Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Managed Care

While the baseball world zeroes in the Red Sox' impending World Series victory -- man, is that a weird phrase to type -- intriguing things happened in Phillies City-State yesterday. Jim Fregosi was in South Philadelphia yesterday to interview for the Phils' vacant managerial post, and Ed Wade confirmed that Jim Leyland would be a candidate as well.

As Wade prepares for the most important decision of his career -- at some point doesn't his job have to be on the line for a nearly $100 million failure? -- he'd do well to heed these words from Phil Sheridan in today's Inquirer:

Watching the Sox buzz through the Cardinals is a breathtaking example of design in action. [Sox GM Theo] Epstein wanted a lineup of smart, aggressive hitters. He wanted players with asbestos-covered psyches who could endure the heat of playing in Boston. He wanted depth (the money really helps there). And he wanted a manager with the right temperament to keep it all together.

Also Sam Donnellon in the Daily News:

A year after watching Aaron Boone's home run send his hard work home early, Epstein is one game away from emancipating Red Sox Nation from an 86-year-old curse because he outworked and outthought George Steinbrenner's baseball people in the offseason and inseason, and because he spent more wisely than they.

While the Yankees added two big bats to a lineup already full of them in the offseason, Epstein added another ace in [Curt] Schilling and a reliable, two-inning closer in [Keith] Foulke. While the Yankees assembled a team of aloof professionals who came and went separate from each other, Epstein has, over the past two seasons, constructed a team lauded for its cohesiveness and chemistry.

It's ridiculously easy to point to a winning team and say, "Just do that." But it doesn't hurt to draw some parallels. The high-priced Phillies have spent the last two seasons punching in, playing a lifeless nine innings, and then punching out. Wade's disastrous hiring of Larry Bowa was both a poor baseball decision and a poor "people" decision -- as you watch the Red Sox romp joyfully through the postseason, sucking it up even when things are going badly, you realize that Bowa's Phillies would have imploded immediately when faced with even a fraction of the adversity with which Boston has had to contend. Then there's the Sox' amazing ability to work pitchers through every spot in the lineup (a hallmark of the Fregosi Era, by the way), something the hacking Philadelphians are brutally incapable of.

Yeah, a $125 million roster helps. But $93 should be enough to buy you a team that does better than a 10-GB second-place finish.


At October 27, 2004 at 3:42 PM, Blogger Matt said...

I was wondering when you would weigh in on this. I'm thinking that the list has to go Leyland, then Fregosi, then Manuel. But that's just me.

At October 27, 2004 at 3:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My $0.02 goes towards Leyland first, Manuel second, then Fregosi. But I don't think any of those three is a bad choice (not now, give me 6 months).

You hit the nail on the head though Tom when you mentioned working pitchers. The quicker you drive up the pitch count, the quicker you get to middle relievers where the real damage can be done on any team.

Tom G

At October 28, 2004 at 4:37 PM, Blogger Tom Goodman said...

I have a number of comments.

I think it is very clear the Phillies continue to add candidates because they haven't been satisfied with the ones they've interviewed. They may have added Leyland because he or someone else indicated interest after the process had already begun. I remain convinced the Phillies would do better with a fresh face, not only to this town but to the position itself. Someone like Pendleton or Russell would bring enthusiasm to the game, but more significantly, they might be more open to the kind of statistical analysis and tools that are becoming crucial to success in MLB today. Francona clearly fell somewhere in between, so it isn't crucial that someone be 100% committed to sabermetrics, but I would guess the younger guys would be more sympathetic.

Signing a good pitching coach may be even more critical because this is the area that will determine how far the Phillies go next year. We saw in in the just concluded World Series: good pitching stops good hitting, even great hitting. (I will post something tomorrow that briefly addresses the Cardinals' "complicity in their failure" while still giving the Boston pitchers their due.

At October 28, 2004 at 4:41 PM, Blogger Tom Goodman said...

I meant to address one other point: this business of working the count is so critical and on that front, without the statistics to back me up, I would guess that the Phillies are among the worst in the League at taking pitches. I recall hundreds of at-bats where Phillies' hitters would swing at the first pitch. Jimmy Rollins used to be particularly guilty of that approach, but he seems to be learning. But he was hardly the only one. Did Greg Gross or Larry Bowa ever actually tell a guy as he grabbed a bat, "Take a pitch or two. See what the guy has."?

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