Phillies

Phillies Phodder: Next hitting coach? Why the sudden push for experience? What about Maikel Franco?

Phillies Phodder: Next hitting coach? Why the sudden push for experience? What about Maikel Franco?

At a news conference announcing his appointment earlier this week, new Phillies manager Joe Girardi talked about the importance of filling the open pitching and hitting coach roles with the right people.

The Phillies locked down Bryan Price as pitching coach. He’s been pitching coach with Seattle, Arizona and Cincinnati — he also managed the Reds — and is about as highly regarded in baseball circles as they come

It’s not known who the Phillies are targeting for hitting coach, but here’s a thought:

Kevin Long was hitting coach for much of Girardi’s time as manager of the New York Yankees from 2008 to 2017. Girardi has admitted publicly that he is a fan of Long’s work.

It’s doubtful that the Phillies could orchestrate a Girardi-Long reunion in Philadelphia. Long just completed his second season as Washington Nationals hitting coach by raising the World Series championship trophy over his head. No way the Nats let him go.

But how about his assistant?

Joe Dillon is the Nats’ assistant hitting coach and he’s gaining recognition around the game for marrying new-age science with old-school principles in coaching hitters. Long, in fact, has called Dillon “the best assistant hitting coach in the baseball.” Anyone of that distinction, coming off a World Series title, would seem to be in line for advancement in the game.

Would Long talk up his trusted assistant to his old pal Girardi for an opportunity in Philadelphia?

You never know. Maybe something to watch.

• It’s remarkable that just two years after hiring first-time manager Gabe Kapler and one year after hiring first-time pitching coach Chris Young, the Phillies have done a complete about-face and hired a manager and pitching coach who are both loaded with big-league experience.

General manager Matt Klentak said experience was prioritized in hiring Girardi because, “We’ve reached a place where it is time to win … and that lends itself to a guy who has done that … and that’s by and large why we placed such a premium on prior experience.”

The Phillies improved by one game from 2018 to 2019 to finish .500 and in fourth place in the NL East. With their lack of top starting pitching and overall lack of starting pitching depth, it’s difficult to envision them competing for the division title next season — barring a major upgrade in pitching this winter, which we would not rule out given owner John Middleton’s hefty checkbook and desire to improve.

Regardless, the Phillies’ sudden obsession with experience in important field-level leadership roles seems to be tacit acknowledgment that previous hires were viewed as mistakes. 

The firing of Kapler was engineered at the ownership level and Klentak was against it. He admitted that he was a big fan of Kapler at that remarkable press conference announcing the manager’s firing. The mandate to seek experience in the new manager clearly came from above, and it appears two other significant hires this offseason were encouraged from above, as well. Pat Gillick, who owns a small piece of the team and still serves as an adviser in the organization, is a big believer in Price, who was the Mariners’ pitching coach when Gillick was that team’s GM. Sources say Gillick pushed for Price. Girardi and Klentak were very much on board with the hire, but it is notable that Gillick flexed some influence.

Earlier this month, the Phillies hired Brian Barber for the important position of amateur scouting director. Barber, a top scout with the Yankees for many years, beat out in-house candidate Greg Schilz, who had seemed to be in line for the position when he came aboard as the No. 2 man in the department in the fall of 2016. Passing over Schilz was a surprise to many observers, but in this case the Phils went outside the organization and, again, appeared to rely on experience, or at least experienced eyes, in making that call. Word is Barber came very highly recommended from well-regarded Yankees front office man Jim Hendry. Hendry is very close with Phillies president Andy MacPhail. The two were together in Chicago when MacPhail was president of the Cubs and Hendry was GM. In fact, Hendry was mentioned as a candidate for the Phillies’ GM job after MacPhail joined the organization in 2015. Ultimately, the Phillies, at the behest of an ownership group looking to move into baseball’s new world, targeted a GM with more of a background in analytics.

That ended up being Klentak. His job is now on the line and he needs these new hires to help save it.

