By Ernie Palladino
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Reason 247 to like Terry Collins: he hates numbers.
Not all numbers. A baseball manager would be out of his mind to ignore certain statistics. But the new-age sabermetrics that seem to fuel the strategy of all managers under the age of 55?
Nope. They’re not for him.
“I’m not going to sit there today and look at all these (expletive) numbers and try to predict this guy is going to be a great player,” Collins told USA Today just before the Mets reported to Port St. Lucie on Wednesday. “OPS this, OPS that. GPS. LCSs. DSDs. You know who has good numbers? Good (expletive) players.”
Determining when and where to use those good players is the trick to managing. Collins, who turns 67 in May, is as old-school as they come. And having reached a point where one’s level of verbal diplomacy becomes inversely proportional to the amount of years one continues to remember to breathe, Collins is not afraid to speak his mind.
He has the right, of course. Anyone with a World Series appearance under his belt has the right to his own opinions on how best to run a team. And the modern invasion of computers and stylized mathematics into player selection and game management, well, that never did sit well with baseball’s oldest skipper.
Collins would rather do it the old-fashioned way — with the eyes.
Sandy Alderson was probably less than delighted to hear his manager poor-mouth the equations he has relied upon since he started picking players for Oakland in the 1980s. Sabermetrics and its On-Base Plus Slugging (OPS) for hitters, Walks Plus Hits Per Innings Pitched (WHIP) for pitchers, Wins Above Replacement (WAR) for every player lie among the ever-growing mound of stats the GM uses daily to predict performance, clutchness, and just about everything else outside of a kid’s digestive regularity.
But then, their jobs are different. Alderson’s whole job involves prediction. For Collins, production and when it happens stands paramount.
For that, the eyes trump the computer printout. What may work for sabermetrics disciples like Joe Girardi or Buck Showalter doesn’t work particularly well for Collins.
Why sign Yoenis Cespedes? Well, the .940 OPS and 157 OPS+ (OPS adjust to ballparks) told Alderson he’d be a good buy for three years, $75 million. But then, Alderson is probably the only one in the organization who can figure out OPS+ since Einstein hasn’t been around much.
To Collins, those 17 homers he hit the last two months of the season provided all the info he needed. Most of those came in key situations, and many won games. He needed only the memories of those shots, the meteoric effect he had on the rest of the lineup, and some good, common baseball sense to understand Cespedes would look awfully sweet in the middle of the 2016 lineup.
“He changed our team last year,” Collins said. “He makes our lineup legitimate. This guy is going to hit 25 to 30 homers. He’s going to drive in 100 runs. That’s what he does.
“Those are the numbers I like.”
The eyes aren’t flawless, especially when other factors override them. Collins will admit that. He never should have let Matt Harvey come out for the ninth inning of Game 5 with Jeurys Familia warm and ready to go. But that was a matter of heart over head, not statistics. And heaven knows he wasn’t looking at stats when he blasted Harvey and Scott Boras over the agent’s meddling into his client’s late-season workload.
One can question for days some of the head-scratching decisions he made during the regular season before Alderson traded for the human launch pad Cespedes. But that’s just management-by-gut. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
In an age where executives and managers lean on these intricate equations to remove all risk, Collins stands refreshingly as an anachronism, a throwback to simpler times when nobody would have questioned the gravity of, say, Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera winning the Triple Crown in 2012. The fact that it hadn’t been done in 50 years just wasn’t enough for critics who needed more than BA, HRs, and RBI to validate the feat.
“I’m not sure how much an old-school guy can add to the game today,” Collins said. “It has become a young man’s game, especially with all the technology stuff you’ve got to be involved in. I’m not very good at it. I don’t enjoy it like other people do.”
Kinda make you want to root for the old guy.
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