Part 27 in a series analyzing the New York Mets
The simulations on baseballreference.com showed the Mets sitting at 27-24, with a three-game winning streak, as they prepared to play Friday in Atlanta.
Pete Alonso already had 20 homers this season. Rick Porcello’s 2.50 ERA was the lowest among the team’s starting pitchers. Jed Lowrie had received playing time off the bench and was hitting .333 in limited action.
On the flip side, Robinson Cano had received just 28 at-bats — was he injured? — and posted a miniscule .286 OPS. Dellin Betances’ 9.18 ERA in 23 appearances was a blight on a bullpen that had performed at a mostly respectable level.
The simulations don’t and can’t indicate Luis Rojas’ performance level in his first season as a major league manager.
The 38-year-old Rojas was still adjusting to his new job when the Grapefruit League season shut down in March due to the COVID-19 outbreak. During the layoff, Rojas and his staff have remained in communication with players, receiving updates on health and workout routines.
One advantage Rojas has over the last new manager to guide the Mets into a season, Mickey Callaway, is instant credibility within the organization. Spending 13 years in the organization, eight of them as a minor league manager, can have that effect. Rojas spent last season as Mets quality control coach.
“I think he’s got very good knowledge of the game, but he’s calm,” former Mets manager Terry Collins said. “I watched him run his teams and run games in the minor leagues and he had control of his players, but he had control of himself. He just slows the game down for himself, he doesn’t make rash decisions and today’s game in the minor leagues is tough, because your lineups are dictated today, but his players all liked him and they all played hard for him.
“I saw him take guys out of games when they didn’t hustle and they didn’t make a big deal about it. I think his demeanor will be good for the guys in New York because he’s got basically a little bit of a veteran club and the one thing those veteran guys don’t want, they don’t want somebody who is so intense and so in on every move. You have got to let those guys play a little bit and I think Louie is a good example of that.”
A look at the High-A St. Lucie Mets roster from 2015 shows Jeff McNeil, Dominic Smith, Amed Rosario and Michael Conforto among the players who received significant action. The manager was Rojas, who guided the team to a fifth-place finish in the Florida State League. The following year he took St. Lucie to the playoffs, before guiding Double-A Binghamton to a postseason berth in 2017. Four years earlier he led Low-A Savannah to the South Atlantic League championship.
Collins, who served as minor league field coordinator for the Mets in 2010 before getting hired to replace Jerry Manuel as manager, can appreciate the path Rojas has taken.
“It means a lot because you are looking down the road at guys that are going to be called up, [Rojas] is going to know those guys, he is going to know their personalities,” Collins said. “But the other thing it does, when you bring a player in and he doesn’t know you very well, because he hasn’t been around you, a veteran guy, they are going to ask the young guys, ‘Tell me about this manager.’ They are going to draw their own conclusions, but you have people in there who say, ‘Hey, look, he is good to play for.’ ”
During spring training, Rojas conversed often with Collins (he is serving as a consultant to the Mets) and asked plenty of questions.
“I only told him what I did, but I also wanted him to make sure he knows he’s got to do it his way,” Collins said. “I used to call Jim Leyland and Joe Torre and Tony La Russa about different things that went on, but at the end it’s got to be your way, because at the end the players will know if that is not who you are. They sense it. If you become somebody that you’re not normally they will sense it.”