, by that token — he’s good to go, to my eye.

    However: “Don’t ever (flippin’) do it again!” — Lou Brown, Major League.

    I see a complete and total country club atmosphere for the “half-ass bunch” (I like that, ‘dude) — from the on-field play, at points, to the recovery time in terms of injuries, to the overall whispers we’ve heard about certain guys not being committed 100%, to showing up late, busting out the door early, etc.

    I just hope it changes in the years to come.

    Kids that come up with chips on their shoulder need structure in the clubhouse…..not a flim-flam environment.

  4. wlaadair May 29, 2009 at 9:37 am
    Agreed, accountability has been an issue, especially after tough losses, when everyone but David Wright bolts out of the clubhouse.

    Recovery time from injuries has definitely been an issue, depending on the player, some just have a higher tolerance for pain than others, enough said.

    It was good to see F Mart talk about his mistakes and apologize to the fans, he does seem to be taking responsibility.

    Perhaps he was coached by someone into doing so, but he did it and that’s what matters in the end.
    As long as he shows improvement from here on in, the first two games will soon be forgotten.

    If it does continue, which i hope it doesn’t, than disciplinary actions are necessary for him and for anyone who displays that same attitude because by them getting away with it, he thinks its acceptable, which its not in the Majors.

  5. joe May 29, 2009 at 9:48 am
    ‘dude – that adjective wasn’t for you, it was for all the Mets management, media and fans who have been either stepping around / glazing over the issue or pretending that it’s not a big deal.

    You obviously have stated your case, stood behind it, and been anything but spineless in doing so. I disagree with your opinion but respect it.

    Poor choice / delivery of words on my end. My editor is off on Fridays.

  6. isuzudude May 29, 2009 at 9:58 am
    No prob, Joe. I’ll chalk it up as a “mental mistake.” :p
  7. […] Janish hits a home run in his post at Mets Today on Fernando Martinez and the lazy ass culture of the Mets. I went over this last night with Joe […]
  8. James K. May 29, 2009 at 10:22 am
    “Just because the dungeons and dragons nerds sabermetricians haven’t yet created a stat for “missed cutoffs on balls in play”, doesn’t mean such acts can’t affect the outcome of a game.”

    Absolutely hilarious Joe. You have invented the concept of making fun of sabermetricians for the basement dwelling dorks that they truly are! Totally original, I’ve never seen this done before.

  9. gary s May 29, 2009 at 10:35 am
    100 per cent spot on analysis joe.a good team should never be hard to watch.this is not a good team.nobody enjoys watching guys going thru the motions for 3 hours..most of the time that’s what we get
  10. mic May 29, 2009 at 10:37 am
    i was staying away from the semantics of the post joe. But i think there is something i can add.

    – i WAS going to point to jerry but then i realized there is a ‘(baseball) cultural issue. THAT culture of grind-em out ‘craig counsell’ warrior-honus-wagner..is rare now. The manager that can instill that is rare now…in fact i cant name one anymore…the last i think was Hargrove.

    – Fact is its easier to claim mental lapse…but the NEW cure is to re-teach ..by repitition, or (to paraphrase Metstradamus), send em to a sports psychologist.

    – To defend Fernandog, his issue was anxiety…he so badly wanted that hit his frustration spoke louder than his focus, (add to that his firsty two strikeouts were foul tips..so he getting decent cuts, AND as one reader pointed out his plate presence is ‘jitterry’ while at Buffalo he was very still.

    – Reyes has issues…In fact I think he NEEDS an Alex Cora because mentally he CANT stay focused. He needs time off intermittantly to re-channel and focus. I can imagine snoop manual’s dialog to Reyes (ala Happy Gilmore) goes something like…Jose you have to find your happy place.

    – In essence the manger you need CAN NO LONGER exist in the millionaire majors where as one poster put it you cant afford for your 5, 10 even 25M ball players to sulk for even a 3 game stretch because you benched them….and risked them sluping…taking your team out of it.

    Joe: On another point Eric Simon does a great Manny Acta vs Jerry Manuel


    BUT he (unless i missed it), does not remember Acta AND jerry were Willie’s right and left lobes when we last went to post season…hmmm

  11. joe May 29, 2009 at 11:21 am
    Mic – as for the manager that can no longer exist, see: Charlie Manuel, Ron Gardenhire, Joe Maddon, Joe Girardi.

    Heck, there’s one manager available right now who would change that culture, instantly. His name is Wally Backman.

  12. […] As injury depleted as the Mets roster has been so far this season, using 35 different players to date, they have been lucky enough to catch a stretch in the schedule where they play lower tier teams, and have been able to pull out some victories so far.  The sloppy baseball they’re playing against these teams will not get the job done when they start playing the better teams in the league.  Mets Today does a very good job of discussing the bad fundamentals shown by the team, so I’ll just share what they said. […]
  13. Barefoot, Backwards, and uphill both ways May 29, 2009 at 1:06 pm
    i agree with mic (and thought i had posted this earlier. Please excuse some redundancy)

    The mets haven’t had a quality manager in years. Art Howe, Willie Randolph, and to a lesser extent Jerry Manuel (arguably), have all showed next to no leadership aptitude, and have let the players attention slip away from sound fundamentals. However, while the mets may be in the bottom half of the league when it comes to sloppiness and managerial leadership, they are in no way an anomaly. A Few teams (twins, angels, etc) are able to instill discipline, fundamentals, and maturity organizationally from top to bottom. You have even notice that the braves, formally a paragon of focused baseball, have fallen off that list with recent sloppy play. You wanted to sign Manny Ramirez, well he is the most apt symbol of this age of Superstar exceptionalism, and the financial rewards bestowed upon players like him is the reason that playing the game the right way is so hard to instill into younger players. Manny makes the real money while Ecksteins and Lorettas, and etc make peanuts. Who are kids going to emulate.

