That Phillies were always a false contender. By the payroll alone, they’ve tricked some people into thinking differently. Only the meads, dodgers and Yanks spent more than Philadelphia’s $233 million. But it would be tough for the Phillies to pull off 90 wins with poor defense and a questionable bullpen. Joe Girardi paid the price for these shortcomings. But he also added to them.
The Phillies fired Girardi as manager on Friday after a 273-game tenure that can only be described as a failure. Girardi was 132-141 with Philadelphia while presiding over the worst bullpen in baseball (5.00 ERA) other than that rockies (5.38 ERA). Girardi’s helpers somehow gave up the fourth most homers and suffered the fifth most losses in three seasons despite throwing the fourth fewest innings.
Unofficially, Girardi was gone on May 24th. That was the night in Atlanta when Girardi refused to use his closer Corey gag after Bryce Harper had a two-run homer at the top of ninth place and gave the Phillies a 5-4 lead. A win would have drawn the Phillies by .500 within a game. Girardi asked Nick Nelson to do something he’d never done before: complete a one-run ball game. The Phillies lost ten pitches later. And Girardi lost the clubhouse. A 1-7 tailspin began that sealed his fate.
Why didn’t Girardi use his sewer that night? He has a “rule” that no helper should serve three days in a row, especially early in the season. Girardi defended himself and brought up the junk science. “Look how many guys had surgery at Tommy John’s last year,” he said.
He said to Knebel, who wanted the ball, “You threw a lot of pitches” on each of the previous two days. His pitch counts: 23 and nine.
The protection of players’ health is admirable. But you can’t be so rigid as to dismiss common sense, especially when your positional players have fought their way back to the brink of a necessary win.
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The greatest relief pitcher of all time, Mariano Rivera, pitched 19 years without a major arm injury. Do you know how many times he’s opened three days in a row? Forty-six times. He did this 39 times for Joe Torre and seven times for Girardi.
The Phillies’ bullpen would test any manager, but Girardi doesn’t have a good track record of running bullpens. His bullpens ranked in the bottom half (eight) more often than in the top half (six). In his eight years without Rivera, Girardi’s bullpen ranks were 3, 14, 16, 19, 21, 24, 25, 30.
In addition to his bullpen usage, Girardi took on heat for his lineups, a popular criticism that critics tend to overstate. Despite this, Girardi’s leadoff hitters recorded a .252 on-base percentage. Only two teams have ever finished a season with a poorer OBP from the starting position: the 1969 extension father and the ’81 blue jay.
There was little Girardi could have done with the hand he was handed in defence. Harper’s elbow injury forced bat-first free agents Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos to run regularly in the outfield corners. The central defense was so poor that it allowed Grounder to have a .270 batting average – 38 points worse than average and worse than every team but him nationals.
Every year the Phillies have less area to cover in their home park than any other team, and every year they defend poorly. Under Girardi, they placed 30th, 23rd, and 26th in defensive efficiency. They finished 16th, 29th and 22nd in the previous three seasons. Girardi’s replacement, Rob Thomson, won’t make good defenders out of bad ones.
Don’t let the luxury tax bracket fool you. From the start, the Phillies were a flawed team. Trying to win without a reliable defense and a bullpen is a losing formula. The offense (seventh in the league in runs per game) hasn’t come close to covering up such shortcomings. It was a difficult task and Girardi had to leave because he was not up to it.
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