WINTER MEETINGS: MICKEY CALLAWAY

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Mickey Callaway was front-and-center for a press briefing at today’s Winter Meetings in Orlando, Florida.

Q. Being around Terry, what’s that been like for you to talk to him?

MICKEY CALLAWAY: It’s been great. I think that information is valuable, and he’s got a lot of information about things that happened with the Mets. We’re going to always use every bit of information we can to get better. Knowing his points of views on things are really helpful to me. So I’m going to value that relationship and learn from him and his experiences. He was a great manager here for a long time, one of the longest tenured managers in Mets history. So he knows a thing or two, and I’m going to use that to my advantage and to the Mets advantage.

Q. Mickey, you’re coming from a team that had a lot of success the last few years even though you didn’t have the biggest payroll in your division. Do you have that underdog or us against-the-world mentality that made you guys strong?

MICKEY CALLAWAY: Yeah, we used every resource we could. I think knowing that you didn’t have all the money in the world to spend, that you had to do everything else better than everybody else — from health, from juicing, to making sure guys are hydrated. I know that’s been kind of an issue that we’ve brought up. But it’s not just those little things, it’s consistently doing things on a daily basis, and it’s a grind, and it’s very tough. But you stick after it, and you do something special with a group of people that feels really special in the end.

Q. You talk about hydration. How do you get buy-in from players who maybe haven’t been accustomed to it. Especially for major league players that maybe have a low (inaudible)?

MICKEY CALLAWAY: Yeah, that can be an issue. The good thing is today’s player likes technology. If you use technology, they’re going to love it and find it intriguing. It kind of is not boring throughout the day. So there’s that.

I think the main thing is showing them that it’s going to help their performance, and that’s what we’re all about. We want to win games. We want our players to be the best they can be, and that’s what we’re trying to accomplish with all of these little things. And they may seem tedious, but sometimes those smaller things, paying attention to those smaller, tedious tasks is what it takes to win. And if you want to win, you’re going to do that. When players know that it’s going to help them, they’re going to do it.

Q. You expect 100% buy-in on something like that, or is that something …

MICKEY CALLAWAY: Absolutely not. Everybody’s an individual, and I wouldn’t ever make guys do things just to make them do it. I’m going to teach them that, hey, this makes sense for you to get better. If you don’t get total buy-in then, then you continue to try to improve them in other ways. You can’t make people do stuff, but you can coach them and educate them on why it makes sense to do it.

Q. Mickey, you have a lot of starting pitchers beyond Syndergaard and deGrom. Does it basically reopen the competition for those other three spots, or how’s that going to work?

MICKEY CALLAWAY: I think any time you have — I feel like a lot of teams would like to have our starting staff and the depth that we have. Any time you have a lot of pitchers that are capable of pitching in the major leagues, there’s competition. And it’s not just, oh, you know what, I’m going to make the team to start the season. Sometimes the guys that make the team to start the season are there probably for fewer days than a guy that doesn’t, and that’s just the reality of baseball, especially when you’re talking about options and stuff.

So it’s going to be about being the best you can be. And, hey, when things get rolling, we’re going to have a competition amongst our starters to outdo the guy that pitched the day before. And it’s a healthy competition amongst teammates that creates a lot of success. There’s going to be competition every single day.

Q. Is there any one or two guys that you say, if they’re healthy he’s in there?

MICKEY CALLAWAY: No. I mean, we have to watch and see and evaluate and make sure that guys are working. That’s, for me, you can’t have expectations on numbers. I have expectations that guys are going to work hard, and that’s how we’re going to evaluate guys.

Q. Do you guys have like an early camp for like pitchers or something like that? I know you mentioned that. Maybe you could explain what that is.

MICKEY CALLAWAY: Yeah, the guys, in talking to myself and Dave, are excited. It sounds like guys are going to be there really early to get things started.

Q. But nothing like special, like everyone come down super early?

MICKEY CALLAWAY: No. The players are so excited they want to get there and start getting to work. They’re asking us when we’d be there. It’s kind of cool.

