I was down at Citizens Bank Park earlier this afternoon to take in the aftermath of the Phillies’ decision to fire hitting coach John Mallee and replace him with former manager Charlie Manuel for the remainder of the season.
As I outlined earlier, the Phillies’ weak offensive output and the perception that the team’s coaching was responsible for the flatlining or regression of several established or promising hitters served as justification for Mallee’s ouster.
The numbers are ugly. The Phillies enter their series with the Cubs tonight 18th in runs per game, 24th in slugging percentage, 22nd in OPS, 20th in hard-hit percentage, while also holding the game’s second-highest infield fly ball percentage.
If launch angle is the thing, then I guess you could call those numbers a failure to launch.
*Pumps fist, celebrates a terrible pun*
Thank you. I’ll quite literally be here all week as the Phillies are home through Sunday.
Anyway, Klentak, who earlier this season defended Mallee, didn’t need to reference the specific numbers as he offered some insight as to why the team’s decision-makers opted for a change now:
But the reason we did this and the reason we did this today is we have 44 games remaining. We are two games out of the playoffs. I know a lot of people are burying us and saying we have no chance, and we haven’t played well – and part of that’s correct. We have not played well, and we have not hit well, especially since the All-Star break. But we are not buried. And we are not out. And in my judgment, with 44 games remaining, it makes sense for us to try something different rather than continuing to do the same thing we’ve been doing.
The Phillies are only two games out of the NL’s second wild card spot, and they are most certainly not buried, but FanGraphs’ projection model currently gives them only a slim 5.8% chance of reaching the postseason. If the Phillies are going to go on this much talked about run they seem to believe they are capable of, now might be a good time to get going.
Now, like as in tonight. More, after the jump.
While the move to go to Manuel was definitely a surprise, for those celebrating it as the symbolic death of the team’s analytical approach to hitting, or as some catastrophic shift in how the Phillies plan to do things, Klentak has some bad news for you:
Philosophically, this may not be as big a shift as it seems. Charlie Manuel has been very instrumental in the development in our organizational hitting philosophy. Charlie, although he has a senior advisory title, has been very active in our minor leagues. He was very close with John Mallee, he knows our players very well. He watches the Phillies all of the time, often from the box with me upstairs, and Charlie Manuel as a hitting coach in the 1990s was preaching a lot of the things that have now been labeled as exit velocity and launch angle and have some new titles.
He was sure to further elaborate later on the idea that Manuel’s hire isn’t a signal of a shift in the organization’s core hitting principles.
“I’m not going to say we’re not going to make adjustments because I suspect we will, but the narrative – if it exists – that we are shifting from a new school approach to an old school approach by going from John Mallee to Charlie Manuel is far too simplified,” he said. “I think this is more about changing the messenger.”
That may be true, although Associated Press writer Rob Maaddi later said in a question directed at Klentak that Manuel recently told him he believes too many Phillies hitters try to upper-cut and swing for the fences. Either way, how Manuel tries to alter the team’s approach bears watching.
But what I actually found more interesting was Kapler’s response to Maaddi’s question.
“That’s interesting. First, I haven’t had a chance to talk to Charlie about what he thinks the biggest issues are with our offense,” he said.
You would think the manager would want to have that conversation with the guy responsible for coaching his offense before he’s hired, no?
Anyway, one issue the two might discuss when they finally do talk will be the seeming lack of confidence permeating the Phillies’ lineup right now, something that Kapler hopes Manuel can fix.
“I think the first thing that a great hitting coach does is he is a good psychologist,” he said. “If you can instill confidence in your hitters, if your hitters walk up to the plate with some swagger, feel like they’re going to drive a baseball, feel like they are going to make good decisions at the plate, that’s the most important part of their job.”
Kapler also explained how coaching hitting isn’t a one-size-fits-all job.
I think we have a balance of players who want more information in our clubhouse and some of them who want very little. Some players will literally plug their ears. They don’t want anymore information, they just want to go up to the plate, see the ball and the hit ball. Some guys are thinking about their mechanics when they walk up to the plate. They want to know where their elbow is in space or how soon their front foot is getting down, and they might come back to the dugout and look to a hitting coach to ask those questions to. And some guys can’t get enough game-planning and just devour the information.
Devour was Kapler’s word of the day. I liked it. Aggressive. Enthusiastic. Bold.
- Klentak said Manuel was the first choice, but Mallee would have been replaced either way.
- Team owner John Middleton and president Andy MacPhail were both involved in the decision to fire Mallee.
- It doesn’t sound as if there is any plan to keep Manuel in the dugout in any capacity beyond this season.
- No other changes to the coaching staff are currently planned.
- Finally, I thought one answer by Klentak on the firing was particularly interesting:
The message that we wanted to send and did just send when we met with the players was that we have 44 games to go and we are two games out of the playoffs. We are this close to achieving what we want to achieve this year, playing October baseball and winning in October, and I know that things have not been perfect. Have we had injuries? Yes. Have we had players that have struggled? Yes. Has it been perfect? No. But we are still this close in the middle of August and a good hot streak will put us exactly where we want to be. And that’s the message, the message we’re not going to sit on our hands and do nothing, we’re going to continue to push and continue to try, and if everybody does what they can do, this team can play October baseball.
That’s a nice message and certainly one the front office should send to its players, but I don’t know if that message is in line with Klentak’s actions prior to the trade deadline last month. Did the moves to bring in Drew Smyly, Jason Vargas, Blake Parker, Mike Morin, and Corey Dickerson deliver that message? Personally, I don’t think so, but I guess we’ll see if the players are picking up what Klentak is putting down.