Friday, June 02, 2006

Clueless

Anyone who argues the manager is not critical to a team's performance is kidding himself. Despite claims that a manager cannot hit, pitch or catch the ball, his impact is profound.

None of us is privy to what goes on inside the Phillies clubhouse. From what we can gather, the overall atmosphere has improved since Charlie Manuel replaced Larry Bowa. I'm happy they're happy. I cannot help notice, however, that many of the most successful managers over time weren't too concerned with how the players liked them or, for that matter, each other. Any time 25 players and six or seven coaches live together for six or seven months there are going to be tensions.

What is clear by now is that Manuel does not possess the skills to manage a game and that starts with planning, not just in-game strategy. He cannot make out a lineup and when he does, he cannot seem to find the right combination. He cannot use his bench well at all. He hasn't a single clue about pitching. Nor does he appear to have the skills to assemble a group of coaches who can not only get the most out of their players but also correct mistakes, make adjustments and most critically evaluate the talent.

This is a dysfunctional coaching staff. Someone among the bloggers or those commenting made the observation recently that whenever the camera pans the dugout, pitchers are talking to Mark Bombard not Rich Dubee. Of course it's impossible to know if that is an accurate representation of the relationships on the team, but it was telling.

What does seem clear is that as an organization the Phillies could not handle some of their pitchers (Vicente Padilla being a prime example), could not evaluate others (trades by Ed Wade of some young pitchers were not made in a vacuum by him alone) and cannot seem to coach those who remain.

And what about hitting? Manuel is alleged to be a hitting guru but for my money I have never seen a team with less plate discipline or an overall sense of what is the appropriate approach to an at-bat. Few of them can hit behind the runner. Fewer can bunt. Most of them don't know when to take a pitch. This team is relying on the long ball to score nearly 50% of its runs. I don't know the stats on how such a reliance pans out over time, but my guess is that is not the way to win a pennant. What makes a good hitting coach? The easy answer would be: good hitters. Some of the best hitting coaches couldn't hit themselves. Charley Lau. The Phils have had a series of hitting coaches whose impact seems to have been minimal. Maybe good coaches are in short supply, like good pitchers.

I do know this: every time the camera pans to Manuel in the dugout talking with Gary Varsho (EVERY TIME), he is invariably making a motion like he's swinging a bat and every time LA, Harry, Wheels, and Scott Graham say how much CM loves to talk hitting. Yeah, and the part they leave out is how little he knows about pitching other than he couldn't hit it himself.

The current road trip could easily find the Phillies returning home five games under .500. They appear to be utterly lost at times and that approach can be laid at the feet of those who run the team.

Expect another announcement.

6 Comments:

Blogger Tom Goodman said...

From Marcus Hayes' most recent column:

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

Charlie Manuel, who has said having a bad plan during an at-bat is better than no plan: "I've seen some no-plans."

Sorry, Charlie, but if you're the hitting guru why not have a word with a guy before he goes up to the plate?

3:26 PM  
Anonymous RickSchuBlues said...

Barring a complete and total collapse of epic proportions, Manuel will not be fired before the end of the season.

12:20 AM  
Blogger Tom Goodman said...

RSB: In my calmer moments (few, given the Phillies play) I believe you are correct. Big changes may be coming for this club and it might make more sense to bring in a new manager in time to contribute to the decisions.

8:07 AM  
Anonymous George S said...

Phillies fans, myself included, tend to lose sight of the rest of the teams in baseball. The Phillies have a gaping hole in their starting rotation. The perception is they have a weak bench (although other team's announcers usually say how strong the Phillies bench is. Who has a better overall bench that the Phillies, every other contender??). They do not have a ready-for-prime-time set of minor leaguers waiting to get in there.

But virtually every team in baseball has a gaping hole somewhere, through injury, through players' having an off year, or through lost free agents. Very very few teams have minor league systems bristling with potential stars ready for the show. The Phillies are not that much worse off than most other teams in that regard.

The Braves have no closer, the Mets lost a couple of starters to injury, the Yankees have had 2-3 starters and a couple of other players hurt (Matsui, Sheffield, Posada, Jeter). The Dodgers are playing 4-5 rookies right now. Yet they all somehow manage to keep winning. How about the Red Sox closer? No gamble there?? The Cardinals managed to get Nunez to be a pretty decent replacement for all-star Scott Rolen for half a season. How? They make changes, and they make daring and aggressive moves to keep competitive DURING THE SEASON. These gambles sometimes backfire, but they still make them. They don't decide to weather through it until the offseason.

The Mets go out and get starting pitchers until they find one that works. The Yankees have not missed a beat, even though they are generally considered not to have any prospects to fill in for injured all-stars. The Braves manage the pitching that they have to maximize their results. The Dodgers seem to working out just fine despite their lack of experience.

So for people to say the Phillies do not have enough talent to win, I ask "compared to whom"? Are the holes in the Phillies roster impossible to fill? Other teams usually find a way.

With Ed Wade, those gaping holes were never satisfactorily addressed in mid-season, once they became obvious. No bold moves during the season. (He made a few in the offseason, I'll give him credit for that) I'm hoping Gillick will do better.

So, for example, if the Phillies think Dontrelle Willis is worth having, then they should simply roll the dice and get him. Do your homework and then pay the price, but get him. Don't wait until you think the price will go down, or wait to see how many other teams are interested, etc. If you think you want him, get him.

Longer term, how about a guy like Ryan Zimmerman? There's your 3B for 10 years. What price would you pay to get him from the Nats? Abreu? Rollins? (Just an example). Is that unthinkable?

The good organizations go out and do it. They make the bold move. They roll the dice. If something is NOT working, they fix it. They don't wait and hope it fixes itself (that includes managers). I hope Gillick has some of that in him.

10:22 AM  
Blogger Tom Goodman said...

George: Among other things I, too, have watched some other teams play and thought similar thoughts to those you post, i.e., most of them have their weaknesses, too. In particular, I watch individual AB's and think, why didn't he take a pitch here or it's too bad he cannot bunt, etc..

These musings lead me to similar conclusions to those you post, but they also underscore my original post here, that at least some of the difference is in the manager and coaching staff as well as the front office.

11:16 AM  
Anonymous RickSchuBlues said...

I am not saying Manuel shouldn't be fired before the end of the season. I just know it isn't the way the Phillies do things, unless the team loses 20 in a row and fans arrive at the gates bearing torches and spears. He *will* be fired after the season.

I don't think the desire to have young players like Willis or Zimmerman is the same as simply just willing yourself to get them. Zimmerman is the one player Washington plans to build around, a guy they drafted as the Nationals, the first player with wholesale Nationals identity - not to mention an incredibly bright future. Why would they for a split-second consider trading him, particularly in a season in which they realize they have no shot? And the Phillies simply don't have what it takes to acquire Dontrelle Willis (let alone Zimmerman). Let's not wait a moment longer in ridding ourselves of that remotest of possibilities. If the Phillies are going to get anything for the players they are going to make available, it will either be low-level prospects or ordinary major-league veterans. They do not have the ability to make a blockbuster deal. They are not going to acquire any stars, or future stars. The best we can hope for, until the farm system is one day improved, is adequate parts who can fill some huge holes - or to sign a free agent pitcher crazy enough to agree to pitch in a miniturized baseball stadium for a historically futile team with a hostile fan base.

2:35 PM  

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