Opinions were as mixed on Gabe Kapler’s stint as the manager of the Phillies as they are on single-payer healthcare, Taylor Swift, and Hawaiian pizza. But when the organization ousted him, the divided citizens of Philadelphia turned their collective minds to one question: who will be the next Phillies manager?
I know this to be true, because I have received countless queries by text, email, Twitter, and singing telegram, curious about who would be my choice for manager. (The singing telegram was something along the lines of ‘Who do you think it will be’ to the tune of Babyface’s Grammy-Award-winning “When Can I See You.”)
Now, clearly, I am not in the Phillies organization. I am not a journalist. My opinion is in no way significant. So I imagine if people have gone so far as to consult me, they are desperate.
To be clear: I also experience this desperation. When the Phillies dismissed Kapler, I wrote so much about it that I had to make this topic a separate post. But if I learned anything by writing that article–besides the fact that I should never hope to cover both the past and future in a single piece where so many emotions are involved–it’s this. The overlap in the Venn Diagram between myself and John Middleton, managing partner of the Phillies, is “really wants the Phillies to win” and “give the people what they want.”
However, this article will not compile a list of all imagined candidates. Those slideshows went up before Phillies staff had taken down the mood lighting in the manager’s office at Citizens Bank Park. Because those lists were constructed by actual, responsible journalists. This article simply addresses that useless, inconsequential commodity: my opinion.
Who the Phillies Want to Hire
But the actual, responsible journalists who have to create lists of possible managers for any rudderless teams have a potentially challenging task. Perhaps they’ll need to uncover lesser-known candidates. Hypothetical first-time managers. Former players who are not household names. In essence, Gabe Kapler, in 2017.
But that’s not who the Phillies are going to hire. Before a single managerial interview was announced, I knew there was no value in digging deep for the hypothetical out-of-the-box Phillies hire.
And you should start, if you have people who are proven managers, you should kind of absolutely include them on your list. But look, somewhere out there, there’s the next Craig Counsell, and you need to look for that, too. So, we’re going to try to find those people as well and interview them.
I appreciate that Middleton wanted someone to feel better after watching the press conference, and the successful first-time manager of the Brewers deserves that boost after their stunning Wild Card loss. But even as I listened to him, I thought: the Phillies will never go that route right now.
Middleton’s recent moves–firing Kapler, firing pitching coach Chris Young, and firing hitting coach John Mallee mid-season and replacing him with, oh, just one of the most-beloved Phillies managers of all time, Charlie Manuel–plausibly speak to a concern for fan opinion. That, and Middleton actually uttered the words, “when I walked around the stadium and walked around the streets of Philadelphia and people come up to me” in explaining his method for gathering public feedback on Kapler’s effectiveness.
And with the last two late-season swoons by the Phillies placed, at least in part, on the shoulders of a first-time manager, Middleton will want to give the people a name that they know. He will want to counter the Phillies’ last choice with someone with experience. Preferably, a lot of experience. Before we knew who the Phillies were meeting with, I doubted that they would genuinely be looking at outside-of-the-box managerial candidates, at all.
Who I Would Like Them to Hire
And this disappoints me. As I said in my last piece, Kapler represented the kind of manager I want. Knowledgeable with analytics, friendly with players, positive-thinking, open to criticism. Looking around baseball, we can see plenty of cases in which managers with these qualities have met with success. And I hope that the Phillies’ managerial search doesn’t become an indictment on any of those approaches.
Maybe I think that the pendulum will swing in the opposite direction because it’s what I fear. But I think it’s a valid concern; reactionary decision-making doesn’t lead to the most productive governance. And no, to borrow my joke from what is essentially Part I of this article, I’m not thinking of any American electoral politics in particular.
This doesn’t mean I’m opposed to the Phillies hiring an experienced manager. I think it’s a highly desirable resume bullet point, and even preferable for this team. There’s some reason that the Phillies clubhouse isn’t quite clicking, and someone who has helmed other teams may have better insight as to why. I would just prefer that experience doesn’t come at the expense of some of the other qualities that I think make the best manager for a forward-thinking team.
Return of the Venn Diagram Overlap
But if we make two circles titled, “Who the Phillies want to hire” and “Who I want them to hire,” there is a leading candidate for the overlapping section in the middle. And it’s Joe Girardi.
Granted, for years I hated Girardi because he managed the Yankees, and I was raised on a fundamentalist hatred of the Yankees. I came to associate how upset and tight-lipped he looked with feelings of delight and pleasure. But even though I have likened becoming a Yankee to becoming a White Walker–RIP James Paxton, who I once adored and now looks like a shorn lion–I believe no soul is irredeemable. Anyone can step away from the dark side and join the forces of good. (I mean, for ARod, it’s too late. You need to repent before you retire.)
