Inside the Mets' stunning decision to fire highly respected pitching coach, Dave Eiland

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MIAMI, FLORIDA - APRIL 02:  Dave Eiland #58 of the New York Mets looks on against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park on April 02, 2019 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FLORIDA - APRIL 02: Dave Eiland #58 of the New York Mets looks on against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park on April 02, 2019 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

CHICAGO – Dave Eiland personally called Jacob deGrom — the pitcher he helped win a Cy Young Award last season — on Thursday morning to inform he would no longer be his pitching coach.

“I was kind of shocked,” deGrom said. “The goal here is to win baseball games, we haven’t done that. Seems that someone always takes the blame for something like that.”

Taking the fall is exactly what Eiland, the ex-Mets pitching coach, and bullpen coach, Chuck Hernandez, are doing for the 35-39 Mets that have failed to meet expectations, particularly on the pitching side. The Mets’ bullpen is one of the league’s worst, and the starting pitching has not been elite.

The two have been replaced on an interim basis by 82-year-old Phil Regan, Ricky Bones, who was demoted from his role as bullpen coach this offseason, and new pitching strategist, Jeremy Accardo, a former major leaguer.

Talks with league and team sources painted this move as one made by an organization that is quick to put the blame on certain parties when things go south.

There did not appear to be any outward disdain for Eiland, but the pitching coach gets the hook for the pitching struggles.

Sources did note, though, there were perceived issues when it came to collaboration and how analytics were incorporated into the pitching.

The change also showcases how manager Mickey Callaway has managed to continue to sidestep mines while his coaches continue to be fired and reassigned.

“It’s about our overall performance. It's about how we collaborated with each other. It's about how we worked as a unit. It's how the coaches were able to connect with the individual players,” Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said. “We have inconsistency with our starting pitching and we've had under-performance in our bullpen right now. Hopefully we can improve both of those areas.”

Eiland joined the Mets last year, and though the results were not there this year, he had a positive effect on most of the pitchers.

Under his guidance, deGrom won the Cy Young last year while producing a historic campaign, and Zack Wheeler produced the best stretch of his career. Both starters credit Eiland for helping them be so successful.

Eiland had a no-nonsense approach that some liked, and others were a little intimidated by it at times, per a source. That’s not to say they disliked him.

The 52-year-old had an old-school approach that is going to resonate with some, and may not get over with a younger crowd.

He had more of the bad-cop vibe compared to previous pitching coach Dan Warthen, who was more of a father figure to the team’s pitchers.

Both were liked by their pitchers, but Eiland was tougher and more critical than Warthen, who was dismissed after the 2017 season.

Eiland also worked hard behind the scenes, putting in the time and effort.

“He was very respected among the pitchers,” one league source said.

His pitchers each went to bat for him when approached Thursday afternoon, and those sentiments were not just said for show. Several were shocked.

Said Jason Vargas: “It definitely caught everybody by surprise.”

Added Seth Lugo: “I take it personal. I feel like it’s my fault.”

Noted deGrom: “He helped me quite a bit last year. I’m thankful for the time I had with him.”

That respect and knowledge couldn’t save Eiland, though, once the team decided to make a change. The Mets are quick to make coaching changes with this move being the sixth staff firing/reassignment since Callaway’s tenure started last year.

Callaway, though, apparently wears Teflon.

“Mickey has my full vote of confidence,” Van Wagenen said. “He's our manager and this is a scenario where we wanted to continue to give Mickey the best resources and the best coaching staff to help him achieve our goals.”

Apr 13, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; New York Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud (18) and pitching coach Dave Eiland (58) and starting pitcher Jason Vargas (44) talk on the mound against the Atlanta Braves in the first inning at SunTrust Park. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 13, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; New York Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud (18) and pitching coach Dave Eiland (58) and starting pitcher Jason Vargas (44) talk on the mound against the Atlanta Braves in the first inning at SunTrust Park. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Mets’ starters entered Thursday’s game with a 4.27 ERA, which ranked 18th in the league, and the bullpen had a 5.46 ERA, the third-worst mark.

Van Wagenen danced around the question of whether the bullpen’s failures were on Eiland considering he acquired Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia.

It didn’t need to be said that the general manager is not going to fire himself. But he can make a coaching change.

It did not help Eiland’s cause that he was perceived to be averse to analytics, according to sources. Eiland relied on old-school tactics, a methodology that helped him guide two staffs – the 2009 Yankees and the 2015 Royals – to World Series titles. Certainly, his method has been proven to work.

Van Wagenen hit on that point several times when discussing what they were hoping to achieve by swapping out Eiland and Hernandez for three new coaches.

“By adding all three of these gentlemen to the staff, we feel like we have created a very good blend of experience, a very good blend of teachers, of people that are capable of processing information,” Van Wagenen said. “Most importantly, people that can work collaboratively along with the existing coaching staff to put the players in the best position they can to succeed.”

The elephant in the room in the whole equation is catcher Wilson Ramos, who has been one of the worst defensive catchers in the major leagues this year.

Ramos is not a strong framer or blocker, and opponents are stealing at will against him.The pitchers prefer throwing to catcher Tomas Nido, but the Mets invested $18 million in Ramos this season, and they value his offensive production.

Sources said there have been grumblings behind the scenes about Ramos’ defensive flaws, and while Callaway would not put the pitchers’ regression on his catcher, it’s fair to believe there is some connection.

The pitchers loved throwing to Devin Mesoraco last year despite the advanced analytics not painting a pretty picture.

“Our performance hasn’t been there. That’s one of the reasons Dave is no longer here because of performance,” Callaway said. “We made that clear.”

Callaway did say he feels this change falls on his shoulders.

“I take it as a failure on my part. I'm the manager. That’s a tough thing to lose coaches. No manager wants that under their watch,” Callaway said before facing the Cubs. “So I'll continue to look in the mirror every day. It's tough, but we're going to move past this. We have a job to do. I feel like we can do better than we've done, and then that’s our goal every single day to get there.”

One organization source noted that the ultimate goal in all this is that the pitchers can start performing as expected, and perhaps some of the new methods will help.

That hope, though, does not outweigh that Eiland was perceived as the best coach the Mets had on staff, and he will he missed by plenty of folks in that room. He helped several of them reach new heights, and was liked.

He joined the Mets last year in part because of Callaway, and has another year and a half on his deal. Before joining the Mets, Eiland was close to joining the Giants.

Now, the Mets will see if firing a respected coaching member can actually create positive change or if it proves to be nothing more than scapegoating.

“That’s how it works. Someone always takes the blame for something,” deGrom said. “We’ve said before we don’t feel we’re performing the way we should.”