Thursday, April 01, 2004

Canvassing the Experts | By now the roundtable discussions on divisional predictions among's writers are old news, but it's worth noting, I think, that while "the smart money is on the Phillies," the N.L. East discussion includes a tremendous amount of questioning on Larry Bowa's impact. The intro to the piece concedes that there are "very few hard facts," but several writers nevertheless look to the Phils' manager with something less than complete confidence. Dodger Thoughts' perceptive Jon Weisman offer the best take, one which does include some hard facts:

I'm not swayed by the argument that Larry Bowa is nothing more than a hothead. It's not that I believe that everyone has to like each other to win. But I have just observed during his managerial career that he is an alienating force. And I think that alienation prevents his teams from performing up to their potential.

Bowa-managed teams have not won more than 86 games in a season. His career record is 333-360. He had a Padres team in 1987 with Benito Santiago, Tony Gwynn and John Kruk having wonderful years, and won 65 games (Pythagorean expectation: 71). In 1988, he was fired with a 16-30 record. The Padres then went 67-48 the rest of the way under...Jack McKeon.

Flash forward a decade and a half. Has Bowa learned anything? No doubt. And in fact, he slightly outperformed his Pythag expectations in 2001 and 2002 before faltering in 2003. His team may have the best talent in the division, but is there any reason to feel good about the leadership? I'm still quite open to opposing arguments, but for now, I think that just as the Marlins HAD to fire Jeff Torborg last year, the Phillies may have to fire Bowa this year.

By the way, are the Phillies still the last team to fire a manager when he was in first place (Pat Corrales, 1983)?

Salon's King Kaufman likewise picks the Phillies to win the division but is (repeat after me) wary of Skipper Shortfuse:

In 2001, Bowa's first year as manager in Philadelphia, the Phillies went to bed on Aug. 28 tied for first with the Braves. The rest of the way they went 15-16 and finished two games behind Atlanta, which hadn't exactly run away with the division. Last year, the Phillies went to bed on Aug. 17 a half game ahead of the Marlins in the wild card race. The rest of the way they went 17-22, finishing five games behind Florida, which went a solid but not spectacular 22-16. Could it be that by late August, Bowa's players are so sick of listening to him yell that they switch off? I'm suspicious of such ideas, but I'll believe it if it happens again.'s preview is here, but the boys in Bristol will wait until April 4 to make public their picks. Jayson Stark, meanwhile, tabs the Phils as the class of the division, with the team's pluses and minuses as follows:

Biggest assets -- Billy Wagner obliterating memories of Jose Mesa, five No. 2 starters, new-ballpark electricity. Biggest questions -- manager-player harmony, health of Jim Thome and David Bell, too much swinging and missing.

Elsewhere, Sean Forman, creator of the extraordinary, files a soup-to-nuts statistics analysis of the Phils and concludes: "96-66 and a first round playoff loss."

Opening Day is just four days away.


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