Sources say Eric Chavez’s hiring will cause dramatic shift after Mets hitters had analytics overload last season
It stays to be seen what kind of effect Eric Chavez will have as the brand-new striking coach in Queens however something is for sure.
His hiring indicates a remarkable shift in viewpoint after a 2021 season in which the Mets went so heavy on analytics that gamers revealed disappointment at the everyday info overload, while supervisor Luis Rojas ended up being so exasperated by his players’ baffled method that he started attending pregame striking conferences to offer a voice of factor.
According to sources, gamers existed with a lot info relating to a pitcher’s propensities and the particular motion of his pitches — by analytics executives, not coaches — that it messed with their heads.
As one Met informed an associate last summer season: “We leave every hitters’ meeting thinking we’re about to go face Cy Young.”
That’s no reason for the Mets’ failures at the plate last season, which were a big factor they underachieved their method to a 77-win season. Even sources who think the gamers had genuine problems acknowledge that some didn’t take adequate individual obligation for their bad efficiency.
Yet it appears reasonable to state the drumming of analytics into the heads of players as everyday preparation can’t be neglected as an element that developed unfavorable vibes around the ballclub.
You may keep in mind Rojas consistently revealing his own disappointment in his postgame Zoom sessions when the Mets struck the skids in the 2nd half of the season, stating that his players didn’t appear to be prepared to assault hittable fastballs, particularly with males on base.
According to somebody near the circumstance, that was Rojas’ method of opposing to the front workplace about the overuse of analytics, in specific after the early-season shooting of old-school striking coach Chili Davis.
“It was driving him crazy,” the individual stated of Rojas. “But he was kind caught between a rock and a hard place. He was a lame duck manager so he didn’t feel he could go against where the organization was at the time, but he knew it was hurting his team.
“He understood the gamers raged about it, that they felt they were being overwhelmed with info about what pitch to try to find in this count, what not to try to find because count. He was continuously speaking with particular people, attempting to get them out of their own heads. That’s why he began going to the players’ conferences and speaking out.”
If you’re asking why Rojas didn’t simply demand a change in the way the meetings were being run, well, come on, we all know the deal by now: In this analytics era, the front office runs the show and the powers of many managers have been significantly diminished.
Perhaps that will change to some extent for the Mets now with the hiring of Buck Showalter, and indeed indications are the longtime manager was brought in at least partly as a reaction to what could be viewed as an overuse of power by the front office last season.
So how and why did it come to that in 2021?
In talking to several people with insight into the situation, I came away believing Steve Cohen had all the right intentions in his first year as owner in trying to turn the analytics department, badly understaffed by today’s MLB standards when he took over, from a weakness to a strength.
That is, he beefed up the department and empowered the front office to utilize analytics in ways the organization hadn’t been able to in the past.
In addition, because the Mets were forced to fire newly hired GM Jared Porter for sending unwanted, sexually explicit text messages to a female reporter in 2016, Zack Scott was elevated to acting GM, and his previous experience was primarily as an analytics analyst with the Boston Red Sox.
All of that, as well as Sandy Alderson’s willingness to cede power to Scott, led the analytics execs to assert their influence with the approval of their superiors.
On the pitching side, sources say Jeremy Hefner had a solid working relationship with the analytics people, able to take their information and interpret it for his pitchers as he saw fit.
On the hitting side, however, there was conflict from the start with some of the analytics execs and Davis, whose more traditional belief in situational hitting and using the entire field went against the new-age statistical-driven approach that favors launch angle hitting for power.
In addition, one source says Davis objected at times to the way information was presented in absolute form during pregame hitting meetings, citing a specific example related to a game on April 20 against the Cubs when Jake Arrieta held the Mets to one run over five innings in a 3-1 win.
According to the source, an analytics exec instructed the hitters in the pregame meeting to eliminate Arrieta’s changeup from their thinking, saying the veteran right-hander almost never threw the pitch anymore.
Davis objected at the time, saying it was too early in the season to draw that type of conclusion, and it was his opinion that Arrieta would use the changeup more against certain Mets hitters than he’d done in his first three starts of the season. That led to some back-and-forth between an analytics exec and the hitting coach.
As it turned out, Arrieta threw 11 changeups in his five innings, according to ESPN’s game tracker, and got some key outs with the pitch, angering the players, notably Dominic Smith, about being misled by their analytics people.
And though Davis proved to be right, at least to a certain extent, his pushback in the meeting may well have played a key role in him getting fired a couple of weeks later. At least that was the feeling players expressed and others close to the situation thought as well.
“The analytics individuals utilized their power to make modifications as they pleased,” was the way one source put it.
“Chili got fired due to the fact that he disliked the method things were being done,” said another. “And the gamers enjoyed Chili. They all understood he had actually been a terrific player and they appreciated what he needed to state.”
The Mets, remember, replaced Davis with Hugh Quattlebaum, a career minor leaguer as a player and coach, and someone the hitters saw as an analytics guy who could give them information but didn’t have a feel for to how to talk to them about competing in the batter’s box at the major league level.
“They frantically missed out on Chili because of that,” a source said. “And they frantically require a person who can take the analytics info however put it in the ideal point of view. They require somebody who can ensure people remain in the ideal headspace going to the plate, being a player with a strategy instead of this absolutism about what is going to occur in every circumstance.”
There’s a belief among the same sources that at some point Cohen became very much aware of the players’ frustration with the perceived overuse of analytics — perhaps in no small part because Francisco Lindor reportedly had conversations regularly with the owner.
How that may have played a role in the hiring of Billy Eppler as GM is unclear, but certainly in signing off on Showalter, Cohen was agreeing the ballclub needed a change in philosophy. Showalter made a point of saying at his introductory news conference that he wants all the information he can get, and always has, but it’s hard to envision him allowing an analytics exec to run the pregame hitters meeting.
Likewise the hiring of Chavez as hitting coach is an indication the Mets again value the need for someone in that role with major league presence.
As Eppler put it earlier this week during a Zoom news conference, the organization wanted someone with “the experience of living and passing away in the batter’s box, for absence of a much better term.”
In short, someone who can relate to players on a human level. During a 17-year career in the big leagues, Chavez put up solid numbers and was known as a thinking man’s hitter, going back to his earliest seasons with the Oakland Athletics.
Carlos Pena, in fact, recalled on MLB Network this week how, upon being traded to the A’s in 2002, he was influenced by Chavez.
“He was the very first man to talk with me about having a strategy at the plate,” Pena said. “I had actually constantly been a see-it-and-hit-it man, however Chavez stated, ‘You’ve got to have a strategy up there.’ He altered the method I believed as a player.”
As players will inform you, having a strategy can integrate analytical info, however it doesn’t suggest letting it determine your thinking. It can suggest searching for particular pitches in particular locations of the strike zone, particularly early in the count, and after that being all set to adjust when behind in the count.
Usually I’ve heard players state it indicates having an uncluttered mind, concentrated on how to assault the pitcher, however, above all, all set to contend. And as the disappointment revealed by gamers and even the supervisor appears to explain, the minds of Mets players in 2015 were anything however uncluttered.
Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.