Carlos Mendoza’s leadership moment told a deeper story about the Mets’ burgeoning culture

Mets manager Carlos Mendoza’s decision during an eighth inning mound visit on Sunday to leave starting pitcher Jose Quintana in the game brought praise for the young manager. But it was also a clear example of a more subtle leadership theme bubbling up around the team in the early weeks of a new regime.

Since the beginning of the season, coaches and front office officials -- many of whom were here long before president of baseball operations David Stearns arrived last fall -- have quietly noted a pleasant surprise: Stearns does not tend to micromanage.

The president of baseball operations may have the superficial attributes of a sports executive who believes he has all the answers -- Ivy League degree, skill with data, a closetful of team-branded business casual -- he does not, as it turns out, behave like one.

Mendoza, according to a coach, has at times expected to be in trouble over in-game moves that went against the data, or at least to have to justify it to Stearns in his office after the game. But no scolding has yet occurred. Far from it.

As one member of the field staff recently put it, “He really gives Mendy the space to make his own decisions.”

This hands-off, trusting approach allows Mendoza to impact games, grow as a leader and tactician, and earn credibility in the clubhouse as a manager empowered to actually manage.

“There are so many decisions to make in an organization,” Stearns said by phone on Monday morning. “It is futile for one person to try to make all those decisions. It is my job to allow the individual who is best informed [in a given situation] to make the best decision possible.”

This perhaps should not be notable, but in an age of information, it is. Many managers, informed by objective data and the front offices who present it, feel less room for creativity than in previous generations.

Plenty of GMs tangle with their skippers over the specifics of game management, often while the intensity of a loss hangs in the air. These tongue-lashings do not foster creativity, rapport or mutual trust.

Stearns tries to avoid this. Mendoza, like perhaps every manager in the league, is empowered to make his own lineup (execs consistently say that the notion of lineups handed down from front offices is almost entirely fictional), but it goes deeper than that.

While few, if any, GMs force lineups on their manager, many teams do present strong recommendations. Managers, as humans who do not want to lose their jobs, can feel a subtle pressure to go along with what the boss and his staffers recommend.

The Mets do not make an internal show of the analytics department dumping piles of lineup-related numbers on a manager and coaching staff. When Stearns and Mendoza discuss the lineup, they do so in the spirit of open conversation. The final lineup is entirely Mendoza’s purview.

It is with this same approach that Stearns broaches reviews of in-game moves.

“It’s an ongoing conversation,” Stearns said. “Sometimes these conversations happen after the game, sometimes the next day. It’s the constant back and forth that helps all of us get better.”

In explaining his trust in managers, Stearns cited his history of working with strong decision-makers Manny Acta, Terry Francona, A.J. Hinch and Craig Counsell during his time in the Cleveland, Houston, and Milwaukee organizations. He considers Mendoza another “very talented” skipper.

“The goal is to have people in those seats who are able to make informed decisions,” he said.

That’s exactly what happened on Sunday. With two outs in the eighth inning of a 1-1 game, Mendoza left the dugout planning to summon Adam Ottavino to replace Quintana. He knew that the data argued for Ottavino to face Willson Conteras.

But he had his own data, gathered from a lifetime of playing and watching baseball, and then an afternoon watching Quintana. He knew Quintana well enough to trust the pitcher’s stated desire to remain in the game.

What followed was not “gut feeling,” a term that unintentionally condescends to managers. It was a use of the information that Mendoza collected with his finely-tuned eye.

“We talk a lot as an organization about making evidence-based decisions,” Stearns said. “Evidence can come in a wide range of ways. It can come in the subjective or the objective. It can come from watching previous at-bats at another point in the game. As long as we have evidence backing up these decisions, and we have a process [we’re in good shape].”

This is not to dismiss the value of data-informed decisions. The numbers are in wide use for a reason; when followed, they increase the probability that a team will win. That’s why it’s called objective information.

And Mendoza’s move could easily have cost the Mets a win. Terry Collins traveled that path in the 2015 World Series, when he allowed Matt Harvey to talk his way into the ninth inning of a game he and Jeurys Familia soon lost.

But even if Quintana had blown it on Sunday, Mendoza would have been able to point to an evidence-guided process to explain why he left his pitcher in the game.

A conversation with Stearns might have ensued, or perhaps it would have waited until Monday. It would not have been a reprimand. And Mendoza would remain empowered to utilize his own information in concert with what the organization provides him.

Want to turn a promising young manager into a Francona or Alex Cora, gutsy practitioners with the ability to conduct a game like a symphony? It can only be done with space, civility, and trust -- and that’s what the baseball lifers who populate the Mets staff say that Steans is providing.