Q. There’s been a lot of talk about what you do with these pitchers in the off-season to try and get them ready. Do you have kind of a set way that you like pitchers to get themselves ready, or do you and your staff, do you guys kind of tailor to each individual guy what you think works for them?

MICKEY CALLAWAY: Yes. So we have suggestions as far as throwing programs. When you’re talking about Major League Baseball players, they usually have their routines and their throwing programs. So we have a couple of throwing programs, one that Dave has used in the past, one that I’ve been around in the past, and those guys are aware of those programs. If they can take anything out of those programs to improve themselves, then we’ll encourage that.

I think that we will make sure that there’s structure, and we’ll provide the necessary resources for their routines so they can accomplish those throughout the off-season to get to a point where they can have success starting the first opening day and throughout Spring Training. But we definitely know that everybody’s an individual, and we’re going to tailor their work for that player.

Q. You said you were going to watch video of every game. How far along are you?

MICKEY CALLAWAY: So when I’m in my office in New York, I have it playing. They can condense a game down to 20 minutes. That’s a tall task. I’ve been trying to do it. I don’t know if I’m going to make it all the way through. More than that, I’m trying to hone in on individuals, and as I’m watching a game, if I see something like a position player, I’ll kind of hone in on him and kind of watch what he’s doing. So it’s been really — I just want to be familiar with what the players can do.

Q. When you met Harvey and you watch what he’s doing, how much of it do you think is a physical issue and how much of it is up here?

MICKEY CALLAWAY: I’m not really sure yet. I’ve talked to him on the phone. There’s a lot more evaluating and talking to and seeing him throw, Dave getting his hands on him in the off-season that needs to be done before we can even discuss that really.

Q. Mickey, coming in, where do you guys kind of fit? You have a rotation with a lot of potential, but it has health questions. You have some younger players. You have some goals. Kind of on the spectrum between like World Series favorite and like rebuild, where do you think you guys kind of fit in from what you know about the team?

MICKEY CALLAWAY: I think any team, no matter where they’ve been identified as rebuilding or a contender is going to have expectations to win, and we’re not going to be concerned about what direction anybody thinks we’re going in. We’re going to do everything we can every day to create a culture that wins, and if we win this year, great. If not, we’re going to be putting methods, routines, processes in place to create this culture where we’re going to sustain winning for a long time, and that’s our ultimate goal.

That goal of winning this year is definitely there, and we’re never going to consider ourselves in rebuild mode or championship mode. We’re going to have a process for everything we do. And we’re going to stick to that process. We’re going to go A, B, C, D, and not go A, Z, because things get lost, and things don’t get accomplished what you need done, and you can’t win like that consistently.

Q. Guys from surgery last year, Jeurys Familia never really made it back to the closers. Going into next year, is he a closer in your mind, or do you have to figure that out in Spring Training?

MICKEY CALLAWAY: I think we’re going to pitch guys when it makes sense, and we’re going to pitch guys to our strengths, and they’re going to face the batters they should be facing. If that means he’s going to close every game, that could happen if it lines up that way. We’re not locked into that. I think that we have to make sure we get to a save situation, and if we can’t get there, it doesn’t do any good to have this guy be named the closer. So we’re going to pitch guys when it makes sense, and we’re going to do everything we can to win every night.

Q. Can it work over 162 games to not have a dedicated closer?

MICKEY CALLAWAY: I think it can if you’re having pitchers face the guys they’re supposed to face.

Q. Mickey, I know it’s not as simple as one sentence, but the launch angle, 12-6 curveball, high fastball — is that an actual counter to what a lot of guys’ approach at the plate actually is now?

MICKEY CALLAWAY: Yeah, it’s a counter to a guy that’s probably trying to lift the ball, even if it’s not him trying to create a launch angle, just his normal swing. I think it’s the pitching coach’s job, the pitcher’s job, the catcher’s job to identify what kind of swing any hitter has and come up with a plan to attack that swing. If they have a little bit of a dip and swinging up, then the high fastball, especially a good ride and four-seamer and the breaking ball in the dirt seems to counter that pretty good.

