At one time, the word “slump” was verboten in the Mets’ clubhouse. A struggling hitter was said to be in a “funk” instead. It was meant to take the edge off a player’s hitting woes, to make is sound less negative than it was. Kind of like “Custodial Engineer” takes the edge off “Janitor.”
Calling it a “funk” really did nothing to help a player get out of a slump.
But these days, manager Terry Collins, hitting coach Dave Hudgens, and GM Sandy Alderson do much more to help a player out of a slump than simply using a nicer term. They have done a great job of bringing players back from what Keith Hernandez once called the “deep, dark forest.”
To use a cliche, they do it by putting struggling players in a position to succeed.
Ike Davis started the year in a miserable slump. Collins and the Mets knew they needed Ike to hit in order for their lineup to score runs. Collins began the road back by moving Davis down in the batting order. Instead of facing the pressure to drive in runs as a cleanup hitter, he was allowed to work out his swing in the number 7 hole. When that wasn’t enough, Collins sat Davis against left-handed pitchers. Davis had better numbers against righties, so he had a better chance to succeed if he didn’t face southpaws.
When that wasn’t enough, Collins and Alderson considered sending Davis to Triple-A Buffalo to break out of his slump. But they decided that it wasn’t the right move for Davis. Sometimes a demotion helps a player (ala Steve Trachsel), sometimes it does nothing (ala Gaby Sanchez of the Marlins). The brain trust felt it would would be more beneficial for Davis to remain on the big club.
All the while, Hudgens was making adjustments to Davis’s stance. Ike bent his knees more to make low pitches more accessible. At 6’4″, Davis had had trouble making contact with any pitch, especially offspeed stuff, below the knees. To help his timing, he also quieted his movement at the plate, and raised his hands a little higher.
The results have spoken for themselves. Davis had a .926 OPS in the month of June, after putting up a paltry .496 mark in May.
When Daniel Murphy went into a slump, Collins handled him much like he handled Davis. First, he moved him down in the order. Then he sat Daniel against lefties. Then Murphy came back on June 27th and hit his first two home runs of the year in one game. Since then, he has gone 8 for 18 with 3 doubles, 3 home runs, and 10 RBI.
Terry’s latest project is Kirk Nieuwenhuis. After a hot start, the league finally caught up to Kirk. Once again, Collins is sitting him against lefties, and keeping him out of the leadoff spot. On June 30th, he went 2 for 4 with an RBI. Will the slump-busting formula work again? The very early returns seem to suggest so.
Collins and his staff deserve a lot of credit for how they’ve managed struggling players. Some people wonder how big of a difference the manager makes on a team. This is an example how a manager can make a positive impact.