The choice has been made, and it’s a welcomed one.
Last Thursday, news broke that the Philadelphia Phillies had agreed to hire Joe Girardi as their new manager, replacing Gabe Kapler and putting an end to what turned out to be a relatively quick and easy process.
Truth be told, this was always the best route for the Phillies, after a drawn-out saga concluded with the club relieving Kapler of his duties following two years in charge. When it became clear that the three candidates Philadelphia zeroed in on were Girardi, Dusty Baker and Buck Showalter, public consensus was overwhelmingly in favor of the ex-New York Yankees manager.
In 10 years as Yankees manager, the 55-year-old never had a losing record, averaging 91 wins and bringing a World Series back to the Bronx in 2009 in a regular season that saw the Yanks win 103 games. Back in 2006, he took an abysmal Florida Marlins team and finished with 78 wins, winning Manager of the Year for his efforts.
The message here is simple: after hiring someone with no experience like Kapler, owner John Middleton and general manager Matt Klentak wanted to avoid the same mistake, seeking a manager with experience and a proven track record. Girardi will now be tasked with breaking a streak of eight consecutive playoff-less seasons in Philly in a division that will perhaps after Wednesday have the World Series champion in its ranks.
Before getting into what Phillies fans can expect from the new boss, introduced on Monday, one of the more intriguing questions is “how much say did all parties involved have in making the decision?” By now, it’s beating a dead horse mentioning Klentak’s connections with Baltimore, but deep down one has to wonder if he might have leaned towards Showalter due to familiarity.
It’s been floated around that Girardi and Klentak hit it off in interviews and that the GM was on board with this hiring from the jump, despite previously finding himself on the losing end of the “what to do with Kapler” argument. But like the Kapler firing and Bryce Harper signing, the final say ultimately fell to Middleton. The Middleton/Klentak dynamic is a fascinating one to follow, although it seems they were on the same page regarding this matter. It was also comforting seeing the introductory press conference a two man show with Klentak and Girardi, as the relationship between the two will be crucial to long term success down the road.
Now, who is Joe Girardi, the manager? For starters, he will be bringing a no-nonsense and intense personality to a clubhouse absent those qualities in years. Kapler showed his intensity with the occasional ejection, but never really seemed to consistently have that fire inside him to motivate his players.
Girardi does, although it comes with some caution.
In a Philadelphia Inquirer article by Matt Breen, Yankees GM Brian Cashman was quoted calling Girardi an exceptional manager, “but was not pleased with the manager’s ‘connectivity and communication’ with players.”
After Girardi was let go, Mark Teixeira commented: “We all know why Joe Girardi is not coming back. We all know it’s because of the communication and the intensity was a little bit too much . . . The communication and the highs and lows of the season weren’t Joe’s best assets and he will probably tell you that. He manages every game like it’s Game 7.”
Then there was the manager’s handling of catcher Gary Sanchez, which he came under heavy scrutiny for and has been said to factor into his firing. From an outsider’s perspective, the belief was that Girardi had been too hard on Sanchez given the youngster’s struggles defensively, but those in the know alleged it was actually the reverse.
There’s a fine line between showing passion to players and building relationships without being overly aggressive, so how he navigates his communication with the team without going overboard will be key from the moment he finds himself in front of them for the first time.
Obviously, if you’re the most sought-after manager in the market, the positives outweigh the negatives.
Two of Girardi’s biggest strengths are his awareness to balance analytics with his gut instinct, as well as his ability to manage a bullpen.
Phillies fan know Kapler’s bullpen management left a lot to be desired, so Girardi’s track record will surely be a welcomed change. From 2000 to 2016, he was the third best manager in wRM+, a statistic that measures efficient bullpen management. A 2016 FiveThirtyEight article discussed how a manager who struggles managing a bullpen is “expected to win about 0.5 fewer games per season than an average manager with the same ‘pen, while a good one (such as Girardi) might win 0.5 games more than average.”
This is a promising change in pace, as “Binder Joe” will most likely stick with his old tricks of focusing on pitching matchups and the numbers while combining that with his thinking in the moment.
Perhaps the most important aspect regarding Girardi is his knack for getting the most out of his players. A specific example of this came in 2012, when the Yankees went 95-67 and won the AL East. This roster included a 38-year-old Derek Jeter at shortstop, Raul Ibanez playing 130 games at 40-years-old, 36-year-old Eric Chavez at DH for 113 games and of course, Alex Rodriguez who was also 36.
The fact that Girardi was able to round up this group and turn it into a division champ produces hope that a younger core highlighted by Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto and Rhys Hoskins, the Phillies could compete with the Atlanta Braves and Nationals for a spot in the postseason.
Girardi’s first order of business, though, will be assembling a coaching staff that best gives off the impression that the team is in win now mode. Bench coach Rob Thomson had been a part of his staff before in NY in the same role and likely won’t be going anywhere, while third base coach Dusty Wathan will also be sticking around.
Any time there’s a new manager, it most likely means new hitting and pitching coaches, with some familiar names being brought up for the latter. While ex-Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild was rumored to be one of the frontrunners for the same job in Philly, it appears the team as honed in on former Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price, who was a successful pitching coach prior to becoming the big man in Cincy.
For now, the Phillie faithful can only dream of Girardi coming in righting the ship, while this offseason is going to be another where “stupid money” could be spent.
Jason Kates is a staff writer for Bronx to Bushville.