June 2, 2020

Parting Like It’s 1999

On June 5, 1999, the New York Mets were playing .500 baseball (28-28), when then-GM Steve Phillips  decided to part ways with pitching coach Bob Apodaca, hitting coach Tom Robson, and bullpen coach Randy Niemann, a member of the 1986 World Champion Mets.

At that time, the Mets had a team-slash line of .273/.365/.439, led by offensive powerhouses such as Mike Piazza (.318/.364/.541 on June 5, 1999), John Olerud (.333/.479/.575), and Edgardo Alfonzo (.297/.381/.458).

Even guys like Robin Ventura (.268/.350/.485) and Rickey Henderson (.242/.423/.394) were doing their jobs as complementary pieces, and doing them satisfactorily at that.

Why Robson lost his job will likely go down as just another unsolved mystery that this franchise has encountered over the last couple of decades. Making the decision to remove Apodaca and Niemann was more justified, for sure. When they were relieved of their duties, the Mets’ pitching staff had a combined earned-run average of 4.82, having issued 216 bases-on-balls in just 493 innings pitched.

A 1.446 WHIP and 54 home runs allowed over those 493 innings (that’s one every 9.13 innings) simply wouldn’t cut the mustard, even during the stat-skewed era that the late-nineties were.

Not one Mets starter finished that season with an earned-run average of under 4.00 (Al Leiter, 4.23, led Mets pitchers with over 20 starts). Orel Hershiser pitched to a 4.58 ERA that season, him and Leiter leading a mixed bag of veterans (Rick ReedKenny Rogers), international players (Masato Yoshii), and youngsters (Octavio Dotel).

At the time of the house-cleaning, Leiter owned a 5.87 earned-run average and Hershiser had a 5.77 ERA. Those two were supposed to anchor the Mets’ rotation. Unfortunately for Apodaca and Niemann, they were doing anything but.

The Mets would go 69-38 over the rest of the season, including a thrilling 5-0 win over the Cincinnati Reds in a tie-breaker game to determine the NL Wild-Card team.

The Mets beat the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NLDS (highlighted by Todd Pratt’s walk-off homer in Game Four to win the series), but lost to the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS (Ventura’s walk-off grand-slam single in the fifteenth inning of Game Five).

We’re quite familiar with just how considerably a shake-up in the clubhouse can change the trajectory of a season.

Fast-forward to 2018

At what point do the New York Mets of 2018 have to begin thinking along the same lines as that 1999 regime did? Mickey Callaway and Dave Eiland are, by all accounts (as they should be), safe from any possible knee-jerk reactions that the Wilpons have been infamous of pulling off in the past (see: Randolph, Willie).

Callaway is a forward-thinking, first-year manager who is a former pitching coach himself. Dave Eiland helmed the championship pitching staff in Kansas City from 2011-2017. Both have the chops and pedigree to succeed here and have already begun to make serious strides after a tough beginning for the back-end of the Mets’ rotation.

The man who may have something to worry about as far as his job security would have to be Pat Roessler. The team appeared to have the offensive side of their approach under control over the first month of the season, hitting a respectable .239/.331/.383 through April and still owned a tight grip on relevancy in a tougher-than-expected National League East.

From May 1 to May 6 (six consecutive losses), the team hit .193/.242/.279, losing that aforementioned handle on their position in the standings. Their offensive productivity picked up considerably through the end of the month (.264/.326/.442 from May 7 to May 30), but have since returned to the doldrums.

Over their last six games, another six consecutive losses, the New York Mets are slashing .139/.233/.214 with 52 strikeouts and just seven runs scored in 201 at-bats. What’s worse is that this team seems to have not just lost their collective confidence at the plate, they are publicly revealing the level of their frustrations.

That’s not a good combination. Roessler was an MLB coach from 1996 until 2004 (Expos, Pirates, Expos (hitting coach 2001-2002), and Astros), before joining the New York Yankees as the director of player development in 2005. He was there until 2014 when he joined the Mets as their assistant hitting coach.

Most of the Mets’ offensive issues are along the same lines as the ones that were plaguing them when Kevin Long was the hitting coach (hitting with runners in scoring position, for example). Things have gotten drastically worse this season.

Whatever the game plan was to begin the year, as successful as it was, has now been exposed. The league has a book on this team and it’s become painfully obvious that if things don’t get better soon, a change could be in order.