The New York Mets are currently in 1st place in the NL East, and they also happen to have the 2nd best record in all of baseball (12-5, .706 winning percentage). The Mets also have a new Manager, stern-faced veteran Buck Showalter.
So it's awfully easy to say... Wow! Buck's doing a great job so far!
And honestly, taking the easy way out is never the way to go. We gotta dig a little deeper. We gotta look a little harder. We gotta watch a little closer. And I've been watching Buck like a hawk since the first play of the first game of the season. Every little move is under close analysis.
Long story short, here's a bunch of reasons why I think the 2022 Mets are winning in spite of Showalter:
1. Buck's lineup construction has been bordering on horrific.
Let's make it nice and easy and start with a couple games ago against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Buck had Robinson Cano batting 6th, ahead of both Mark Canha and Jeff McNeil. Let's take a look at all of the details on this:
A: Current batting averages: Cano .206, Canha .324 (highest batting average on the entire team) and McNeil .302, almost 100 points higher than Cano.
B: Current OPS: Cano .544, Canha .734 and McNeil .807. Cano not even close.
C: Current ages: Cano 39, Canha 33 and McNeil 30. Cano is a grandpa here, very very close to retirement.
2. Buck has drastically undervalued Mark Canha from day 1.
At either the end of the preseason or very beginning of the regular season, SNY put up an awesome stat about Canha. Over the course of the past four seasons - I believe it was minimum total plate appearances of 1,000 - Canha is amazingly 7th in all of baseball in OPS. And the first 6 names were all the names you would think of: Soto, Trout, Bryce Harper, etc. So in that alone, you can see how good Canha is right there.
I've personally always been a fan - drafting Canha frequently in my deep fantasy leagues - but I do understand that he didn't get much media exposure playing in Oakland. So yeah, for context, Canha is a really good f'n hitter. He has a professional approach - works the count, doesn't panic, doesn't chase, makes you come to him - and this is a guy who was a prominent offensive producer and contributor for an Oakland team that racked up a ton of wins in the past three seasons or so.
And yet, back on April 7 Opening Day, Canha was placed 7th in Buck's terrible order, behind rusty old Cano from the very beginning. In addition, JD Davis - who has no speed and hits a lot of hard ground balls and liners - was batting 2nd that day, which made absolutely no sense. (Davis eventually hit into a rally killing routine double play with the bases loaded when Buck absolutely should have pinch hit with one of his multiple lefty options on the pine.)
My true, honest, real opinion? Buck doesn't have much of a personal history with Canha. He doesn't know that much about him. He's not one of "his" guys. And to me, that kind of old school, worn out mentality simply isn't acceptable.
3. Buck overvalues and overrates the players he knows well.
Primarily, we're talking about Cano and Eduardo Escobar, here. Showalter managed the Baltimore Orioles from 2010 through 2018. During that time, of course, he saw an awful lot of the division rival New York Yankees. From 2010 through 2013, Cano was a perennial American League all star with the Yanks. In 2010 he finished 3rd in the AL MVP voting. 6th in 2011. 4th in 2012 and 5th in 2013. He was the Silver Slugger for his position in all 4 of those seasons.
So yeah, I think you get the point here... when Buck saw a lot of Cano, Cano was considered the best "pure hitter" in baseball at the time. He was a consistent hit machine with a cool demeanor and beautiful stroke. Showalter is 65 years old now. And honestly, he looks much older than that. The guy is simply stuck in the past, seeing the Cano that he remembered, the one he wants to see now. A quote from the New York Times from Buck on Cano during the preseason:
“Those are the little things you look for,” Manager Buck Showalter said. “He’s competing. He’s got that look in his eye. I’ve learned through the years, don’t sell guys like him short. He’s got a pretty good pedigree.”
"That look in his eye"? That's what we are going on, nowadays? What year is this, 1934? In the era of cutting edge analytics, what the hell does the look in Cano's eye have to do with anything?
