Last night, Mickey Callaway played the role of a robot by going to his bullpen when had another choice. Turn your starters loose once in a while…
Mets relievers Justin Wilson and Seth Lugo have been the backbone of the team’s bullpen for some time now. They could have pitched better in last night’s crushing loss to the Dodgers that may or may not have cost the Mets a berth in the playoffs. We’ll see. But this is not about either of these pitchers.
This story is about Mickey Callaway‘s seeming robotic pulling of a starting pitcher – only because that’s baseball in the Twenty-First Century. Zack Wheeler pitched one helluva game last night. Over 97 pitches (two out every three which were strikes), he gave up only six hits and one run over seven innings. He did not walk a batter. Why take him out?
Moreover, why take him out when you know Wilson and Lugo are being extended by pitching two nights in a row? Not that that should be a crime either these days – but Callaway and presumably Phil Regan acceded to the puppet strings telling them starting pitchers can’t finish a game.
Then And Now – A Snapshot
Okay, this is not the 1960s and 1970s when Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Juan Marichal, and countless others regularly threw 300 innings or more in a season. Or, when Steve Carlton had 30 complete games in 1972, Catfish Hunter 30 in 1975, Gaylord Perry 29 in 1972 and 1973. (Source: Baseball-Almanac)
But fast forward to 2018 to see how far the pendulum has swung. Last year, nine pitchers, including Noah Syndergaard, shared the major league lead with a mere two complete games.
Did you see Wheeler’s arm falling off last night? Or Jacob deGrom‘s the night before after giving up no runs over seven innings and 101 pitches?
Good God. Nolan Ryan once threw 235 pitches over thirteen innings, striking out nineteen batters. Afterward, all Ryan could say is, “I think I did it out of, I don’t know if it was curiosity or what” (MLB.com 6/14/1974))
Curiosity. Did Zack Wheeler wonder if he was capable of going further last night? Did he have a burning desire to finish what he started? And if he did, did he insist to Mickey Callaway that he goes out there to start the eighth? And if he didn’t shame on him.
I’d venture to say Jacob deGrom was itching to stay in the game. But did he voice anything to Callaway, or if he didn’t want to sideswipe his manager, to Phil Regan? Probably not.
The Two-Edged Sword
See, it’s a two-edged sword that defines starting pitching today. You have managers who are bullied by analytics and big contracts owed to their starters. But then, you also have the pitchers themselves who have been told by their parents, “I want to see all B’s on your report card – or else.” Never mind that the bar has been set too low – the kid brings home B’s – not A’s – and everyone is “happy.”
Over the course of 162 games, Mickey Callaway and virtually all managers can be excused for their reliance on their bullpens. General Managers take extra care to stock the pens with arms, and in many cases pay big money to do so.
But that was an extraordinary game last night. The Mets knew in advance where they stood, with a loss diving them a full four games behind the pace of the Chicago Cubs.
To reiterate, the Bullpen Era is upon us, and you can’t stop a moving locomotive. But there is no reason why managers and starting pitchers can’t go with their gut occasionally. Last night’s loss to the Dodgers was gutless and, most likely, the Mets last gasp end to a great season.
Mickey Callaway’s Decision: Another Opinion
I recommend Danny Abriano’s story appearing today on SNY’s website: