We have much to learn about the Mets' hiring of Terry Collins from the primary text- no, not Moneyball- but the Simpsons episode Homer At The Bat. Witness this moment in managerial history:
Burns: You, Strawberry, hit a home run.
Strawberry: Okay, skip.
(hits a home run)
Burns: Ha-ha! I told him to do that.
Smithers: Brilliant strategy sir.
What does this tell us? Notice that Darryl Strawberry, in the lesser competition that is the Springfield softball league, was likely to hit a home run anyway. Indeed, we learn at a pivotal moment later in the show that Strawberry hit nine home runs in a single game. So while Smithers plays the role of some prominent columnists giving the manager outsized credit, we understand something larger here: it is the players who will make or break the tenure of Terry Collins.
And just as before Collins was hired, the Mets have a tremendous management team in place to augment what has been, recently, a roster with plenty of holes to trip up the performances of its stars. Collins has been roundly derided in some corners- for losing the clubhouse in Anaheim, for failing to be Wally Backman, and seemingly for his inability to win a single baseball game since the news of his hiring leaked earlier Sunday. Some people probably saw pictures of him from his stint managing the Chinese National Team and think he is a communist.
Now, I don't discount the possibility that Collins will fail as manager. Most managers do. But ultimately, his 1999 Angels managed to go 51-82 for him because... that was a terrible roster. Four of his everyday players had an OPS+ of 81 or lower. And none of the four, save Darin Erstad in his fluke 2000 season, dramatically outperformed those performances after Collins left. Meanwhile, a rotation including Steve Sparks and 37-year-old Tim Belcher didn't do him any favors, either.
But that is the key: which players will Sandy Alderson give him? Until we know that, we can't begin to know if Terry Collins will be a great or terrible Mets manager. And it is endlessly amusing to see anyone try to assert otherwise. We know this from the moment late in Homer At The Bat, when Mr. Burns asserts his managerial authority, and pinch-hits right-handed Homer Simpson for lefty Darryl Strawberry.
As Burns said, "It's called playing the percentages. It's what smart managers do to win ballgames."
Nevertheless, Springfield won on a Homer HBP. Naturally, they wouldn't have been in that position if Straw hadn't hit the nine home runs. It's the players. The manager can motivate to an extent, can affect results to an extent- but a surprisingly small extent. Whether Collins will do so positively or negatively is still to be determined- I'm not willing to draw any conclusions based on the work he did 11 years ago or more.
But really, without Alderson giving him a better roster than Jerry Manuel had, it won't matter. That's worth remembering before making decisions about the Mets' future based on who the manager is. And now... the medicine balls.