    Also you don’t like Jerry Manuel, but another reason why you can’t instill any consistent sense of sound baseball in today’s game is precisely because fans and players can run managers out of town every two years. Look at the most fundamentally sound teams and look at the consistency of management throughout the organization. Its a different Era.

    Brushbacks are penalized because the players are too valuable as assets these days.
    Benching players for lacking hustle is dangerous because for the same reason (who’s ownership going to side with the 20 million dollar asset or 1 million dollar manager). It’s always been about the money, but now the players have enough of it that they have more control.

    So while your comments are for the most part spot on, your tilting against windmills, beating on, boats against the current, being borne back ceaselessly into the past, etc. You are dating yourself.

    New York with its intense media saturation, vocal and impatient fanbase, and the mets (and Yankees) with their fickle ownership provide one of the worst breeding grounds for fundamental baseball. Its takes managerial continuity, a willingness to eschew talent for effort (lose to make a point), a willingness to win with less than optimally marketable players. While you and your readership might be enlightened enough to be patient and wait for these type of efforts to reap some rewards, I have witnessed Aaron Heilman, being booed for ball one, cheered for strike one, booed again for ball two, which does bode well for the patience of the fanbase at large. So I just put my hands up and root for the team that’s there, and hope that Jerry Manuel’s extra practice sessions bear fruit, that my favorite players stay off PEDs and crack, that none of the stars dog it to get out of a contract, that the team doesn’t fold on the manager, and most of all that they seem to have fun out there. And yes, win. (even if it takes overcoming one mental error per game)

    As for Martinez:

    Nowadays they say 30 is the new 20, so he is super mature for a preadolescent. More seriously though, he grew up in the Dominican which has an understandably different attitude towards fundamentals (no one is scouting for solid fundamentals, so they don’t get you out of poverty and off the island) and has about two full seasons of professional ball playing experience. (1000 Abs).

  14. joe May 29, 2009 at 2:19 pm
    BB& Uphill – Good points all around, but have to disagree strongly on one point: the idea that a New York team cannot have a team focused on fundamentals, and an organization with a consistent management team. All you need to do is look across town, where the Yankees had consistent management for 10+ years, and, prior to the A-Roid era, won as much because of sound fundamentals as they did the longball. Even in the past two years, under a new manager, the Yankees have stressed fundamentals and hustle — note that Robinson Cano has been benched more than once by Joe Girardi.

    I do agree that it’s easier to foster stable / unchanging management in a smaller market, but it can be, and has been done in NYC.

    And I also agree that much of MLB is falling by the wayside when it comes to fundys and hustling, with the Braves an excellent example. I believe much of it is due to the watered-down talent, and too many players at the MLB level who should be in AA or AAA refining their game.

    Regarding Manny, yes I was behind his signing, and still am, because it’s clear that Omar Minaya doesn’t place value on hustling and fundys, and therefore the culture isn’t changing. Further, once the Mets re-signed Carlos Delgado, they were committed to continuing with their lazy ways. And if you can’t change the culture, then you may as well get as much firepower to succeed in spite of it.

    You’re right, I am dating myself. Thankfully, the Can-Am and Atlantic League seasons are underway, so I can watch pro ballplayers playing the game the way it was meant to be played.

  15. mic May 30, 2009 at 10:13 am
    Sorry Joe you outed yourself (again):

    Joe Giradi and Charlie Manuel got that rep in the context that they were in charge of ‘young’ ball-clubs that had needed a change TO a ground roots ball club. I think Giradi lost that moniker last yr.

    – Add Clint Hurdle to that group, as well as Manny Acta who with Gardenhire (u know him as MY personal fav), are stuck with underfinanced clubs and as such are TEACHERS to young pros….THEY do not HAVE TO tolerate the 35yr old been-there-done-it-got -ring ball player.

    – Consider that Willie was SUPPOSED to be that type guy but clearly was not. His staff included Manny Acta who (seems to be/is) doing a good job now with a young nats group. How is Julio Franco doing?

    -btw: I am not so sure Wally would work out on a veteran club of millionaire sulkaholics either.

  16. joe May 30, 2009 at 11:51 am
    Mic – how have I “outed” myself? Girardi benched Cano as recently as last September, when he was one of the younger Yankees but at 26 is hardly a baby (assuming we can believe his birth certificate). C. Manuel benched a 29-year-old Jimmy Rollins fresh off an MVP year. So what “young” ballclubs are you referring to?

    Why do people keep saying Manny Acta is a great manager / great baseball man / doing a great job? Not just you, Mic, but seemingly anyone connected to the Mets? If he’s so great why do his teams not only lose but underperform, underachieve, and embarrass themselves? I understand he has a lot of players who have no business in MLB but that’s no excuse for them being weak fundamentally and putting forth a lax effort. Frank Robinson did more with less — now THAT is a man I’d love to see in charge of an MLB team again, somewhere.

    You’re probably right about Backman and veterans. But, I’d like to see Wally in Washington, Florida, Pittsburgh, or Arizona. It would be nice to re-instill old-school, hard-nosed baseball before the brand managers completely kill the game with their babied millionaire players and push-button managers.