There’s a lot going wrong for the Phillies right now. In fact, over the last month there’s almost nothing going right. Pitching is bad, hitting is worse and the defense is starting to show cracks. Has Phillies General Manager Matt Klentak somehow let down the likes of Maikel Franco, Odubel Herrera and Cameron Rupp by not providing them with an adequate veteran leader to shepherd them out of this mess?
Pete Mackanin, the Philies manager, isn’t the guy. First off, he’s management, and while management can do a lot they can’t be out there on the field with you. He’s not “one of them,” so to speak. And we are talking about a guy with a career managerial record of 178-227, a guy who has never managed in the postseason, a guy who has had a team finish better than last place only once (last year when he finished second to last with the Phils).
Typically, with a young team like the Phils there’s either an longtime member of the team in the clubhouse, or the front office brings in a veteran leader to help guide the younger guys through the peaks and valleys that make up an MLB season. Say what you will about Ryan Howard, but he was here last year and by all accounts was an excellent veteran leader. He had been one of the best players in the sport at one point, and one of the worst. He went through injuries, slumps, personal crises, as well as Rookie of the Year campaigns, MVP seasons, and an era of championship contention. He had a lot to offer for any young player.
But he’s gone and in his stead is the Phillies big free agent acquisition: Michael Saunders. He’s certainly being paid like a leader with his $8 million-plus 2017 salary, but is he really the veteran leader young players can look to? Probably not. He’s a career .237/.307/,402 hitter who in nine seasons has amassed a 6.2 bWAR. Herrera had a 4.3 bWAR last year alone. And not for nothing but he’s having his own troubles this year, so you could see the problem with him trying to tell someone else what to do.
Freddy Galvis is the longest-tenured Phillie at this point, but for all that longevity he’s actually only played more than 80 games in a season twice. He’s been spectacular with the glove but his offense leaves a lot to be desired and his approach is the exact opposite of what the Phillies are trying to impart on their young hitters. It would be very tough for him to be the guy that leads this team out of its slump.
Andres Blanco has been noted as a clubhouse leader, but can the bench bat getting 53 plate appearances and hitting .191 really be the fulcrum for the locker room? Also Blanco has only been a Phillie since 2015 and has never seen winning baseball in Philadelphia.
There’s really no one, and maybe that’s the problem. This team has absolutely no one to lead it out of the doldrums with which they currently find themselves. It’s depressing because it’s not clear exactly how these guys are going to navigate out of this horrific stretch they’re in.
If you want to see what effect veteran leadership can have on a struggling group you only have to look at the Phillies bullpen. This is a very young group that has two extremely successful veterans anchoring it, Joaquin Benoit and Pat Neshek. This group struggled mightily to start the year; through May they had an ERA of 4.84 and were regularly putting close games out of reach. Then on May 10, Benoit did what a veteran does and spoke up about how the bullpen was being used. “I believe that if we have a set role, everybody will fall in place … It’s a little consistency not just for the pitching staff, but the people that run it, too. It works if you find a place for everybody” he told the media.
Since that statement, he hasn’t given up a run. He’s lowered his ERA from 5.79 to 3.86. Hector Neris has lowered his ERA by almost a run by not giving up a run since then either.
The entire bullpen has actually made a remarkable turnaround since he spoke up. On May 10, the Phillies bullpen ranked 24th in the majors with a 4.66 ERA, and in the 20 days since they’ve lowered the ERA to 4.18 and currently rank 18th in baseball.
The Washington Nationals stunned the baseball world when they brought in Jayson Werth in 2010 on a seven-year, $126 million contract. They had just come off a 93-loss season and hadn’t finished anywhere close to .500 in over five years. Since then he’s provided all the veteran leadership and guidance to the seemingly endless group of young stars they continue to produce, from Bryce Harper to Trea Turner. General Manager Mike Rizzo has spoken frequently about how much Werth has meant in helping those younger players and his sentiments have been repeatedly echoed by Harper.
You wonder if the Phillies front office may have erred in not bringing in a Jayson Werth type of their own, and you hope that the current group of Phillies players aren’t too badly damaged because of that misstep.