Q. Is that a pitch that you can learn — can you teach guys to throw 12-6 and really work it consistently if they haven’t had it in the arsenal?

MICKEY CALLAWAY: You can. That takes time. I think the key to pitching is to pitch with your best stuff. In Cleveland, we had every one of our starters had a nasty curveball. So they threw their best pitch, and it wasn’t necessarily us teaching curveballs and stressing curveballs. It was just us stressing their best pitch and their best weapon against hitters.

So you can teach it. It’s going to take some time. You’re not going to learn it in a week in Spring Training and then all of a sudden use it in the game when the game’s on the line, first game of the season, but I think there’s value to a curveball in slowing the bat down and being able to lead with that pitch, bury it.

I think you could do the same with a slider if you’re using that pitch the same way. If you’re just trying to throw it middle and you’re never bouncing it, that’s where you come into a problem.

Q. Could you clarify, when you talk about your closer, are you saying you don’t want to go into the season having somebody named your closer, or all season long you don’t want to have somebody be called the closer?

MICKEY CALLAWAY: Yeah, I think it depends on what Spring Training looks like. I don’t think I’m prepared to say one way or the other. I have thoughts going into the season that I just want our pitchers to face the batters they’re supposed to face. If it means he’s a closer, then he’s a closer. I’m not really concerned about titles. I don’t think the players, from talking to them, are concerned about titles. These players want to win and want to pitch and want to have success, and that’s what we’re going to set them up to do.

Q. Mickey, so along those lines, it’s like you’re talking about high leverage situations and stuff like that. Is Familia the guy you bring into your quote-unquote high leverage situation or it depends on numbers, match-ups?

MICKEY CALLAWAY: It definitely depends on suspected OPS, OPS that we know has already happened. I’m going to look at all that information. I’m going to look at where does this pitcher’s fastball end up, and is that the same spot that this guy hits the ball really well? So there’s probably 50 factors that goes into why you’re bringing a guy in, and we’re going to take all those into account.

Q. Mickey, a lot of people looked at that and talked about (inaudible). Obviously, you’re not talking that way. I was wondering, in your career, when do you think that changed over in your mind when you looked at it more as a leverage perspective? What kind of swayed you that way?

MICKEY CALLAWAY: I think being around Terry Francona, who has done that the best. It’s not just that one high leverage situation that defined how Tito ran his bullpen. He set everybody up, whether it was the 12th pitcher on the staff, that last guy in the bullpen, never faced guys he shouldn’t have. So if you go back and look at Terry Francona’s bullpens, there’s not too many guys that ever struggled under his — when he was their leader. Everybody on the staff pitched good for a reason because they always faced the guys they were supposed to.

If you do that, then players can pitch whenever, and they want to pitch whenever. Now, you’ve got to have the right personalities to do it. We were lucky to have Andrew Miller, who’s one of the better relievers in all of baseball, who would pitch in the fifth if you asked him to, the fourth. He’s just a special type guy.

Q. There used to be resistance to that because you hear guys say they want to roll. They want to have a chance to expect when they could come in. Do you have a better sense of this group or a good enough sense of this group already to know that they would be open to doing whatever and breaking free from his old role?

MICKEY CALLAWAY: From what I’ve heard of them from other people, from talking to the players and their desire to win, I do get that feeling. I can never speak for anybody, but that’s a feeling I get when I talk to this excited group of players. There’s not a lot of selfishness going on, and they just want to win. They’ll do whatever it takes to win.

Q. In your past — I don’t know how much backfield down in Spring Training you wanted to get to, how much you actually enjoyed that. Can you as a manager still find yourself wandering around those areas to sort of get excited?

MICKEY CALLAWAY: I think that’s the exciting part of it. Once you’re out on the field and getting to see whatever it is you’re working on that day. That’s what I’m looking forward to the most. Yeah, I’ll definitely be there.

