I watch a lot of baseball. I’m from New York and I’ve always been a Yankee fan, but I’ll put any game on during the summer. Recently I’ve had the Mets on a lot watching them try and rally and make the playoffs.
The Mets have had some excruciating losses this year as they try and dig out of an early season hole and get to the post-season. None was worse than a loss they had in late August in Washington, when they were up 10-4 going into the 9th inning and gave up 7 runs to lose 11-10. It was the first time in the history of the franchise that they blew a 6-run lead in the ninth.
The Mets traded for Edwin Diaz this off-season, one of the elite closers in the game last year for the Mariners. He’s had an awful year with the Mets to the tune of a 1-7 record and a 5.65 ERA. He’s been blowing leads all year. Diaz didn’t start the 9th, but he was brought in after they gave up a few runs to try and close the game.
A tough challenge for a coach is to handle one of your elite players who isn’t playing well, or is having a bad year. We all have it in our mind who our key guys are, especially as games start. We know who our best players are and who we expect to be out there when the game is on the line. But how do you handle it when one of those guys you just know you can count on is having a bad day or a bad year? You want to show confidence in your players always, but when they are consistently struggling it’s hard to do so.
Sometimes your expectations can affect the way you coach your team. The Mets obviously brought Diaz in to be a big part of their team as a proven closer. So when he struggled, they want to believe it’s just a bad stretch and he’s going to get through it. But at some point, you have to believe what your eyes are telling you every day.
If you’ve coached long enough you’ve had some good players who had bad years. You look back at the end of the season and you say “I can’t believe he only shot 29% from 3 for the season.” You expect your good players to come through, and it’s important that you show them confidence when they are struggling. But you also have to do what’s best for your team in that moment. On a small scale, it’s the question of who you want to play down the stretch in a tight game – do you go with the starter who isn’t playing well, or do you go with the back-up who’s having a good game?
You want to show confidence in all of your guys, but production is important. At some point you have to put what they are doing every day ahead of what you expect out of them, or how they are going to feel if you make a change.
There isn’t really a clear point where it’s definitely time to make a change. For me during the season it was usually by the second week – probably 2-3 games, where I started thinking about it. If you have really struggled for 2-3 straight games, I’ve got to start think about giving someone else some of your minutes, especially if you have other guys who are playing well. I don’t think this has to destroy your guy’s confidence either. You can communicate with the player on what you are thinking and why, and what you expect out of him moving forward. But you have to prepare your team that production is important. So long-term, they understand that your decisions will be based on what’s best for the team, regardless of who those decisions involve.
Thinking about a situation like this ahead of time can make a big difference. Figure out how long you are going to go with certain guys when they don’t have it. Talk to your guys constantly about the importance of production. Communicate on a daily basis about how you might go about making changes and the reasons behind them. You never want a change that you make to hit a player like a ton of bricks and crush their confidence.
Needless to say, I wasn’t a big fan of the Met’s decision to go with Diaz in a big spot in September after the year he has had. At some point you have to release what you think about a player and go with what you have seen consistently all year.