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.

In Terry Collins’ Wikipedia entry, there is this quote from Joe Morgan:

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?

YearFirst HalfSecond HalfTotal
201431-40*?? - ??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.

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. david June 18, 2014 at 9:31 am
    His laid back demeanor has had an amazing affect on the players ability to hit in the clutch. Seriously.

    I saw this, “Matheny also held Kolten Wong and Matt Adams out of the starting lineup with a left-hander on the mound, but both pinch-hit.” Terry, meanwhile, insists Duda play vs Lefties while Campbell rots on the bench. A Manager must above all get the most out of ALL of his players. The Mets seem to be like watching the Islanders play shorthanded all the time.

    I’d love to say I believe, but what I really think is I am 8 years old again, the year is 1978, and Lenny Randle is playing 3rd base. Bedtime in Aus.

    On the lighter side, we now know Jacob De Grom can indeed be Dillon Gee; or maybe Anthony Young? Still seems to be a decent find.

  2. DanB June 18, 2014 at 10:01 am
    The debate on whether to keep Collins or not reminds me of the debate between Davies or Duda. Ultimately it didn’t matter because neither player was good enough. If they keep Collins or fire Collins it won’t matter much because the Mets don’t have the players to compete and even if they did, this front office will only replace him with another version of Collins. This front office does not believe in strong managers. It is as if they want to manage from upstairs.
    • DaveSchneck June 18, 2014 at 11:10 am
      I agree 100%.
      • Victor Chu June 18, 2014 at 5:36 pm
        Dave – I have to keep asking … are you the same Dave Schneck that played for the Mets in the ’70s?
        • Joe Janish June 18, 2014 at 11:55 pm
          He’s not. It’s an homage to the former Met.
    • Victor Chu June 18, 2014 at 5:35 pm
      DanB — I completely agree with you on the front office reference … but, does your point include the owners as part of the front office? If not, we should!
  3. friend June 18, 2014 at 10:20 am
    “if the Mets are have any chance”

    The error appeared early, and you did finish strong.

    • Joe Janish June 18, 2014 at 11:19 am
      Fixed, thank you!

      Now, what about “strong” vs “strongly”? I spent 75 minutes trying to decide which was correct.

      • friend June 18, 2014 at 11:41 am
        I believe strongly is the only correct choice, as the part of speech required is adverb. My observation is that many people are much weaker in their use of adverbs comparative to their use of adjectives. I’m less than certain regarding usage of the indefinite article in examples such as “a MLB”, however I lean toward the practice of choosing “an” when a following consonant is meant to be pronounced with a vowel sound, “an MLB”. Some of my other grammatical peeves include gratuitous use of the word “of”, and joining clauses that don’t actually contradict with the word “but”.
        • Joe Janish June 18, 2014 at 12:15 pm
          Thank you.

          Blogging is a more casual form of media than, say, magazines or newspapers, and therefore the language used tends to follow common conversation as opposed to grammatical rules. For me, this can be difficult, because on the one hand I try to harken back to my days as a book editor and follow Strunk and White’s recommendations, but on the other hand, if things get too formal the conversational tone is lost.

          And then there’s the third hand (if one is an octopus) – bloggers who have been regularly breaking all kinds of rules, and as a result, broken rules are being accepted as the norm. For example, it drives me nuts when I see bloggers write “with regards to …” when they really want to say “in regard to …” The misuse of the word “notoriety” drives me up the wall as well, as does using the British spelling of words such as “towards.”

          Sadly, this is much more interesting to discuss than the Mets.

        • Craig June 18, 2014 at 1:10 pm
          I suggest Strongly…………… , however, if we are going to be given a test, I demand a weeks notice to review my college grammar guide!! [thank goodness for spell check]
        • friend June 18, 2014 at 2:04 pm
          I concede that there appear to be advantages to relaxing the rules of language in certain venues, but I think the consequences outweigh the advantages. By far, the principle purpose of language is to facilitate the communication of information, a process that is best served when language is strictly constrained by precision and efficiency. Whenever we relax rules, or broaden definitions of words, or misuse idioms (…), we contravene that purpose.
      • Victor Chu June 18, 2014 at 5:37 pm
        Joe – I agree that “strongly” is the appropriate word, but to your point, leaving out the “ly” has been widely albeit erroneously accepted.
  4. Do the Geren! June 18, 2014 at 11:11 am
    That Joe Morgan quote sounds familiar. The Mets FO and Dave Hudgens basically took that quote and replaced TERRY COLLINS with METS FANS.

    So they admit the players are uptight and pressing. But they blame the fans, even though there is evidence of Terry Collins’ teams behaving this way for two decades.

    Bravo, Mets. BRA-EFFING-OHHH.

  5. DanB June 18, 2014 at 12:43 pm
    i hate to say it, Joe, but I hold the moderator to a higher standard then those of us responding on our smart phones. I have typed outside on my smart phone with gloves on in the middle of the winter. Not the best conditions for grammar or spelling. That said, I always prefer formal over informal when reading a blog. Tone, however, can remain informal even when grammar is formal. I stongly believe it makes for a strong blog.
  6. meticated June 18, 2014 at 1:20 pm
    I’m just glad youz guys gots a handle on the vernacular. ..and takes the times to keeping it real…
  7. NormE June 18, 2014 at 6:03 pm
    Strunk & White would be better than Tejada & Duda.
    Funk & Wagnalls would be better than Teagarden & Recker.
    Simon & Schuster would be better………
    • Craig June 18, 2014 at 6:09 pm
      Reference works versus underachieving self-help guides?
  8. Do the Geren! June 19, 2014 at 12:45 pm
    The correct way to phrase the title of this post is:

    “Can a Terry Collins Team Finish Strong? LOL! J/K!”