Spread the Blame
The Phillies are 34-40, nine games behind the Nationals (11 behind in the loss column) and 5 1/2 games out of the second Wild Card spot (check my math on that). Fans are angry with some of Charlie Manuel‘s moves in yesterday’s losses. Should he have tried to squeeze an extra inning from Cole Hamels on a hot day, despite throwing 111 pitches? Should he have used somebody in the eighth inning other than Antonio Bastardo, who had thrown 29 pitches a day earlier? Should he have pinch-hit Juan Pierre for Michael Martinez in the eighth inning?
They’re all valid questions, but let’s be honest here.
The blame for this team’s failures can be spread everywhere.
Let’s look back to the offseason.
The Phillies signed Jonathan Papelbon to a $50 million contract in November, but did nothing other than sign Chad Qualls in late January to help the bullpen. They essentially bet on Jose Contreras, 41, coming back from elbow surgery and pitching effectively for an entire season and Qualls pitching effectively, despite the fact he had a 5.05 ERA away from PETCO Park last year. It’s not hindsight to say people questioned whether or not the Phillies bullpen would be good enough. Those questions were asked throughout the offseason and Spring Training. But I didn’t have a problem with Manuel using Bastardo in the eighth inning in Game 1 yesterday. Bastardo had thrown 29 or more pitches in an appearance just four times in his career and he had never pitched the next day until yesterday. But so what? Is there a huge difference between 20 pitches and 29 pitches? Are nine pitches the difference between throwing strikes and not throwing strikes? Get real. No, the real problem is this: If Manuel doesn’t use Bastardo, he uses Qualls. And if Qualls blows the lead, everybody is killing Manuel because he used Qualls and stayed away from Bastardo “because he threw 29 pitches the day before.” Manuel is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t because he has a bad bullpen. The Phillies bullpen has a 4.48 ERA, which ranks 25th in baseball. It’s pick your poison.
People are angry at Manuel for not pinch-hitting Pierre for Martinez. I get that. I would have used Pierre in that situation, too. Pierre might be hitting .171 against left-handers this season, but he is a career .303 hitter against them. He also has a track record and has been in big spots before (i.e. World Series hero). Literally the only thing Martinez had going for him is that he is a switch-hitter. He has no track record. He is hitting .125 against lefties this season, and .160 against them in his brief career. But let’s examine that decision a little deeper: We’re debating Manuel choosing from Pierre, Martinez, Mike Fontenot and Brian Schneider. Not exactly Matt Stairs, Greg Dobbs, Geoff Jenkins, Chris Coste, Eric Bruntlett and So Taguchi, is it? And don’t forget one very important detail of that inning. With a runner on third and less than two outs, John Mayberry Jr. struck out on three pitches. Three pitches. The Phillies bet on Mayberry continuing his development and becoming another late-blooming Jayson Werth, but there is no evidence to suggest he is that player. At best, Mayberry looks like a platoon player with an .852 OPS this season against left-handers and a .553 OPS against right-handers (it’s a .914/.685 split in his career). But an everyday player? Manuel likes to say it takes a special player to be an everyday player. The Phillies were counting on Mayberry to be special. He hasn’t been.
Could Manuel make better decisions at times? Sure. But it’s amazing how a manager’s moves work when he has a strong bench and a strong bullpen, but backfire when he has a weak bench and a weak bullpen.
So let’s look at the 11 highest paid players on the Phillies. They’re making a combined $148.15 million this season. The majority of them have underperformed, been injured or both:
- Cliff Lee ($21.5 million). He had a 1.95 ERA through his first five starts, but had awful run support and didn’t get a win in any of them. You felt bad for the guy. But he has nobody to blame but himself lately. He has a 5.10 ERA in his last seven starts. He has blown four leads in that span: two three-run leads, one two-run lead and one one-run lead. He has allowed five earned runs in each of his last two starts. He isn’t pitching well. He isn’t holding leads. Think about this for a second: If Lee holds three of those four leads, instead of the Phillies being 34-40, they’re 37-37.
- Roy Halladay ($20 million). He struggled before landing on the DL. He supposedly is making excellent progress rehabbing from his strained right lat, but we’ll see how effective he is once he comes back.
- Ryan Howard ($20 million). He has been on the DL all season. He should be back next month, unless there is another setback. But nobody knows how effective he will be once he is back.
- Chase Utley ($15 million). He has been on the DL all season. He should be back Wednesday. Even if he is the player he was last season, which was no better than an average big-league hitter, the Phillies could use his presence in the lineup and the clubhouse.
- Cole Hamels ($15 million). He struggled for a stretch recently, but is 10-3 with a 3.03 ERA. He is one of the few guys you could say has done his job.
- Jonathan Papelbon ($11 million). He is 17 of 18 in save situations. Can’t complain about that.
- Jimmy Rollins ($11 million). Rollins has been on fire, hitting .343 with a 1.016 OPS since May 28. He was hitting .224 with a .558 OPS before that. He needs to keep doing what he’s doing while the rotation and bullpen continue to struggle.
- Hunter Pence ($10.4 million). He is hitting .196 with runners in scoring position. A big hit here and there and maybe the Phillies win two or three of those one-run games they lost.
- Shane Victorino ($9.5 million). He is hitting .252 with a .718 OPS. He hit .282 with a .791 OPS from 2006-11. Manuel gave Victorino a mental healthy day this weekend, so we’ll see if it helps at all. But in a free-agent year, Victorino is performing behind his career averages in terms of on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS. They need better from him.
- Joe Blanton ($8.5 million). He has a 5.04 ERA.
- Placido Polanco ($6.25 million). He was hitting .196 with a .452 OPS on April 24. He is hitting .298 with a .746 OPS since. The trick is keeping him healthy.
The front office bet on some players performing and it didn’t happen, Manuel has made some questionable moves and the majority of $148.15 million worth of talent hasn’t performed up to its capabilities.
It’s not just one or two things. It’s a whole lot of things from the top down. Spread the blame.