Michael/Male/26-30. Lives in United States/Pennsylvania/Wexford/Christopher Wren, speaks English. Spends 20% of daytime online. Uses a Fast (128k-512k) connection. And likes baseball /politics.
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Monday, August 13, 2007

Goodbye Charlie Manuel? 

General Manager Pat Gillick, in an interview recently on sports talk radio, recently declined to give Manager Charlie Manuel a vote of confidence and state that Manuel will be the manager of the red pinstripes in 2008. I’m not surprised at all to see Gillick uninterested in Manuel returning, and I actually am surprised to see that Manuel is still the Phillies skipper. Gillick, remember, took over the team in 2006 and still kept Manuel on, even though Manuel had been hired and had worked as an advisor for the Phillies old regime. After the Phillies surprising run at the playoffs in ’06, I am sure that Gillick felt he had no choice but keep Manuel on for ’07, but short of the Phillies making the playoffs and doing some damage (making the World Series?) I think that Gillick will hand Manuel his pink slip at the end of the season.

So as the days close on the Manuel era I thought I might take stock a little bit. There are three questions worth asking:

Is Manuel an effective manager? I submit so. Compare Manuel’s record to that of Larry Bowa, Manuel’s predecessor:

Larry Bowa: 337-308 (.522)
Charlie Manuel: 233-204 (.533)

The difference between the two is miniscule. Bowa’s teams went 86-76 in 2001, 2002 and 2004, his worst record being a 80-81 finish in 2003. The Phillies finished second in ’01 and ’04 and third in ’02 and ’03. Manuel’s teams finished second in 2005 (88-74) and 2006 (85-77) and currently seem destined to finish second again in 2007 (with an 86-76 record). Sure, the Phillies haven’t made the playoffs under Bowa or Manuel, but they’ve won under both managers.

Credit Manuel, however, for keeping the Phillies competitive despite struggles in terms of major injuries to key members on the roster (Jim Thome in 2005, Aaron Rowand in 2006, Chase Utley, et al., in 2007) and despite slow starts. The Phillies were .490 under Bowa in April and .424 under Manuel. Imagine if the Phillies didn’t get off to such sluggish starts these last few years: the team plays .555 baseball after April under Manuel and .528 under Bowa.

If your curious, the Phillies would have averaged 90 wins in a season if they played at their post-April pace under Manuel.

Tactically, I think Manuel makes good decisions. He's not someone who over-manages and coaches himself right out of a game. According to the 2007 Bill James Handbook, he used the fewest lineups in the N.L., he was reluctant to yank starters from games, he didn't sacrifice bunt or base-steal or try many hit-and-runs, instead relying on his team's strength, its capacity to hit the ball and hit the ball hard to score runs. A good manager days to his team's strengths.

Who will replace him? There are two candidates that spring to mind and they both sit on the Phillies bench next to Manuel. The first is Jimy Williams, the former coach of the Red Sox, Blue Jays and Astros. The 64-year old Williams has worked with Gillick before as coach of the Blue Jays from 1986 to 1989, so there is a relationship between the two. Gillick would probably feel comfortable with Williams holding the reins, however …

I think the real candidate to replace Manuel stands behind the first base bag: Davey Lopes.

This season you’ve seen real aggressiveness on the Phillies part to press aggressively on the base-paths and steal bases. Credit the Phillies newfound aggressiveness to Lopes, whose energy and enthusiasm and passion for the running game makes him Manuel’s heir apparent. True, he’s not much younger than Williams (62), and doesn’t have as much experience as a manager as Williams (340 games with the Brewers vs. 1,701), but Lopes has energy and passion, and he is selling the gospel of the running game. The Phillies under Manuel seem like an N.L. Moneyball team, reliant on the walk and the three-run home run to generate offense. With the tide turning against Moneyball and home runs in the minds of managers and pundits, Gillick and the Phillies management must be impressed with how aggressively Lopes has pushed the running game. Despite playing in a park tailor-made for bash ball, the ’07 Phillies rank second in the N.L. in stolen bases with 92. This is a much more aggressive running team, a factor I credit evenly to Lopes influence and to updates in the Phillies personnel (specifically, Shane Victorino and Michael Bourn).

Can someone do a better job? Manuel’s stumbles in April are interesting to analyze here. People fault Manuel for being too laid-back in handling his players and submit that the Phillies struggles at the outset of the season are a product of Manuel’s lack of intensity. Is that true? Bowa’s teams struggled in April too and went on to play better ball later in the season and nobody would mistake Larry Bowa for Charlie Manuel. The ’04 Phillies got off to nearly the same start – 10-11 – as Manuel did the next three seasons as skipper: 10-14 in ’05, 10-14 in ’06 and 11-14 this season. I don’t think intensity is an issue here, and I don’t think intensity is a plus either. Gene Mauch mercilessly rode his teams, and the ’64 Phillies boast one of the most epic collapses in sports history. The ’86 California Angels blew a 3-1 lead in the ALCS and dropped three in a row to the Boston Red Sox. Intense managers ride their teams into the group. Manuel was temperamentally well-suited to managing a veteran ball club like the Phillies.

What about the weather? Well, the Phillies are built around the big bang theory of baseball. April, with the rainy weather in the Northeast, is hardly the best time of year for the Phillies brand of baseball. In July and August, with the blisteringly hot weather, is great for big bang baseball. Any coincidence that the Phillies do well at this time of the season?

I hope everyone enjoyed the weekend. Tomorrow, a look at the Phillies playoff prospects.

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