The reality on Cano, now? He's a washed up ballplayer approaching 40 years old who missed all of 2021 for his SECOND major PED suspension. You think he doesn't know he's done? Why do you think he was taking PEDs in his late 30s in the first place?
As for Escobar, here's a direct Buck quote on him:
“Real calmness about him,” Showalter said. “He doesn’t need to show anybody — those guys are always trying to show everybody what a good guy they are. You see people are drawn to him very quickly. Much like Robbie [Cano] and a lot of our guys. Those types of guys bring a certain calmness through storms.”
Both Buck and Escobar had the greatest success of their careers with the Arizona Diamondbacks' organization. Buck won 100 games as Arizona's Manager in 1999 (the most of his 21 years as a big league Manager) and Escobar finally made his first all-star game with Arizona last season. Based on the quotes, you can see the correlations Buck is making between the two veteran infielders, Cano and Escobar.
And, great! Veteran leadership, rah rah bullshit, it's all good! (Obviously, I like Escobar better than Cano anyway, because the former is both younger, better and a switch hitter.) But we can't be making a batting order - on a legitimate contender - based on "veteran presence" and "that look in their eyes." Escobar is just a lifetime .257 hitter with a measly .311 OBP. He's been batting 5th for Buck since Opening Day because of his veteran status. Just to be clear, my lineup would be (vs. righties, because you face far more righties than lefties):
1. Brandon Nimmo, CF
2. Francisco Lindor, SS
3. Starling Marte, RF
4. Pete Alonso, 1B
5. Mark Canha, LF
6. Eduardo Escobar, 3B
7. Jeff McNeil, 2B
8. Dom Smith, DH (vs righties), JD Davis DH (vs lefties)
9. James McCann or Tomas Nido, C
Notice, Cano would have been out of my lineup from day 1. Nearing retirement, and he was a Brodie Van Wagenen acquisition. He'd be just a Lenny Harris-type veteran lefty pinch hitter for me.
4. Buck has undervalued J.D. Davis from the beginning.
Did you know that Yu Darvish named J.D. Davis as one of the best hitters in baseball? Quote, "When I faced him, I knew right then he was special and I even told my teammates that." He ranked him as the 4th toughest hitter he faced in 2019, behind only Christian Yelich, Cody Bellinger and Josh Bell. Thus, to Darvish, Davis was the highest-ranked righty hitter.
Yu Darvish is 6'5", 220 pounds with filthy stuff. He's a 5-time MLB all star. He's finished 2nd in the Cy Young voting, twice. He's even gotten MVP votes in his career! And this guy says JD Davis is one of the best in the game? I absolutely give that comment serious credence. Now, let's look at Buck's usage of Davis:
He has just 20 total at bats this season. That in comparison to:
Cano, who has 34 at bats. Luis Guillorme has almost exactly the same amount of at bats as Davis (2 total home runs in his career in 5 big league seasons). Travis Jankowski also has nearly the same amount of at bats as Davis (lifetime .241 hitter, notorious quadruple-A player).
Meanwhile, the facts and stats say the complete opposite on Davis: the more you play him, the better he does. In 6 pro seasons, his biggest workload came in 2019, where he hit .307 (career best), .895 OPS (career best), 22 homers (career best), 22 doubles (career best), 126 hits (career best) and 57 RBI (also a career best).
So, Buck looks at those numbers and thinks... yeah! This guy has to be a part-time player. Definitely not a guy who deserves more playing time. But Cano... yeah! He's definitely earned his playing time as a washed up, known cheater who can't hit his way out of a paper bag at this juncture of his lengthy career.
And again, look at the way the years and seasons line up. Buck was managing in the American League in both 2017 and 2018. During those two years, JD Davis was essentially a rookie throughout, just trying to find his footing in the bigs with the Houston Astros. Not surprisingly, with zero pro experience, he struggled hitting .226 and .175. You don't think Buck remembers that? The last time Buck managed, prior to this season, JD Davis was "an out" when he looked at the scouting report. Again, this is a case of an old man being frustratingly stuck in his ways. Players evolve. Things change, pal.
