Monday, October 3, 2016

Philadelphia Phillies 2016 Grade: Coaching Staff

In 2015 the Philadelphia Phillies were the worst team in Major League Baseball, finishing at the bottom of not just the NL East or the National League, but all of MLB with a 63-99 record.
That finish was the worst for the organization in 43 years. It came on the heels of back-to-back 73-89 seasons.
So entering the 2016 campaign the Phillies were mired in their worst stretch of poor play since the late-1990’s teams suffered through seven straight losing finishes.
Hopes were not high for this current team. Most prognosticators had them finishing in last place once again. The most optimistic believing that they could finish in fourth place, ahead of the similarly rebuilding Atlanta Braves.
You could count me among those optimists. In fact, in my own preseason prediction, I had the Phillies finishing in 3rd place with a record of 75-87, ahead of both Atlanta and the Miami Marlins in the division, a full dozen games better than a year ago.
The Fightin’ Phils headed out on their final road trip of the season a week ago with a record of 69-83, and my prediction was still well within their grasp.
They needed to finish 6-4 over the final 10 games to make it happen.
Seven of those games would come against the red-hot defending NL champion New York Mets, so it wouldn’t be easy.
Still, the Phillies were playing fairly well at that point. They had won five of their previous eight, and three of their last four just prior to the trip.
Well that road trip through New York and Atlanta is now concluded, and it could not have gone much worse.
The Phillies won just once, and even that win was a near embarrassment, as they blew most of a 10-0 lead before hanging on for a 10-8 win over the Mets.
The club now sits at just 70-88, and while they will finish at least seven games better than a year ago, they would have to sweep those Mets on the final weekend in order to even equal their dismal 2013 and 2014 finish.
The coaching staff of this team at this time in club history has to be fairly judged under the totality of its circumstances. The rebuilding process leaves them dealing with a lot of youngsters all at the same time.
There were, as the team is now under completely new ownership control, has a new management regime in place, and is being guided by a new field manager.
As important as the win-loss record is the idea of progress. When you hit rock bottom, which happened a year ago, there must be changes.
So the 2016 team now wrapping its season needs to be graded on progress. Was there measurable progress in the end over that horrible 2015 season.
In the end, I say that there was not. Yes, the Phillies will finish with a better record than 2015. However, again, they are not likely to even equal the previous two seasons finishes, which were arguably just as bad as last season.
When we look back in history at this time period, we will find that the Phillies had a streak of at least four consecutive losing campaigns, none with more than 73 victories in them.
All of that losing certainly cannot be laid at the feat of Pete Mackanin and the current coaching staff. But the lack of measurable improvement from 2015 to 2016 is absolutely on them.
We need to remember that this year’s club got off to a hot start that had many fans excited. They were 24-17 on May 18th, just a half-game out of first place.
From that point on, a period of four and a half months, the Phillies have played to just a 46-62 mark, a .426 winning percentage.
At .240 and .301 the Phillies have the second-lowest batting average and on-base percentage in all of baseball. Their team cumulative OPS is the worst in the game.

There was much talk over the last couple of weeks of these Phillies having four players reach the 20+ home run mark, as if it demonstrated some type of power. But the fact is that their total of 159 long balls is just 24th out of 30 MLB teams.
The Phils have tried to run, something that I called for in my preseason prediction. They are 10th in baseball in stolen bases.
However, they are also the third-worst MLB club in being caught stealing, with far too frequent baserunning gaffes costing them scoring opportunities.
Cesar Hernandez was especially galling in  this category, and he never seemed to improve in this facet of the game as the season progressed.
It is the inability to coach players such as Hernandez to improve in what is an important facet of his game that was especially frustrating for this viewer over the long season.
601 runs scored. That is the bottom line for any offense, scoring runs. That total is the worst in the sport, and it’s not even close. They are a full 29 runs worse than the next closest team. With 1,280 hits, only two teams trail behind.
Things weren’t much better out on the mound, where the pitching staff combined batting averageM against of .265 is just 25th in the game.
Their total of 460 walks is just 19th in all of MLB for surrendering free passes. That is exactly where they finished the 2015 season ranked.
The staff simply gives scoring opportunities to far too many opposition baserunners, which has resulted in their 4.64 combined ERA, just 26th in Major League Baseball.
Defensively, the Phillies .983 fielding percentage is 20th in the game, as is their total of 96 errors. These represent improvements over 2015, but still are reflective of unacceptable levels of play.

Yes, there were times during the season when the improvements seemed obvious to the naked eye. And yes, there were injuries to the starting pitching rotation that made consistent winning more difficult.
However, when measured as a whole, I did not see the overall improvement in team play from that horrendous 2015 season, at least not to any acceptable level.
The talent throughout the overall organization is indeed improving. That was obvious from the success of the minor league ball clubs on the field, and reflected further by increased respect for the top-level talent in the system by outside talent evaluators.
While the future continues to look bright for the Phillies organization, the play on the field over the full course of this 2016 season did not feel like a first step forward. It just feels in the end like more of the same.
The Phillies are not only going to have to display better play and results on the field next year, they are going to have to demonstrate greater discipline as well. Far too often for me, a few of these players simply didn’t look like professionals.
Mackanin gets points for his postgame pressers. He is very straightforward, and seems to have a realistic grasp on the situation. He just seems to lack any answers, which is maddening.

Are a number of his key players simply uncoachable? Or is he not communicating what he wants done well enough, is he incapable of getting through to them?
Is the answer to make changes from either hitting coach Steve Henderson, who has been in that position during all four of these horrible losing seasons?
Should the team get rid of pitching coach Bob McClure, now finishing up his third year in that role? Does the team need a different voice in both of those roles?
How much input does bench coach Larry Bowa have in all of this? I’ve watched him as a player, coach, and manager for most of the last 45 years of my life.
After 51 years in the game, I know that there is no way that any of what he is seeing can possibly be acceptable. About to turn age 71, I have to wonder how long he will keep going with this team.
I don’t know that the answer is to fire Mackanin or any of the coaches at this stage. I do know that, if they do return, he and his coaching staff are clearly on the hot seat when the 2017 season gets underway.
Because the record did improve, and because there was modest improvement in a few areas of play, I am reluctant to call this 2016 season a complete failure. But it was pretty damned close.

GRADE: D


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