Can a Terry Collins Team Finish Strong?
First off, I spent a good
fifteen 75 minutes trying to decide if the headline should have finished with “strong” or “strongly.” “Strongly” would seem to be correct, but the commonly accepted idiom in everyday American conversation appears to be “strong.”
In any case, if the Mets are to have any chance at reaching their goal of 90 wins this season, they’ll likely need to find someone to replace Terry Collins as manager.
No offense to Terry — he seems to be a hard-working, nice guy who says all the right things, which is extremely important when leading a team in the media capital of the world. But today’s MLB front offices put a premium on statistics, theorizing that future performance can be predicted to some extent by past performance. In other words, how things have gone recently and historically will tend to continue to go similarly today and tomorrow.
That said, there’s a negative indicator in Terry Collins’ history as a manager: his teams tend to fade as the season wears on.
Collins began his managerial career in 1994, but we have to throw out that season as it was shortened by a players’ strike. Too bad, because that was the one time his team ended on a roll.
Collins’ second season as a MLB manager was also abbreviated by the same strike, but I think it’s fair to start evaluating his performance there, even if it was also an abbreviated season (144 games). His Houston Astros were 38-30 in the first half, but only 38-38 in the second half — an awful 9-20 August was the culprit to the .500 finish. In Collins’ first truly full, 162-game season as a MLB manager — 1996 — Houston was 82-80 overall. First half: 47-42. Second half: 35-38. It was a major late-season collapse (the Astros were 8-17 in September) that cost Houston a postseason bid and led to Collins being dismissed at the end of the season.
Collins was almost immediately hired by the Angels, and in his first year as skipper (1997), led them to a 84-78 record — good enough for second place. For the first time, a Collins-led squad had a winning record in the second half: 40-36. But once again, his team sputtered at the end. They went only 14-15 in August, yet the team was still only one game behind division-leading Seattle on August 30, but a 10-15 September ended any hope of the playoffs.
The Angels’ 1998 season was a similar story. Anaheim came out of the gates strong, going 49-37 in the first half. But things again went sour in the second half — a 9-18 July and 9-15 September doomed any shot at the postseason, as they again finished in second place with a 85-77 record (36-40 in the second half).
Then there was the ugliness of 1999. This time, the story changed a bit — the Angels did not start well, going 41-45 before the All-Star break. Afterward, the wheels really came off — the Angels won only 10 more games with Collins at the helm, losing 37, before Collins resigned. Toward the end, his own players petitioned for his dismissal. For what it’s worth, the Angels, with Joe Maddon (yes, THAT Joe Maddon) in charge, went 19-10 to end the year.
Adversity is part of baseball; if a manager can’t cope with it his team will suffer. Terry Collins, the skipper of the Anaheim Angels learned this lesson when he was with Houston. The Astros were a talented team when Collins was there (1994-96). They finished second three times, but failed to make the playoffs because their manager exerted too much pressure on them. He was so uptight, his players thought each pitch was life-or-death. It wasn’t anything Terry said; it was his demeanor. Collins was edgy in the dugout during games, always looking like someone who was just waiting for disaster to strike. At the moment anything actually went wrong you could smell the panic in him. Players picked up on that. To alleviate the tension the manger was bringing to the clubhouse, they put added pressure on themselves to perform well, which invariably choked off their natural abilities so that they can’t play their best. Its no coincidence that the Astros became a post-season participant once Houston replaced Collins with Larry Dierker. I dont know if Larry knows more about baseball than Collins, but he does have a laid-back attitude that immediately puts his players at ease. Dierker kept the pressure off the team by reminding them that while the goal of winning is serious, the game is still essentially supposed to be fun. (By the way, I have been watching Collins since he joined the Angels and he’s a much more laid-back skipper. When I complimented him on this change, he said former Angel infielder-outfielder Tony Phillips had spoken to him about relaxing more and that it has really made an impression.)
After leaving Anaheim, Collins managed the Orix Buffaloes (NPB) for one full season (2007) and about two months into a second before resigning. I don’t know how the Buffaloes finished their 2007 season, only that their record was 62-77. If it’s of any value, Collins resigned in 2008 after Orix began the season 21-28; with Daijiro Oishi at the helm, the Buffaloes went 54-40 the rest of the way, finishing in second place (one game out) and making the playoffs.
I know what some of you are thinking: “Joe, we know about Terry’s late-season meltdowns from the 1990s, but he’s more relaxed now, has a different demeanor, and the players like playing for him.” Yes, that was what we were told by various sources when Collins was hired to be Mets manager after the 2010 season, and have continued to be told in his Flushing tenure so far. But let’s look at the numbers, shall we?
|Year||First Half||Second Half||Total|
|2014||31-40*||?? - ??||90-72?|
(* – first half not yet complete)
Oh, I know that the Mets front office and on-the-payroll pontificators pointed out many times that the Mets had a .500 record over their last 100 games of 2013 — going back to that magical day referred to by Sandy Alderson as “Super Tuesday,” when Zack Wheeler was promoted from the minors and Eric Young, Jr. acquired from Colorado. I personally never quite got my head around the logic of being .500 over the final 100 games as being relevant to anything related to future success, but, whatever. Despite that “strong” finish over the last 100, they were still five games under .500 in the second half, and were consistently playing at around a five-below-.500 pace for the final 80 or so games of the season — including a 12-16 record in September.
In fact, the illusion of that “successful” .500 record from the last 100 games stems entirely from a 20-13 run from June 18 to July 26. After that burst, it was back to the same old, same old — win one, lose one; win two, lose three; win ten, lose fifteen. So the injection of youth (Wheeler) and speed (Young) resulted in a temporary jolt of success — one that couldn’t be sustained.
Here’s the part where you argue that in those final 2-3 months, the Mets lost Matt Harvey and Jeremy Hefner (among others), traded away Marlon Byrd and John Buck, etc., etc. Fair enough. But at some point, don’t you have to stop making excuses for someone who — in every single year as a manager — has finished poorly? How many times can you blame injuries, trades, bad luck, biorhythms, etc., before you at least wonder if the issue is not coincidental, but perhaps has something to do with leadership (or lack thereof)?
Today, the Mets record stands at 31-40. To finish with 90 wins — 90-72 — the Mets will need to go 59-32. That’s 27 games over .500, folks, and about a .648 winning percentage. There currently are only two teams playing .600 ball — the Giants (.606) and Athletics (.600). Maybe it has something to do with the Bay Area water. In any case, it’s probably safe to accept the fact the Mets won’t reach their 90-win goal, particularly if they continue to be led by a manager whose teams historically peter out down the stretch.