Following a fitting end to the Phillies’ disappointing 2012 season yesterday in Washington – a 5-1 loss to the NL East-champion Nationals (going to take a while getting used to saying that, Phillie fans!) in which the Phils struggled offensively and, yet again, wasted a solid pitching performance by Cliff Lee – the organization quickly began shaping the 2013 version of the ball club.
While Charlie Manuel apparently will (and should) be back to try and right the ship next season, three members of his coaching staff were informed by Manuel and GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. that they will no longer be with the team. Bench coach Pete Mackanin, first base coach Sam Perlozzo and hitting coach Greg Gross were all dismissed after the game yesterday, the first three of what most figure to be several changes as Amaro attempts to retool the Phils for a run at their sixth trip to the postseason in seven seasons next year.
Replacing them on the staff will be three coaches from the team’s AAA affiliate at Lehigh Valley: hitting coach Steve Henderson, bullpen coach Rod Nichols and, most importantly, manager Ryne Sandberg.
Sandberg, a Hall of Fame second baseman with the Chicago Cubs during his playing career and former Phillie farmhand, has long been rumored to be the eventual replacement for Manuel, and promoting him to third base coach and infield instructor with the big club puts him in line for that job when Manuel steps down (possibly after the 2013 season, according to unoffical rumors) and also will hopefully keep him out of the mix for other Major League managerial openings this offseason.
While I would never advocate for anyone to lose their job, it seemed clear that they could use a change at the hitting coach position. In the 2 1/2 seasons that Gross coached the hitters after taking over for Milt Thompson midway through the 2010 season, it seemed as though a lot of guys regressed, and for reasons other than the usual decline that comes with age.
Some of it may have been due to injuries to guys like Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, and replacing them with the likes of Freddy Galvis and Ty Wigginton, and also forcing Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino into more prominent roles in the lineup and shouldering more of the offensive load than what they were accustomed to in previous seasons.
The downturn might also have to do with losing guys like Jayson Werth to free agency, and, in hindsight incorrectly, relying on the likes of Laynce Nix, John Mayberry, Jr. and Domonic Brown to compensate for losing Werth’s averages of 29 homers and 84 RBI’s from 2008-2010.
From my vantage point, it was clear under Thompson that their collective approach at the plate was poor, and this continued under Gross’s watch. Too many guys were getting overly pull-conscious at the plate, most notably Howard, whose average and power totals dropped considerably from his MVP season in 2006 while his strikeout numbers skyrocketed. When Howard is right, he is driving the ball to the opposite field, and we’ve seen a lot less of than from him over the past few seasons.
Their situational hitting was also not good, as they struggled through the majority of this season with runners in scoring position, often times trying to do too much and hitting shallow pop flies when a ground ball with the infield back would have scored the runner from third, or worse striking out and not even putting the ball in play.
Unfortunately, when a team with such high expectations fails to meet them, someone has to pay the price. And since they can’t fire all the players, it’s the coaches who have to fall on their swords.
Hopefully these changes are the start of a promising offseason, and lead to the type of season Phillie fans have grown accustomed over the last five years in 2013.