As you probably know by now, the Philadelphia Phillies relieved manager Joe Girardi of his duties before yesterday’s game against the Angels. The team was 22-29 before last night’s game, a severely disappointing record considering the expectations before the season. Girardi compiled a 132-141 record in his roughly two and a half seasons as manager. The Phillies routinely underperformed to expectations and often looked listless under Girardi’s watch.
Firing Girardi will not be the magical cure for what ails the Phillies. Their problems run much deeper than just the manager. That said, Girardi was one of those problems. Removing him is the first step to curing the rot that infects the organization. Girardi made a bad situation worse, especially when you look at his bullpen usage and his handling of younger players.
The Phillies bullpen has an ERA of 4.13 with a FIP of 3.94. Those numbers rank 19th and 16th respectively. That’s not good by any means, but it is better than most would expect. Amazingly, Philadelphia has just five blown saves which is tied with the Dodgers for third least. However, those are five blown saves in 16 opportunities. Their actual number of saves (11) ranks 21st.
What does this mean in relation to Girardi? It shows that part of the reason the bullpen has struggled is that Girardi mismanaged the mid to late innings which blew games before there was an opportunity for a save. James Norwood and his 7.63 ERA has made 18 appearances this season and thrown 15.1 innings. That is far too many for a pitcher who hasn’t shown that he can consistently get outs. This isn’t a new trend for Girardi either. You could look to last season where the same was said about David Hale.
Sacrificing now for the illusion of the future
Girardi’s self-imposed three days’ rest rule cost the Phillies games. The most obvious being a 6-5 loss to the Braves on 5/27 where he made Nick Nelson attempt a save after pitching the eighth. Nelson quickly gave up three hits and two runs in the ninth without recording an out and the Phillies lost despite a dramatic, go-ahead, three-run home run from Bryce Harper in the top of the inning. Girardi refused to use Corey Knebel, Seranthony Dominguez, or even Brad Hand for the save attempt because of his rule where he argues he’s saving them for October.
That strategy doesn’t work when you’re eliminated in August. Girardi constantly failed to see the needed boost in momentum from a single win and was willing to hemorrhage losses in the hopes the team would just flip a switch and come alive. He used the worst relievers in a bad bullpen to save the best for a mythical postseason run.
The Deadliest Sin
Perhaps the most damning assessment of Girardi is the utter lack of development at the Major League level of the Phillies younger players. During his tenure, Girardi routinely deferred to ineffective veterans over promising young players the moment the younger player started to struggle. Alec Bohm was effectively benched in favor of Ronald Torreyes last season, who is now no longer in the organization. Bryson Stott seemed to have won the starting shortstop position out of camp this year, but he was quickly benched for a combination of Didi Gregorious and Johan Camargo.
Mickey Moniak was never given a real chance last season while the team routinely started Odúbel Herrera or Roman Quinn. The same goes for Matt Vierling, who was demoted after struggling while Herrera stayed in CF despite posting similar numbers in the same stretch. Francisco Morales sat in the bullpen as the absolute last man on the depth chart despite the unit’s struggles.
Lack of trust
Young players need to play as often as possible once they are promoted to the MLB level. They need to be given the greater share of opportunities to play, if not every day playing time. That is especially true when the alternative is low cost, low production veterans. Promising prospects need to be able to fail. They need to be able to work through their struggles, not riding the bench. Too many times in the last two years have the Phillies called up a younger player who looked ready to replace an ineffective veteran only for Girardi to bench the younger guy the moment he struggled. That is simply not how you develop healthy organizational depth.
Not the cure, but the first step in finding it
To reiterate, Joe Girardi was not the Phillies only problem. They will not finally flip the elusive switch he searched for now that he is no longer at the helm. Younger players will not magically turn into superstars overnight. Those issues run deeper in the organization than the manager’s seat. But Girardi was a contributing factor in both of those problem areas. Removing him is the first step. If the 10-0 win on Friday night in the first game of the Rob Thomson era is any evidence, the Phillies seemed to look more relaxed and confident in themselves without Girardi. Younger players were major contributors in a win. The team didn’t look apathetic with a desire to be anywhere else. That doesn’t mean the loser energy has been purged from the organization, but at least one of its biggest proponents has been exorcized.