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Manuel Has Hit the Lottery

By Bill Baer
Posted Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Fellow Flushing University writer Jack Flynn penned an excellent column lauding Jerry Manuel for the newfound success of the New York Mets. Even though I'm a Phillies fan, I still have been following the Mets all season long and I have to say that their recent success cannot be attributed to Manuel.

As we can see in this chart, the Mets are fairly consistent under Willie Randolph, but are all over the place under Manuel. The Mets hit their peak (highest RPG, lowest RAPG) in July under Manuel, but none of that can really be credited to him. In July, the Mets as a whole enjoyed a .333 BABIP, the highest by far in any month this season (next highest is the .293 of this month). I've harped on the Mets' fortunate BABIP in previous articles and I don't want to sound like a broken record, but the Mets' offense was due more to favorable positioning of balls in play, i.e. luck, for lack of a better word.

In July, the Mets' BABIP's looked like this...

Fernando Tatis: .442
Carlos Delgado: .371
Jose Reyes: .350
David Wright: .338
Endy Chavez: .338
Damion Easley: .324

Only Carlos Beltran (.268) had a mediocre BABIP.

Granted, the Mets also hit a lot of line drives in July, but it was an aberration and not something to expect. LD%'s usually hover in the 17-22% range. Tatis was at 27.6%, Delgado 34.1%, Reyes 28.8%, and Easley 27.3%. In August, their LD%'s have dropped to 25.5%, 20.4%, 19.7%, and 18.2% respectively.

Clearly, Manuel had nothing to do with the Mets' surging offense. As for the pitching, Randolph was forced to use both Claudio Vargas and Nelson Figueroa for 4 and 6 starts apiece due to Pedro Martinez's injury. They put up ERA's of 4.50 and 5.13 respectively. It's not Randolph's fault they performed poorly, as their lines in their starts are pretty much in line with their career averages. It's GM Omar Minaya's fault, if anything.

Under Randolph, Oliver Perez put up a 4.98 ERA; under Manuel, Perez has a 2.93 ERA. Coincidence? I think so. The one thing you notice about Perez in those two samples of data is his walk rate. 5.96 BB/9 under Randolph; 3.52 BB/9 under Manuel. However, his walk rate had already been lowering by the time Randolph was canned: 6.52 BB/9 in April, 5.86 in May, and 4.96 in his three June starts prior to Randolph's firing in mid-June.

The same line of thinking applies to Mike Pelfrey: mediocre under Randolph due to his propensity to walk hitters. Under Manuel, he walked fewer batters and has allowed less runs to score as a result. If Manuel had a meeting with Perez and Pelfrey, or had them work on their location, and that is what's responsible for their newfound success, then great, that can be attributed to Manuel's genius. Thus far, though, there's been no evidence of that and it's just a case of the two pitchers throwing more strikes.

Many blame Randolph for the failure of the bullpen, especially since closer Billy Wagner had his run of three straight blown saves occur on June 8, 11, and 12, just days before the firing. The bullpen's failure, believe it or not, is more or less due to bad luck. Consider that the Mets' starters have allowed a .720 OPS against them, and their relievers have allowed a .724 OPS. Then you look at their ERA's: 3.85 for starters, 4.36 for the relievers. The MLB average bullpen OPS allowed is .723 and the MLB average bullpen ERA is 3.95. It's a bit of misfortune.

In his article, Jack lauds Manuel for transitioning from Moises Alou and Ryan Church to Nick Evans, Daniel Murphy, and Fernando Tatis. Again, this isn't really Manuel's doing. He's just the guy that was at the helm when it happened. With all of my talk about luck so far in this article, Manuel has been very fortunate with the circumstances he finds himself in, considering the injuries to Alou, Church, and backup outfielder Angel Pagan. The Mets and Minaya knew, heading towards the July 31 trading deadline, they were weak with their corner outfielders -- Tatis included -- and went window shopping. They tried on a pair of Adam Dunns, held up a Manny Ramirez to see how it looked in the mirror, and checked the price tags on a Jason Bay and a Xavier Nady. They passed, and Daniel Murphy was brought up instead.

Lucky. While all of those aforementioned have been productive for their new teams, the Mets have found lightning in a bottle with Murphy. As of June 10, Murphy was #5 on the Mets' top prospect list, according to Baseball America. It's not like he was some scrub that Manuel motivated and taught how to hit; he was regarded as a great player as recently as two months ago. Manuel, of course, gets the credit, but has really done none of the work to yield these results.

Lastly, Manuel has been riding a wave of success partially due to the Mets' easy schedule. I noted the weak schedule in my previous article. Here's a specific comparison...

  • vs. Cubs: Randolph 2, Manuel 0
  • vs. Brewers: Randolph 3, Manuel 0
  • vs. Diamondbacks: Randolph 6, Manuel 0
  • vs. Dodgers: Randolph 7, Manuel 0 (pre-Manny, though)
Both have a similar overall percentage of games against sub-.500 teams, but Randolph has had it tougher against sub-.500 teams. Both have played the Phillies and Marlins an equal amount of times (6-6 vs. FLA; Randolph 6, Manuel 7 vs. PHI).

For the most part, managers really have little effect on the outcome of a game. There might be a few games here and there, but for the most part, it's a cocktail that consists of everything else. Manuel has found himself in a great position: in a large media market, he has taken over an underachieving team from a manager that most of the fan base had grown tired of, and the team has benefited from luck and regression to the mean. Manuel of course, gets all the accolades despite having done little to no work. There's no place he'd rather be right now, but we'll revisit that when October rolls around. For now, he'll enjoy the cushy job.

You can read more of Bill's work at his blog, Crashburn Alley, or at Baseball Digest Daily. He can also be reached via e-mail: crashburnalley [at] gmail [dot] com.

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