Q. But seeing young guys work the backfields, it almost seems like, as a manager, you might not — when you’re out in your own time, you might not do that as much. But that’s something you want to carve out time for?

MICKEY CALLAWAY: Absolutely. I think everyone on your roster is going to help you win at some point. They need to know that that work on the backfield, even if you’re a young guy, is very important, so I’ll definitely pay attention to it.

Q. Of all the guys you played for, Buck Showalter in Texas, he’s managed like four other managers in the big leagues right now. Is there anything you’ve learned from him that you’re taking into your job now?

MICKEY CALLAWAY: How prepared Buck was, how organized he was. I mean, he had countdown clocks in Spring Training to the first pitch of the season, counting down to the second. He cared about his players. He communicated with his players. He made sure he was around. He didn’t just sit in his office. I mean, I learned a ton of stuff from Buck. Even his relationships with other people in the game. If you see him during BP, he kind of moseys over. He’s standing on third base behind the screen, watching BP, talking to the opposing coaches. He’s a relationship person. I learned a lot from him.

Q. What’s the last few weeks been like for you? Are you just getting to know who is who, who does what, where the analytics people sit? And even just like have you had a chance to talk to every player yet? Still making your way through? Or getting to know everyone in the organization?

MICKEY CALLAWAY: That’s a challenge. I’ve probably shaken hands and reintroduced myself to many people that I’ve already met. Trying to stay on top of that obviously, faces, learning new faces, and names. That’s been a challenge, but it’s been real fun. I’ve definitely reached out to every player, whether it’s text, voicemail, talking on the phone. There’s sometimes challenges in the off-season with people overseas and things like that, where it’s hard to actually get on the phone. Those guys that I haven’t talked to on the phone yet, I think there’s like two or three, I’m going to get to see in person this winter. That will be really good.

I’m going to take a trip at some point to the Dominican, go to our complex, and see some guys there. So that will be a good chance to connect in that regard.

I think that the first couple weeks after I was hired, we spent trying to hire a staff. We got a great staff for the Mets. That was a great process. So that was really fun.

And then the last week and a half has been kind of laid back until we got here. I went and played golf with Terry Francona and Brad Mills in Pebble Beach. We came in second and kind of relaxed.

And I was at home on a Tuesday for the first time since the season ended last week to see my daughter’s dance class. So she was excited about that.

Q. How does the manager role compare now to your playing days? What are the modern challenges that didn’t exist then?

MICKEY CALLAWAY: I think that the accessibility to information. When I was first playing, and I just — the pitching coach said that, so I’m going to do it. I think now you have to realize that, as a coach, if you say something to a player, they’re going to go look it up right away. They have instant access to information. You better know what you’re talking about, and you had better put a lot of forethought into that. So that’s the biggest difference. I try to do that, and over time, when you tell people something and they go double-check it and you put some forethought into it, they start to understand that you’re not just speaking and reacting, that you’re prepared going in with the things you’re going to give them.

Q. For the role you describe, it’s part White House press secretary and analytics stuff and massaging personalities, all that stuff. Does that kind of contribute to a higher burnout rate?

MICKEY CALLAWAY: I think that passion for baseball probably counteracts that and what we do. Obviously, you have obligations and things that you have to do as a manager. You just embrace every second. I just kind of live in the moment and have — I’m going to just kind of be honest with everybody every day and go about my business. I love the game of baseball and thinking about it and thinking about leadership. So I think that will — and a lot of coffee. I get up real early and drink tons of coffee. I don’t think I’m going to burn out unless I have a heart attack or something, like Tito.

Q. Do you think the fact now that relievers are getting paid on bases other than saves now, looking at the whole picture, that makes it a lot easier to make the move you’re talking about. Five, ten years ago, this would have been like blasphemy. The fact that guys are going to get their number now regardless of the number of saves.

