It is commonly assumed that if Joe Torre had been a free agent, rather than property of the Los Angeles Dodgers, he, and not Willie Randolph, would currently be manager of the New York Mets. That chorus will likely quiet a bit after the Mets completed a 5-2 homestand by defeating the Dodgers Sunday night, 6-1.
But the funny idea of the whole Torre-for-Randolph idea is that there’s no evidence that the aspects of Randolph’s managing that have come under fire most—his lack of demonstrated passion, his deference to veterans, and his problems managing his bullpen—would have altered with this particular regime change. After all, Randolph learned his style by Joe Torre’s side as a bench coach for much of Torre’s Yankee tenure.
While Willie Randolph has yet to be ejected from a game, there are some who have argued his failure to kick dirt on an umpire has led to an indifference from his team. But Joe Torre hardly qualifies as a Bobby Cox-level umpire agitator. Torre has only one ejection this season, and one all of last season. Clearly, the success Joe Torre had in leading the New York Yankees to 12 straight playoff appearances wasn’t based on his willingness to be a yeller.
In terms of in-game decisions, another area in which Randolph has come in for criticism this year, it’s hard to discern any pattern that differentiates him from Torre. Both men can be said to be suffering because of personnel limitations imposed on them by the decisions of their general managers.
While Willie Randolph has, until this week, continued to play Carlos Delgado every day despite loud calls for his benching, Joe Torre has done the same thing with the inept Juan Pierre, and also with his struggling center fielder, Andruw Jones, until an injury made the indecision moot.
But clearly, both managers have very little in the way of alternatives. When Delgado was benched for two games this week, he was replaced by Damion Easley, whose bat is only valuable as a fill-in at middle infield positions. (In fact, in 2008, Easley’s .209/.239/.279 line hasn’t even been valuable there.)
Torre has a similar problem in his outfield. While Pierre clearly isn’t helping the offense with his .271/.343/.305 batting line, Torre’s alternatives while Jones heals are the lightly regarded Delwyn Young and recent Mets minor league cast-off Terry Tiffee, a pair of uninspiring alternatives.
Randolph has also received criticism for continuing to pitch Aaron Heilman, a pitcher who excelled in the bullpen from 2005-2007, in critical situations despite his early-season struggles. As recently as Friday night, Randolph went to Heilman in the eighth inning, and Heilman responded by allowing four runs in the eighth inning to provide the 9-5 margin in a Los Angeles win.
But Joe Torre has a similar problem with setup man Jonathan Broxton, who posted ERAs of 2.59 and 2.85 in 2006 and 2007, but whose ERA has ballooned to 4.94 this season. Broxton was summoned Saturday to protect a 2-0 lead, and gave up three runs in what turned out to be a 3-2 New York victory.
There certainly are aspects to Willie Randolph’s managing that could improve—for instance, his use of Pedro Feliciano, his most versatile and effective reliever besides Billy Wagner, in primarily blowouts, or only as a lefty specialist, despite his ability to get righties out, and pitch multiple innings at a time. Feliciano has now pitched in 30 games—16 of them in games the Mets won or lost by 4 runs or more, and in 6 of the 14 close contests, he’s faced two batters or less. A change to a more optimal usage pattern would help every other member of the bullpen, Heilman included, to pitch in more comfortable roles.
But the reasons for New York’s 28-27 record, and Los Angeles’s 27-29 record, primarily have to do with the players on the field. And any change from Willie Randolph to Joe Torre, the man who trained Willie Randolph, likely wouldn’t have made much difference at all.