Where Are The Fundamentals?
Do the Mets have a "hold" sign for their baserunners? And if they do, why don’t any of them seem to follow it if in fact manager Willie Randolph is giving it to them?
I can understand being aggressive; and I can understand giving the fast runners—-Jose Reyes, Luis Castillo, David Wright, Carlos Beltran—-and the smart runners—-Moises Alou—-the green light to steal when they think they can make it and it’s a good time to run, but the Mets (and many other teams around the majors) just try to steal bases haphazardly regardless of the situation. Last night, with Carlos Delgado at the plate with two strikes and one out during a frenzied ninth inning comeback, pinch runner Endy Chavez tried to steal third. Delgado, possibly distracted by the stealing runner, struck out; Nationals catcher Brian Schneider’s throw was on the money and Chavez would have been out had third baseman Ryan Zimmerman been in position to make the tag. Was that the time to try and steal third base? Chavez was already in scoring position; Delgado is being paid to drive in those runs; and the reward of stealing the base was nowhere close to the risk of being thrown out to end the game. It was a stupid thing to do from a generally solid fundamental player in Endy Chavez. This leads me to question the Mets thought processes when they’re running the bases.
Manager Willie Randolph made it a point when he got the job of having a strict code of discipline. In his first season, he outlawed goatees, loud music in the clubhouse, made sure the players dressed appropriately on the road, etc. It was a necessary and welcome change from Mets teams in the past where the team basically did whatever it wanted to do with impunity. They had many young players who needed to know who the boss was and how to (and not to) behave. As the Mets improved and imported more veteran players, Randolph eased up on the goatee and music rules. The overly aggressive attempts at stolen bases is a fundamental problem that also has to do with discipline. Randolph either hasn’t addressed it (doubtful), or they’re just not listening (probable).
This is a situation where the manager has to make it a point in telling the players that unless they are given a steal sign in certain situations, they should stay put. The Mets recent tailspin can almost be traced directly back to Jose Reyes trying to steal third in a game with the Phillies with David Wright at the plate and two outs. The Mets were leading at the time and seemed to be intent on rubbing the Phillies faces in who the boss was. It turned out that the Phillies came back and won that game and the Mets have been staggering ever since. Rookie Carlos Gomez has tried to steal bases at inopportune moments, but he seems to be taking his lead from the likes of Reyes. It seems as though there are diverging schools of thought in the Mets lineup. Reyes tries to be patient with his at bats and his baserunning at times, other times he reverts to the wild-eyed nineteen year old he was when he got to the majors. That’s the Reyes that Gomez appears to be emulating most of the time. Had Chavez gotten thrown out at third to end last night’s game, a fine of $1000 would have been appropriate. Did he have the hold sign and ignore it? Or did Randolph automatically assume that Chavez wouldn’t be that stupid?
It’s getting to the point where these players are going to have to be disciplined one way or the other until they learn proper fundamentals in game situations. Reyes is the catalyst of the team, but the Mets might have been well-served to bench him for three or four games earlier this season so he can get the message that he has to listen to orders. With the money they’re making, fining players at this level really doesn’t do much good. Teams that have far weaker rosters than the Mets play the game fundamentally sound and are able to overcome other weaknesses because they don’t do overly aggressive or overtly stupid things. The Minnesota Twins are an example of a team that has coordinated instruction from the bottom of their organization to the top. Their players don’t make it to the big leagues unless they have a solid grasp of how to play the game correctly and it shows on the field. The Yankees and Angels are also solid fundamentally and smart. The Mets have played stupid for long stretches of this season and it has shown in their inability to close out a division race that should have ended two weeks ago. Whether or not Randolph has attempted to correct the problems, the message doesn’t appear to be getting through and it may be time to crack the whip before it’s too late.