MICKEY CALLAWAY: They should. When you’re using them in a high leverage situation, that is the save. The save that night is the highest leverage situation. If you were just using analytics, you could close anybody with a three-run lead and you’ve got a 96 percent chance of winning the game, any of your relievers. So guys that pitch in high leverage situations that are willing to get paid, and that’s what’s happening, and I think it’s great.

Q. Have you started to think about messaging? I don’t know if rules are the right way to put it anymore, but how you want to address it and how you want that clubhouse to feel the minute you break out of Florida? What you want the room to feel like, how you get that message out really early in Spring Training.

MICKEY CALLAWAY: I think a lot about that. Every night I go to bed, think about that. I’m having a meeting with some folks tonight to talk about how we want to approach that. The bottom line is the players are going to have a lot of say in what we expect on a daily basis because you can’t create a good culture without that.

I think that we’re going to get feedback from everybody on what is expected of us, the way we play the game. The way we arrive at the field. The way we show up for stretch. We’re going to be able to create a set of expectations, or whatever you want to call them, that are going to be enforced by not only the staff but the players themselves. And when you get players doing that, you have something special — and valuing that and policing themselves. That’s how you win.

Q. Do you believe in captaincy?

MICKEY CALLAWAY: I think everybody’s a captain. I think that, if the veteran’s not doing what is expected in a culture, that the youngest guy should be able to say something. And if you really create that family and that culture, then anybody can bring any issue up, and it should be taken the right way and adjusted.

Q. It’s now 100 pitches have become kind of a demarcation line when pitchers get pulled. You talk about making those decisions. How do you reconcile with the two, the front office that says, hey, it shows when a guy throws 100 pitches, the production really diminishes?

MICKEY CALLAWAY: Yeah, you have to look at that type of information. Everybody’s different. 120 pitches for Trevor Bauer is much different than anybody else. It’s going to be the individual.

Have we prepared and looked and see what does this guy’s stuff do? We’re going to be monitoring guys’ stuff in real time throughout the game. So it’s not necessarily just at 100 pitches or 90 pitches. We’re going to know if his arm slot’s dropping and things like that in realtime hopefully.

Q. And you’ve advocated doing more throws, which is something we’ve seen less of. What’s that based on?

MICKEY CALLAWAY: A lot of research and data, things that I’ve done myself with other people. Things I’ve read about. You have to condition yourself to do something. Rest isn’t always the best thing, especially if you haven’t conditioned yourself the right way to go out there and deal with the rigors of throwing 200 innings and 115 pitches a game. We’re going to condition guys to be able to do that, and then we’ll rest and recover in between those good workouts.

Q. Mickey, you’ve talked a lot about analytics information. So in your exploration of that, is there one idea that you’ve taken from that that maybe changed the way you viewed something in the game? You saw it one way as a player, and now that you’ve been exposed to this stuff, it’s maybe changed your view on it?

MICKEY CALLAWAY: I think probably the biggest thing is, when you’re a player and you’ve faced somebody four times — and I guess what I’m talking about is small sample sizes versus like a three-year look in those analytical numbers. And you’ve gone 3-for-4 off of this guy — let me put it this way: In my debut, I hadn’t hit since high school, and I went 2-for-3 off of Dustin Hermanson. So does that mean, when I come up as a pitcher the next time, that Dustin Hermanson shouldn’t stay in and strike me out, which he would have done? I think that small sample sizes that’s become very clear to me that you can’t put too much stock in that.

Q. Ohtani went to the American League, so you guys might not be able to face as much. In your opinion, do you think it’s possible to stay as a two-way player in the major league level?

MICKEY CALLAWAY: We’re going to find out. I think he probably has the talent to do it from what I’ve heard. You might see different things in the big leagues than you’ve ever seen, maybe a six-man rotation. I don’t know. We’ll see. You might.

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John Strubel

Hi. My name is John Strubel. I am a storyteller. I love to write. My writing is predominantly related to my greatest passion in life: baseball. Thanks for visiting my website.

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