Joe Girardi: Pros
However, Girardi is an experienced-manager dream. He brings with him not just experience, but a successful .554 managerial record, three division titles, Manager of the Year honors (with the Marlins), and, of course, a World Series title, even if it came at the expense of the Phillies in 2009. The Yankees dismissed him after a 91-win season in which their team fell to the Astros in game 7 of the ALCS. We would take that, in Philadelphia, over our last two seasons. Also, handling the New York media for ten years more than qualifies him to deal with the demanding Philadelphia market, and whatever construction workers might yell at him.
But he sits atop my list because I believe, of the candidates the Phillies are truly considering, he’s the most experienced at incorporating analytics into his decision-making. Analytics may not be his native language, but he’s shown a willingness to accept information and integrate it into a balanced approach.
I hate to be a single-issue voter, but buying into analytics is a determining factor for me. The Phillies have invested heavily in their analytics department; I know it’s not going anywhere regardless of whom they hire. I’m worried, though, that a manager who doesn’t willingly integrate this information will create more friction. Especially within the organization. Joe Girardi could represent a marriage between two warring kingdoms, the old school and the new school.
Joe Girardi: Cons
Two provisos exist. One: Girardi doesn’t have a reputation of relating exceptionally well to players. To quote Tom Verducci’s post-mortem in 2017, “Girardi’s connection to his players is minimal.” Girardi apparently made strides in this area in the Championship 2009 season after receiving some notes about his clubhouse-side manner, but the overall report card remained the same in 2017. Now, many people, those who point to a lack of clubhouse structure as the source of the Phillies’ failure, might rejoice here. I still favor a friendly manager. But I’m not against Girardi. Maybe I will be proven wrong! And: nobody’s perfect. Except for maybe Alex Cora.
Two: I can argue all I want about Girardi’s exact perfection, I’m not sure he’ll choose the Phillies. Seven managerial spots remain open after Joe Maddon shocked the no one [sic] by going back to the Angels, and the Cubs, Padres and Mets might make for more attractive landing spots. It’s like any free agent. Everybody’s going to want Gerrit Cole this offseason, twenty-nine teams are going to be disappointed. And though there are fewer contestants on MLB’s managerial reality show, Girardi is probably everyone’s top choice. But he can only give one team the rose. And by rose, I mean clipboard.
So, if Girardi would rather go back to New York, the Mets look like obvious fit. Although he may not want to play the “Wilpon Says” game. Phillies fans can bemoan their organizational dysfunction all they want–and the last press conference certainly gave us cause–but the Mets are always there to remind us it could be far worse. I’d choose Middleton/MacPhail/Klentak over Wilpon/Wilpon/Van Wagenen 11 times out of 10. But I am biased. This concludes my regularly-scheduled “Bash the Wilpons” segment.
A Brief Interlude in Which I Do Not Use the Phrase ‘Stupid Money’
The good news, speaking of Middleton v. Wilpon, is that the Phillies are more likely to reach into Middleton’s pockets and offer a larger managerial salary. Managers’ salaries don’t fall under the jurisdiction of the luxury tax, so Middleton’s comments that he doesn’t want to trigger that tax don’t apply here. And you’d think they’d be willing to agree to whatever amount necessary in order to get the guy they really want.
Many articles list Girardi as “a favorite” for the job. If the Phillies would just make him the favorite, we would be on the same page. Let’s just hope Girardi also likes that page.
Buck Showalter: Pros
However, in this year of musical managerial chairs, if what the Phillies want is a manager with experience, they’ve got options. Until a few recent articles suggesting that they favor Girardi, Buck Showalter seemed the unquestionable front-runner.
Showalter worked with MacPhail and Klentak in Baltimore, and their existing relationship makes this an obvious fit. One can hope that it would be as harmonious as the marriage of Sofia and Ethelred, pictured above. And hypothetically, one can hope that it might smooth over the fissures spied in the press conference, if Middleton gives the blessing to MacPhail and Klentak’s bud. But that may be taking even “High Hopes” too far.
But more importantly, Showalter’s resume, despite having no World Series Championship on it in some kind of snazzy font,* is extensive. His 1,551 career wins (a .506 managerial winning percentage) come with five postseason appearances and two division titles. Three times he has been awarded Manager of the Year, once each with the Yankees, Rangers, and Orioles, leaving only his stint with the Diamondbacks without a plaque.
*Castellar? Algerian? In picturing this, I imagined managers actually drafting resumes and trying to pick the right fonts for the section headers and it brought me a lot of joy.
