Four Things Wrong with Treading Water
For the second time in as many weeks, Jerry Manuel publicly stated that the goal for his team is to “play .500 ball” until the key Mets — Jose Reyes and Carlos Delgado — come off the disabled list. We addressed this concept less than a week ago, but since Manuel brought it up again, we’ll examine it again.
1. The bar is lowered
Most obviously, by establishing .500 as a goal, you have lowered the bar of success — while simultaneously telling the team that losing is OK.
Ideally, goals are reachable, but are not so easy attain. For example, a guy who is currently bench-pressing 150 pounds might make a goal of getting to 225 within 10 weeks. If that person gets only to 200 or 210, he’s still done a good job in driving toward his goal, and has made significant progress.
In contrast, what if the Mets set .500 as a goal and can only muster .475? That’s likely to send them into fourth place.
The Mets are 16-17 since Carlos Delgado went on the DL, and 12-11 since Jose Reyes’ last game. In between they also lost Oliver Perez and since then have lost J.J. Putz and John Maine, among others. So they’re right at .500 with the current club. So again, I go back to the weight training example — if that person is already benching 150, would he set his 10-week goal to be 150? Of course not! So since the Mets as currently assembled are playing .500 ball, why would a “goal” be to stay at that level?
2. Confidence is shaken and self-image is lowered
With this “treading water” concept we have focused on the players absent from the roster. But how about the current 25 Major Leaguers?
One of my former D1 / semipro teammates had this to say:
That’s truly an inspiring message. (sarcasm dripping) From a player’s perspective, I’m ticked off. I am here because I deserve to be playing in the Major Leagues. What he is saying is that with this bunch of mediocre players, they’re lucky to be treading water, that this crew stinks. What Manuel should be saying is “I’m proud of the job these guys have done, stepping in to roles that they did not expect to be filling at this time of the season. We are playing hard-nosed baseball and are excited about the play from our young players.”
Agreed. A player can go one of two ways after hearing Manuel’s .500 comment — he can be upset that his manager thinks he’s not good enough to play winning baseball at the MLB level, or he can accept his manager’s “dose of reality” and begin to believe that he’s not good enough to play on a pennant contender. Either way you have unnecessary negative thoughts entering the mind. Sure, some may say it’s good to have a chip on one’s shoulder, or be motivated to prove someone wrong, but that doesn’t work for everyone, and it rarely works over the long haul (see: Milton Bradley).
3. The excuse to fail is in place
So what happens if the team plays .500 ball for the next two months and their final record leaves them short of the postseason? Well, it’s OK, because Jerry Manuel stated back in June that .500 ball without Reyes and Delgado was the best his team could muster. They did their best, and, oh well, it simply wasn’t enough. Manuel escapes criticism and responsibility with the slipperyness of a teflon pan. Better yet, if the team does better than .500, Manuel is hailed as a master genius of lineup shuffling, pitching management, and team motivation. Either way his job is secure for 2010. Well done.
4. Pressure is placed on the cavalry
Now, what happens if the team does in fact “tread water” until Jose Reyes and Carlos Delgado return? Those two players will be expected to turn the team on like a light switch and go on a tear, winning sixty, seventy, perhaps eighty percent of their ballgames the rest of the way. But when players miss a few months, it can be difficult to get back in the swing, so to speak. Some wonder if Delgado will be able to contribute anything. Will these players press? Will they try to do too much, and fail as a result?
Despite all the injuries, the Mets remain in second place, only three games out of first place. They still have the best closer in baseball, one of the top three starting pitchers in MLB, arguably the best all-around centerfielder in MLB, and arguably the best third baseman in MLB. Add Francisco Rodriguez, Johan Santana, Carlos Beltran, and David Wright to any last-place team and tell me whether that team would be thinking the postseason was a possibility.
The key point in this is that by setting the goal of “treading water”, Jerry Manuel has (as already mentioned) removed any blame from himself if the team misses the postseason again. Any manager worth his salt would not publicly set any tangible goals, but rather give the old “we’re taking it one game at a time” response — which sounds like a tired cliche but in fact is the best approach no matter what your team’s state. You don’t worry about a month or two months from now, or the players you don’t have — you focus on the here and now, and what you can do today to win a ballgame. That’s the internal and external message of a leader who knows how to win.