“He helps you to learn yourself: what makes you click, what makes you a good pitcher and how to go out there and use that,” said Corey Kluber, the Indians’ two-time Cy Young Award winner.
Referring to the Mets, Kluber added: “They’re very talented pitchers and it seems like it’s just a matter of them staying healthy. If the five of them are healthy, it’s hard to find a rotation more talented than they have, probably.”
Callaway has gushed about the talent on the Mets’ staff, but none of it matters if the pitchers get hurt. As for the critical task of helping pitchers avoid injury, Callaway fostered an environment in Cleveland that gave them a good chance.
“This organization as a whole — and Mickey was a big part of the organization — is progressive and good at doing some things that keep pitchers healthy,” starter Trevor Bauer said. “That’s one place where the Indians really excel: creating a culture and surrounding the players with a staff that promotes that and lives that. That’s something that can definitely be translated to different organizations — the culture of working hard and doing the mundane stuff, the boring stuff that helps keep you on the field.”
The Indians have encouraged Bauer’s scientific approach to pitching, because it works for him; he has improved every season and averaged 10 strikeouts per nine innings last year. Another starter, Mike Clevinger, said Callaway was “definitely a players’ guy” who took time to understand what each pitcher needed.
“It wasn’t like, ‘Hey, these are the drills we’re doing with everybody,’” Clevinger said. “It was like, ‘What do you feel like is going on with you? This is what we think.’ Then we went over different methods of getting to where I wanted to be, from stuff in the weight room, to band work, to dry throws off the mound with no ball, to even tying myself to a fence and doing hip drills until I got to where I wanted to be.”
With the Mets, Callaway has emphasized the importance of throwing breaking balls, reasoning that those pitches give hitters the most trouble while causing less arm stress than maximum-effort fastballs. The Mets ranked ninth in the majors in fastball percentage last season, while the Indians ranked 29th.
Clevinger said Callaway’s doctrine was simple: Throw your best pitch more often. It is not as common as you might think.
“There’s a lot of guys, from younger to older, that would stay away from overusing a pitch,” Clevinger said. “But we found, through data, that sometimes, even though they’re seeing it, it’s just really, really effective that day.”
Callaway is one of the majors’ youngest managers, at 42, and replaces Terry Collins, 68, who was the oldest. In this information age, every manager’s most important task is translating data from the analysts for the players. If players do not understand what the front office wants, it is a recipe for dysfunction.
“You see it all the time; those are two things that kind of butt heads,” Miller said. “And it’s not in a bad way, but they’re two different types of people. Bridging that gap is absolutely not easy, but it’s something this organization does really well, and Mickey was a big part of that because he was the guy getting the information to us.”
Closer Cody Allen said Callaway helped pitchers be their own coaches on the mound, and built off the example of Manager Terry Francona in holding them accountable for their routines and decisions.
Francona praised Callaway’s ability to teach, though that job now largely falls to Eiland, the Mets’ pitching coach. As a manager, Callaway will need the same intangibles that made him effective in Cleveland. Though he pitched in the majors for parts of five seasons, he had never coached at that level before 2013.
“As an inexperienced major league coach, he had a lot of confidence — and it wasn’t false bravado. It was genuine confidence,” Francona said. “The game didn’t go too quick, ever, and he was never afraid to reach out and ask for stuff. Because he did have that confidence, he wasn’t worried about somebody coming in his lane.”
Francona added: “I don’t know what their won-loss record is going to be — nobody does — but to me, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s successful or unsuccessful. Oftentimes, the guys that maybe have the uphill battle, they work the hardest and do the best job.”
Callaway’s performance, and the Mets’ record, will start to reveal themselves when the season begins on March 29. But this much is indisputable: The manager’s job in Flushing is, indeed, usually an uphill battle.