Above all, Showalter enjoys a reputation a shrewd tactician. At least, I hope he enjoys it. Although his bizarre decision not to deploy Zach Britton in the 2016 AL Wild Card Game sticks in the collective memory, it’s an exception in a career marked by smart bullpen negotiation. A friend of mine texted me, unbidden, just to opine on Showalter as a smart baseball man and adept at in-game management. And this friend is as smart of a baseball fan as they come. (He is not a Phillies fan. Which I mention not as it correlates to intelligence, just to note his lack of bias. Although being a Phillies fan doesn’t always feel smart. Personally speaking.)
Buck Showalter: Cons
But smart as Showalter is, he is reputed not to be “keen” on analytics, which makes him a second choice for me. After many public instances of trolling analytics, his reversal at the very end of his managerial tenure with the Orioles to praise them smacks of someone who realizes that the tide has turned against them. And for this, I don’t have as much enthusiasm for Showalter as I do for Girardi. To wit:
To be fair, I support a balanced approach, and the notion that analytical information isn’t the only thing that should feed decision-making. That’s something that Showalter advocates in this video. But he also says that he likes to use analytics to “verify what my gut’s telling me,” which is just confirmation bias. That doesn’t count as incorporating analytical data.
And: leaving Zach Britton in the bullpen tho. And: it gets worse. When Showalter was on his way out the door in Baltimore, former-GM Dan Duquette took the following parting shots:
The question is why did (Wade) Miley, Edwin Jackson, (Jeremy) Hellickson, (Kevin) Gausman, Britton, (Brad) Brach and (Vidal) Nuño pitch more effectively with other clubs than with the O’s and, conversely, what made (Alex) Cobb and (Andrew) Cashner less effective with the O’s in 2018 than they were in 2017? And why are the agents calling the front office to intercede, to request the club implement a more analytical approach with the major-league field staff?
Please note on your scorecard that Duquette had also just been fired, and may have been trying to divert blame. But for a Phillies organization that has seen similar patterns emerge with players, it’s a troubling accusation. The manager is not solely to blame for these kinds of issues, but I’d rather not see the Phillies run headlong into more of them.
Speaking of which, Duqette’s comments also highlight a simmering dysfunctional relationship between him and Showalter. Despite their previous working relationship, this makes me envision analytically-minded Klentak and Showalter as a ship charted on a collision course with an iceberg. (I am not sure who plays the ship and who plays the iceberg in this scenario. Maybe I’ll let them pick?)
And, as Dan Connolly smartly posits on the Athletic, the standing relationships between Klentak, MacPhail and Showalter could as easily lead to even more disconnect in Philadelphia. Additionally, don’t forget that MacPhail and Klentak were not productive for the Orioles, who never won more than 69 games during their collective tenure. MacPhail “stepped down” due to “family obligations,” and Showalter was fired, both from an Orioles organization that is not at the forefront of baseball, to say the least. And we want to reunite these people?
Which brings me to my last point. In Showalter’s last season with the Orioles, the team was 47-115. Now, many view him as a manager who can turn a team around. A ‘developer,’ rather than someone who will bring home a championship. The Phillies, unfortunately, need both; I’m not disparaging Showalter for not having a (Copperplate Gothic bold) World Series on his resume. But this postmortem on his reign with Orioles suggests that he succeeded for years because his baseball smarts were ahead of the curve. And once the rest of baseball caught up, and then surpassed him: 47-115.
Dusty Baker: Cons
Okay, I know I’ve been doing ‘Pros’ first, but I can’t here. First of all, this will enable me to offer up a mint of positivity after the meal of garlic, onion, and sardines that I am about to serve. Secondly, I do not want the Phillies to hire Dusty Baker.
If Buck Showalter has a reputation for holding analytics at arm’s length, Dusty Baker has a reputation for being the King of the Sacrifice Bunt and Intentional Walk. These are the kind of strategies that drive me and other pro-analytics baseball fans absolutely crazy. Here, from two of my baseball friends:
Meanwhile, if there is anything I would like in my obituary, it would be my championing of plate discipline:
But Baker, famously, has said, “I think walks are overrated unless you can run… But the guy who walks and can’t run, most of the time they’re clogging up the bases for somebody who can run.” This makes me weep for my boy Rhys Hoskins, whose excellent eye is his most durable skill, but has stolen 9 bases in his major league career. Hoskins and Bryce Harper were respectively 1st and 5th in the National League in walks in 2019. I want to get “OBP” monogrammed onto my towels and hankies and Baker continues to say things like, “On-base percentage is good, but RBIs are better.” But unless it’s a home run, which he has also called a “problem” … you need someone on base … to get an RBI.