5. Buck has also undervalued Dominic Smith from the beginning.
Did you know that Dom Smith finished 13th in the 2020 NL MVP voting? Yup. He finished ahead of Darvish, as well as fully established players like Paul Goldschmidt, Brandon Belt and Max Fried. 13th in the entire league. So you have JD Davis mentioned as a top 5 guy, Dom Smith in the top 13, yet Cano has more at bats than both of them. You can't tell me this isn't going on! Buck is simply playing Cano because he used to be good when he saw him play a lot, up close and personal.
If the Mets want to be a World Series contender - not simply a playoff contender - they need to maximize the talent on their roster. That means hitting Davis and Smith over Cano at the DH spot. Plain and simple.
6. Opinion and rumor: Buck forced the trade of Miguel Castro because he didn't like him on the Orioles.
Actually, Gary Cohen threw this right out into the open the first game of the season. He said that Showalter was frustrated by Castro's wildness during their collective time together in Baltimore. Magically, right before the start of the regular season, Castro is dealt to the Yankees for crappy lefty, Joely Rodriguez. Even Cohen thought the trade and timing were both "curious". This article covered all the bases quite well, actually.
Long story short, Castro is younger, throws harder and is both more durable and effective than Rodriguez. Miguel Castro was an extremely valuable and dependable reliever for the Mets. Buck was again... stuck in the past. This isn't the Castro you had way back when in Baltimore, Buck! The kid has gotten much better. He's polished up and totally refined his game. Now the Mets' major weakness is its bullpen and Castro is sorely, sorely missed. In my opinion, it was a terrible trade forced by Buck because Castro wasn't one of "his guys".
7. Opinion and rumor: Buck tried to force another trade right before the season, too.
This was the potential Dom Smith deal to the Padres. I just don't like the way Buck is operating, here. I've had multiple diehard Mets fans text me that Smith "clearly isn't a Buck guy." Based on what?? He tried to trade him, last minute, before the kid even played a regular season game for him! It's both ridiculous and unprofessional. Castro and Smith are "new school" type players. Buck has been dismissing them from the get go; that's baby stuff and it shows a real lack of long-term thinking and evolutionary thinking.
8. Buck's tactical maneuvers have been mind-numbingly bad.
Again, we just have to go with an example. In a recent game, late, 1st and 2nd no outs... Buck opted to sacrifice bunt with Guillorme. Of course, at this point, we all know why the sacrifice bunt is an absolutely terrible play at the major league level. And, who did Buck sacrifice to get to...
You're giving away a precious out, trying to set up a game winning hit against a guy throwing 99 MPH for...
I mean, need I really say more? Obviously Jankowski struck out, totally overmatched. The following batter struck out as well, and Buck blew the Mets' opportunity to win the game. Later on, they won because Francisco Lindor has been Mr. Clutch with the stick. The win had absolutely nothing to do with Buck's managing; in fact, they should have lost again because of Buck. The players bailed him out, as they have been doing consistently.
9. In 21 MLB managerial seasons, Buck Showalter has NEVER won a World Series.
That sentence explains itself.
10. The Yankees finally returned to glory once they moved on from Showalter.
Not much to explain here, either. Joe Torre immediately led the Yanks to the Promised Land. Buck, as has always been the case in his overrated career, was simply unable to get the job done.
11. The Diamondbacks won a World Series as soon as they moved on from Showalter.
Go from Buck to Bob Brenly? You immediately win a World Series with essentially the same players. Buck is always the one holding a strong group of players back. The proof is in the pudding.
I mean, I can go on for days, as you can see. But what's the point? The key idea is simple:
The Mets have a very strong team this season, and Buck Showalter will eventually be the reason why they don't win the World Series.
John Frascella is a published baseball author and Senior Writer at Aaron Torres Online. Follow him on Twitter @LegendSports7 for all things baseball, basketball and football.