Is R.A. Dickey the Mets Leader?
Last night’s postgame interview with R.A. Dickey reminded me of an old E.F. Hutton commercial, as people were hanging on his every word. Here’s what he had to say:
“We have find a way to be honest with ourselves about what kind of team we are. We can’t just keep telling ourselves that ‘oh, we’re a better team than this’, you know — we may not be. And we gotta be honest about that and identify what we’re doing wrong and do it better. That’s the only way you have any growth. If we want to reach the destination that we have set out, then we have to be honest with ourselves about, you know, how can we take more ownership on what’s going on.”
Dickey was candid and made good points; he continued to speak for several minutes and included himself as one of the people who needed to take responsibility for what is going on and do better.
If I have any issue, it is this: why is R.A. Dickey the mouthpiece of this team? Why is he the perceived leader of this team? The Mets have one of the highest payrolls in MLB, have legitimate stars on the roster — a few of whom have been on the team for 5+ years — and the go-to guy for quotes is a journeyman knuckleball pitcher who a year ago today was a 35-year-old filling out the back end of a AAA rotation. Some people like to ignore “intangibles” such as leadership because they can’t be quantified. But I believe — actually I know — that on-field performance is at least somewhat dependent on a player’s confidence level, his approach to the game, and his focus. When a player is lacking in any of those three areas, his performance can and usually will suffer. When several players are lacking — even just a little — in those areas, and in turn those several players are executing just a bit below the way they are capable, it adds up and the team as a whole underperforms.
It’s easy to say that the Mets stink because they have a low batting average, they’re not getting on base, and the pitchers are walking too many batters. But WHY are they doing these things? Because they are physically incapable of performing better? Is Angel Pagan hitting .167 because he doesn’t have the skill set to hit MLB pitching, or because right now, his confidence is at an all-time low? Is Willie Harris physically incapable of executing a simple bunt, or is there something in his head — mentally or emotionally — that is clouding his focus? Do Jon Niese and Mike Pelfrey belong in the minors, as their ERAs suggest, or are there some minor adjustments (physically and/or mentally) they can make to get them back to competing as legit MLB pitchers?
When a team is in a losing streak, it can get into the individual players’ heads. They might start “pressing” and physically tightening up, which affects them physically and alters their performance. They might make decisions they otherwise wouldn’t make — something as simple as chasing a pitch out of the strike zone, or as dramatic as diving for a fly ball that is unreachable. When players “force” things, more bad things tend to happen, compounding the original problem and creating a negative cycle. Right now, the Mets are in that cycle.
In reality, I don’t believe the Mets have enough talent to compete for a postseason spot. But I also don’t believe they are so awful that they should be losing 70% of their ballgames. R.A. makes good points — each individual needs to take responsibility for his own area of influence and figure out how to do it better. When and if that happens, the 2011 Mets as a team should begin to look better than the ’62 edition. It would help, though, to have a few more influential and respected people like Dickey in the dugout and clubhouse, to keep things calm and provide an example of how to go about such a process — because it’s not necessarily something that comes naturally; often, players need someone to look to, and speak with, to understand how to relax and find their focus. Are there people like that already on the Mets? I’m not so sure.