And it doesn’t have anything to do with analytical management, but he has also said that baseball players of color play better in hot weather than whites do. I’m just going to leave this article here.
Secondly, Baker has developed a reputation for working his pitchers hard, at best, and for ruining them, at worst. Two friends of mine who are Cubs fans–to whom I am also indebted for the above article–unleashed a torrent of aggrieved text messages on the subject. (One contained the typo “Fusty Baker,” which we felt humorous, and appropriate.) My friend echoed the oft-held belief that Baker ruined Mark Prior and Kerry Wood.
Prior, then only 22, threw more than 119 pitches 10 times in 2003, including one 133-pitch outing. His inning total jumped from 116 2/3rd major league innings plus 51 minor league innings in his rookie 2002 season, to 234 2/3rd innings in 2003. Yikes. Prior was never the same again. A piece from Bleacher Report also argues point/counter-point on Baker’s possible involvement in the injuries or decline of Carlos Zambrano, Livan Hernandez, Russ Ortiz, Aaron Harang and Edinson Volquez.
I understand that inning totals and pitch counts were viewed differently 15 years ago. But this FanGraphs article by the esteemed Travis Sawchik (buy his book, too) outlines that Baker pressed pitch-counts more than any other team in his most recent stint with the Nationals. They led MLB in starts with 120+ pitches, and were second in pitches per start and number of 100+ pitch starts.
Suffice it to say, please kindly keep Baker’s management off of my Aaron Nola. Look, I know that Nola has proven himself as a workhorse and is no longer extremely young, and Spencer Howard might be the more relevant concern here. But he’s not my choice in either case.
Lastly, Baker sometimes sticks with players to a fault, which I don’t think will endear him to a Phillies crowd that wants more accountability for their players, and not less. I remember being baffled from afar as to his insistence on playing Danny Espinosa in 2016. And, as my Cubs fan friend said, “He refused to bench Neifi Perez who was terrible at baseball.”
Dusty Baker: Pros
But the flip side of this coin might be one of Baker’s greatest assets: his ability to connect to his players, and to humans in general. He is universally praised as a player’s manager. Jayson Werth, whom I will always love regardless of some Phillies fans’ sentiments, said, “One thing about Dusty, he does a lot for chemistry. He does a lot inside the clubhouse that people don’t see.”
And a friend who worked with Dusty for a year emailed me when he heard that Baker was interviewing with the Phillies, just to tell me what a “great people-person” and “well-liked and well-respected” he was. “Dusty loves to teach baseball and teach life lessons,” my friend wrote. “He views himself as someone who sets an important example for others.” And, to forestall the fears he probably knows I have, he added that Baker is “very smart and though some of the analytics may be foreign to him, he knows what he’s doing. He’s good with the media, treats every question seriously, and won’t be fazed by having his decisions trashed on the post-game show. I’m hoping he gets one more shot at a job like this.” And his email made me want to root for Baker, too. Just. Maybe not for the Phillies.
But in fairness, Baker doesn’t ask for a sac bunt as often as he used to. Stephen Strasburg, despite being viewed for years as injury-prone, seems, uh, to be doing just fine. (33 K: 1 BB this postseason, the last time I checked.)
And Baker won a division title for each team he’s helmed, the Giants, Cubs, Reds, and Nationals. His staggering 1,863 career managerial wins amount to a .532 winning percentage. He also has three Manager of the Year awards. And 13 of his last 18 seasons have culminated in a better than .500 record for his team. That’s something the Phillies haven’t managed to do since 2011. These are all things to take solace in, should the Phillies choose Baker.
And these are reasons that I am letting the end of his name drift into the overlapping section of the Venn Diagram.
No, But Seriously
Even before the Phillies short-listed Girardi, Showalter and Baker by bringing them each in for a call-back, I didn’t think there were any other more probable candidates. Even John Farrell, Mike Scioscia, and Ron Washington, though very experienced, seemed unlikely to overtake this triumvirate. The responsible journalists (remember them?) could take note of Dusty Wathan or Rob Thomson’s eminent qualification. But the Phillies will bring in an outsider to give the feeling of cleaning house. And it will definitely not be the next Craig Counsell.
But with Girardi’s second interview scheduled for Monday, this managerial search could, unlike the ouster of Kapler or the signing of Harper, wrap up quickly. Let’s just hope it’s a choice we can all feel good about. Like three-day weekends, the Beatles, or cupcakes.
- / 10 months ago
To me, Rachel Nichols is the personification of posting a black square on Instagram.