The New York Mets have been about pitching almost since day one. Mickey Callaway is the man who is going to bring it all back home in 2018.
Mickey Callaway is all about pitching. So are the New York Mets.
It was a huge deal in the glory days of the late 1960s, when the likes of Nolan Ryan, Jerry Koosman, Jesse Orosco, and Tom Seaver led the charge, giving the team their first World Championship in 1969. Spinning forward to the 1980s with Bob Ojeda, Dwight Gooden, and Ron Darling, the story of the franchise has always been built around pitching.
Nothing has changed since then. If anything the accent on pitching as a do-or-die element with the team has gotten even more significant as the lost power bats of Jay Bruce, Curtis Granderson, and Lucas Duda have diluted the power in the Mets lineup. Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, and Steven Matz still hold the keys to the kingdom for the New York Mets. And no one knows that better than the team’s new manager, Mickey Callaway.
As with his rookie colleague across the river, Aaron Boone, Callaway has spent his whole life preparing for this moment. He first impressed the Mets when he showed up for his interview with two black binders in tow, each containing his concrete plans to move the bungling team and franchise forward.
To the displeasure of some in the Mets hierarchy, he has announced plans requiring an innings limit among starters designed to reduce and prevent arm injuries, along with a new conditioning regimen. This, in the face of the Mets hiring a new executive with the same responsibilities, might create some fireworks down the line, but chances are Callaway is just getting warmed up when it comes to revitalizing his beleaguered staff.
The real good news, though, is Callaway already has Mets pitchers thinking his way. Here’s Syndergaard talking about his new conditioning program this offseason (no more bulking up) and what he’s learned about Callaway in just two months:
This is a big season for Syndergaard, who mostly shot himself in the foot in 2017 with his wayward conditioning habits and an over belief, perhaps, in his Thor image when he refused that MRI that led to his season-ending injury.
deGrom is the most settled of all the Mets starters and will require the least attention by Callaway. But there is still room for improvement as seen by the decline in his Cy Young-bound season to just a terrific year during the latter part of the second half.
With no exception, Matt Harvey remains the wild card on the pitching staff and this is where Callaway and newly appointed pitching coach, Dave Eiland, will earn their money in spades if they can turn the free-agent bound Harvey around in 2018.
Harvey is precisely the kind of challenge Callaway is seeking, and that’s mostly because he believes in Harvey’s upside. John Harper, writing in the New York Daily News, got this analysis from Callaway:
“Matt is obviously a guy that’s had great success, and needs a little bit of direction right now,” the new manager told me last week. “And I’ve been around a guy like that, Ubaldo Jimenez.
“It seems like a very similar case. You just get confused in what’s going on and you’re not sure how to right the ship. And it can be a very simple process.”
Communicating that to Harvey, who descended rapidly from a mental standpoint as the season progressed last year, to the point where he admitted to being relieved when the season finally ended, will be the trick for Mickey Callaway.
The Big Three can only do so much though, and Callaway might have to dig even deeper into his bag of tricks to right the ship Matz, Robert Gsellman, and Seth Lugo are currently sailing. Matz, especially, is one of those enigmas in baseball that come along and all you can do is scratch your head saying to yourself, “What the hell, with his stuff…”? But again, this is the stuff Mickey Callaway is made for and, probably, the main reason why he was hired.
Sandy Alderson could lend a hand if he can find a backend and less expensive pitcher on the free-agent list. A darkhorse candidate in that respect could be Yankees castoff, Jaime Garcia, who mostly flopped in the American League but might be rejuvenated by a return to his home in the National League where he spent most of eight seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals.
But most of the work in the trenches will be done by Callaway and Eiland as they attempt to bring it all on home for the Mets in 2018, where their success when they’ve had it has always been grounded in starting pitching.
The thing about cliches is they are always accurate. And the one in baseball that shouts from the rafters about pitching, pitching, pitching remains the dominant focus of winning teams in the game today.
The Mets have been there before when all the stars align and the promised land is reached. Mickey Callaway is on a mission to bring the Mets there once again. And that alone makes the 2018 season for the Mets an intriguing and interesting one to follow.