In professional sports, as in any job, fans understand people play different roles within an organization: Scouts scout, players play, trainers train and so on. The general manager ultimately decides which personnel are or are not a fit in the organization’s system, based on age, budget, depth and other considerations. One of the most important and, at the same time, most thankless roles in professional baseball is the manager. With the Phillies’ pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training on Tuesday, the Phillies need the proverbial “total team effort” this season to get back to the playoffs, including better “play” out of its manager.
A manager needs to be held accountable for not only setting the lineup cards before each game, but knowing what personnel are available and when they should be called upon given the game situation. In my opinion, Phillies manager Charlie Manual has been given a pass way too often by the local media for mismanaging a game. The reason for the pass is likely because he was at the helm when the Phillies won the World Series in 2008, bringing Philadelphia its first championship in 25 years (1982-83 Philadelphia 76ers). I contend Charlie didn’t have to do much that year except fill out the lineup card since the bullpen was amazing, closer Brad Lidge finished the season with 48 saves in 48 chances, and he had a bench where everyone contributed when called upon [yes, I’m looking at you, too, Eric Bruntlett].
As we’ve drifted further and further from that magical 2008 season, it’s become clear to me that a) Charlie’s swing-for-the-fences approach only works when he has the right players (refer to “role of general manager in first paragraph”) or b) he’s too stubborn to actually play smart baseball or c) a little bit of both.
For half of 2012, he didn’t have his two big bats, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, due to injury. Not his fault. It would be difficult for any team to replace the offense lost from their number 3 and 4 hitters in the lineup for half a season. But what about the questionable in-game decisions he’s made in recent years, relating specifically to the bullpen. Since I can’t remember off-hand what season or game it was, I’ll give you a situation that confuses Charlie to the point where he’ll make the wrong decision 90% of the time:
- Phillies up by 1 with two outs in the 8th inning
- The Rangers have runners on 2nd and 3rd
- Lefty specialist Antonio Bastardo pitches to lefty Josh Hamilton
- Hamilton has better numbers against lefties than righties for his career
- Closer Jonathan Papelbon warming up for the Phils in the bullpen
- Bastardo misses his spot and Hamilton lines it into the left-field gap for a two-run double
- Though Papelbon is a righty, he has better numbers against Hamilton, who he has seen in the American League while a member of the Red Sox
This is a mistake that Phillies fans have seen all too often from Charlie Manual. In today’s game of baseball, closers, especially big-money free agents, can pitch more than 3 outs to record a save. It’s part of their job. In the above hypothetical situation, let’s say Charlie gives Bastardo the hook before facing Murphy. Papelbon comes in and Murphy is sitting on a first-pitch fastball. ‘Pap’ obliges and the fans in the upper tank have a souvenir. Fans would be pissed, and rightly so, but the venom you’d hear from the masses on the talk radio stations would be directed at the closer and not at the manager.
It’s about putting your team in the best position to win a game (channeling former Eagles coach Andy Reid), which doesn’t always mean they will. I think most Phillies fans would agree that putting Jonathan Papelbon in at the end of a game is, in fact, an advantage that will pay off more times than not.
Through talent, chance, health and smart baseball, the Phils will need a little of everything to be successful in 2013. That last one is something the players as well as the manager will need to improve upon.
What do you think? To what effect does a manager play on the outcome of a baseball game? Leave a comment below.