Some are calling for the hitting coach to be fired. That would make sense, given the team remains 11th in the National League in home runs and slugging, 10th in wOBA and batting average, 9th in OBP, and only Rhys Hoskins and Scott Kingery have improved since Matt Stairs left to take a job with the San Diego Padres prior to last season.
Some are calling for the pitching coach to be fired. Again, that is understandable given the Phillies have not had a single pitcher get better since last year, except perhaps for Adam Morgan, whose ERA remains the same (3.86 compared to 3.83 in ‘18) with a slightly lower walk rate. Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez and Zach Eflin have been unreliable and Jake Arrieta has either been ineffective or pitching through injuries since he arrived last year. The Phils’ rotation ERA is 5th-worst and their FIP is dead last, while their bullpen ERA is 3rd-worst and the relievers’ FIP is also last.
Some are calling for the head of the manager. This is the second straight year the Phils have suffered an all-team collapse. The difference this year is there is still time for the Phillies to turn things around. They remain in the wild card hunt, thanks to a slew of NL teams who are all hovering around the .500 mark, but last night’s fourth inning, in which the Dodgers scored six times, took advantage of the Phils’ shifts and ended with virtually the entire infield not knowing the inning was over when the third out was recorded, was a bad look. Not only that, there was another incident of a Phillies player, this time Maikel Franco, not running hard on a ground ball, this time with the bases loaded in the third inning. Had he run hard, Franco might have been safe, a run might have scored, and the inning might have continued.
Some are calling for the head of the general manager. He’s the one who put this team together, who thought the Phillies’ starting rotation was good enough to compete, and who thought the bench of Aaron Altherr, Nick Williams, Roman Quinn, Kingery and Andrew Knapp was good enough. He’s the one who decided not to sign Dallas Keuchel this season, a move that could prove catastrophic if he continues to pitch well for Atlanta. He’s the one who signed all the big-money free agents, all of whom are performing below expectations.
And some are calling for team president Andy MacPhail to be fired. His comments over the weekend in which he seemed reticent to the Phillies not reaching the postseason this year (“If we don’t, we don’t”) did not go over well with a fanbase that has tired of his “I know more than you” demeanor when answering legitimate concerns about the direction of the franchise. The last championship MacPhail won while holding a prominent role in the front office of a team was in 1991 with the Minnesota Twins. The last division title he was a part of was in 2003 with the Chicago Cubs. He has never been an analytics guy, and yet, he’s supposedly in charge of a team that has based their entire philosophy on the usage of this data.
If the Phillies were to make any kinds of decisions on any of these people this season, they would be justified. Despite the players’ mantra of “one game at a time,” this has been a six-week trend that began with the injury to Andrew McCutchen and has left the Phils a defeated team. But in order for things to get better, simply firing people won’t make a bit of difference if the right changes aren’t made.
Which is why the Phillies should look to Joe Girardi for help.
Girardi’s success as the Yankees skipper is well documented. He won a world championship in 2009 with New York against the Phils and went to the postseason four other times in 10 seasons in the Bronx. He’s known as an analytically-driven manager who became adept at melding both the data and his first-hand baseball knowledge as a long-time former catcher in the big leagues.
This is not a call for Girardi to take over for Kapler, though. Girardi’s role with the Phillies should be that of a “fixer,” someone to come in and help figure out what’s going wrong. Whether that position is over MacPhail, under him, or he replaces MacPhail entirely could be debated, but given his experience in the Yankees organization (an organization that is miles ahead of the Phillies in their implementation of advanced metrics), he might be the perfect person to diagnose what is ailing this baseball team.
Is the analytics department looking at the wrong data? Are they not communicating their findings clearly? Are there areas the team is ignoring and on which they should focus? Are the position coaches ill-equipped for their tasks? Is the manager holding the team back? Are they forward-thinking enough or too reactionary?
Until recently, the Phillies were light years behind the rest of the league in the use of data and are just now starting to catch up. But it’s pretty obvious they are still far behind teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Cubs and Astros in how they go about using the wealth of information at their disposal.
And for Girardi, why wouldn’t this job hold some appeal? He wouldn’t have to go back to the daily grind of managing, he’d be able to take a longer view of the issues, he’d be working for an owner that is happy to spend whatever it takes to put a winner on the field, and between the lines there is a fair amount of talent with which to work. Despite their struggles, the Phillies should be a desirable destination.
Firing the position coaches or the manager might be the right decision. If the Phils went in that direction, no one would blame them. But if the issues are deeper and farther reaching into the organization, then changing the on-field staff would simply be window dressing and the same problems would probably continue.
The Phillies are ailing and they need a doctor. Joe Girardi seems like the perfect physician to help make the body better.