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Callaway’s Calculations

If you’ve been reading us for the last two years (in which case thank you, by the way), you know that I think Mickey Callaway [1] is a bit dim.

That said, I have sympathy for him right now. A fair amount of it, in fact.

He’s got a closer who can’t be relied on, a setup guy who can’t be relied on, and another setup guy who can be relied on but whose arm is whatever the opposite of rubber is. (Glue?) That turns a sixth or seventh inning with a lead into a stressful scramble that hinges on a series of interlocking questions.

  1. Is Seth Lugo [2] available?
  2. If he is, which inning or innings should he cover?
  3. If he covers those innings, what are the consequences of not having him the next day?

I mean, managing the back end of a bullpen is tricky even when you have pretty good options, and Mickey doesn’t have good options.

So yeah, sympathies.

Callaway, as you undoubtedly know, chose to remove Steven Matz [3] after six innings and 79 pitches and after he’d retired the last 14 batters. It didn’t work out, to say the very least: Lugo started by walking Josh Donaldson [4] and then gave up five hits and a fielder’s choice on a ball Michael Conforto [5] trapped.

Lugo wasn’t hit particularly hard — the Braves jerked some tough pitches over the infield, broke bats and still had balls fall in, and were gifted an extra out when Pete Alonso [6] left first and Lugo didn’t cover on a grounder to recidivist Met Ruben Tejada [7], returning to duty as Jeff McNeil [8]‘s replacement. (I would have opted for Dilson Herrera [9], but that’s another post.)

But that doesn’t change the ugly fact that by the time the inning had ended, a flimsy yet inspiring 2-1 Mets lead had swollen and rotted into a 6-2 Braves lead. In the ninth, the Mets rose up biting and kicking and scratching and clawing, only to lose 6-4 [10] with the bases loaded as old friend Jerry Blevins [11] fanned Conforto. It was one of those rallies that you almost think you’d rather they’d skipped, since it just made the outcome more agonizing.

But back to the decision to go to Lugo. Mets Twitter, predictably, exploded. And after the game, Callaway faced questions from every direction. His first line of defense was standard Callaway: Lugo’s been terrific, he’d make the same decision 100 times out of 100, blah blah blah. His second line of defense was a bit more nuanced: He wanted a righty-righty matchup with Lugo against Donaldson, and Matz had run the bases in multiple innings, draining more gas from the tank than those 79 pitches indicated. Fair enough; in a spirit of generosity, I’ll also toss in something I don’t think he mentioned, namely that Matz’s 1-2-3 sixth inning was a bit deceptive, as all three outs were hit on a line.

So OK, I see how taking Matz out wasn’t quite the obvious mistake you probably thought it was while stewing in the eighth. But I still think it was the wrong decision, because of that unenviable question of where to use the Mets’ only reliable reliever.

Nothing worked out for Lugo. But even if everything had worked out, Lugo wasn’t going to go three innings. Which means in the ninth, the top of the Braves order (Acuna and Albies and Freeman, oh my!) was going to face … well, who, exactly?

Callaway wouldn’t say. But he doesn’t exactly specialize in thinking outside the box, so let’s assume it was going to be Edwin Diaz [12] or Jeurys Familia [13]. Doesn’t either of those matchups in the ninth strike you as a lot scarier than a possibly tired Matz facing the Braves’ fourth through sixth hitters in the seventh? Why not send Matz back out with the bullpen on notice? Maybe you get one more inning out of him. Maybe he has an easy seventh and you push him to 100 pitches for the eighth. Or, OK, maybe he gives up a leadoff homer to Donaldson and annoying bloggers write 800 pissy words about lefty-righty matchups.

Sticking with Matz struck me at the time as the wisest way to navigate dangerous terrain and simplify the puzzle of where to use Lugo. Instead, Callaway opted to safeguard the seventh at the expense of the ninth. And that’s the part I don’t understand.

It’s not all on Callaway that this is the nightly puzzle he has to solve — it would help a lot if Diaz and/or Familia could get outs the way we expected them to five months ago. But the plan Callaway chose didn’t make sense even before Lugo ran into a buzzsaw. If everything had worked out, Callaway still would have been picking one of two serially unreliable pitchers to face three of the most dangerous hitters in the National League. And it’s that decision that still has me shaking my head.