• Sources have confirmed multiple reports that infield coach Bobby Dickerson is headed to San Diego, where he will become bench coach. It’s not a surprise as Dickerson was a personal mentor to Manny Machado when they were together in Baltimore.

Dickerson’s departure is real loss for the Phillies. He’s an outstanding baseball man and tireless worker.

In other coaching matters, Young had a year left on his deal when the Phillies dismissed him as pitching coach. He was offered a chance to stay in the organization in another role, but sources say he will move on.

• Curious to see where Maikel Franco ends up. The Phillies will need spots on the 40-man roster soon and Franco’s time is clearly up in Philadelphia. A team like Texas, Baltimore or Detroit could look to acquire Franco in a deal. The Tigers scouted the Phillies extensively over the final weeks of the season, making you wonder if something possibly bigger could be brewing between the two clubs.

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Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

For long stretches in each of the last two seasons, Zack Wheeler was every bit as effective as Aaron Nola.

Wheeler had four terrific months in 2018, posting a 2.52 ERA over his final 20 starts beginning on June 1.

In 2019, he found his groove right around midseason, pitching to a 3.04 ERA over his final 16 starts.

When you hear the phrase "untapped potential" in relation to Wheeler, this is what it means. It means that if he can pitch like this a bit more consistently — four good months instead of two — he can be a legitimate ace.

If he can't? Well then, if you trust his stuff and his results the last two years, you're getting no worse than a low-end No. 2 starter. Wheeler has made 60 starts the last two seasons with a 3.65 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, a strikeout per inning and less than a home run per nine.

Those numbers might not jump off the page, but they are impressive when you consider the surge in home runs in 2019 and especially so when considering his workload.

Wheeler is one of only 12 pitchers to reach 375 combined innings the last two seasons. The others are Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, Aaron Nola, Patrick Corbin, Trevor Bauer, Jose Berrios, Miles Mikolas and Mike Leake.

In 2019, Wheeler made 18 quality starts (at least six innings with three earned runs or fewer). Nola also made 18. Zach Eflin had 14, Jake Arrieta had 10 and no other Phillie was in double-digits.

When Nola did not start a game for the Phillies in 2019, they received a quality start 31 percent of the time — less than once every three games.

Wheeler obviously helps with that. Think back to late last season when the Phillies could generate no momentum and had such a smaller chance to win when anyone was on the mound other than their ace. Wheeler changes that. He offers more of a chance for series wins, sweeps, actual winning streaks.

He also brings velocity, something the Phillies' rotation has sorely lacked for years. Wheeler's four-seam fastball averaged a career-best 96.7 mph last season, fourth-fastest in the majors behind Noah Syndergaard, Cole and deGrom.

The Phillies have never had a starting pitcher throw at least 100 innings in a season and average better than 95 mph with his fastball. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez came the closest. Wheeler has done it comfortably in back-to-back seasons.

Velocity is not the only thing, especially these days when so many have it, but it is obviously still a major part of missing bats and getting outs. Because Wheeler has 3 or 4 mph more on his fastball than Nola, and because he can locate significantly better than Pivetta or Velasquez, he offers the Phillies' rotation a different, much-needed look.

This is not to say Wheeler comes without flaws or concerns. He hasn't yet ripped off a string of strong seasons. Two is a start and the Phillies are banking on it continuing.

He hasn't been a Top 10 Cy Young finisher, though he should have been in '18.

He's never reached 200 innings in a season, though some of that was because of caution the Mets exercised with him.

And Wheeler, despite the velo, has gone through plenty of multi-start stretches where he's been hit hard and doesn't miss many bats, in a way you don't see with the tippy-top guys like Scherzer and deGrom (which Wheeler is not).

He had three starts in a row like that last August and two straight in June.

But Wheeler is as capable of 7 innings, 1 run, 11 strikeouts as any pitcher in either league. When he's on, he can be so, so good. He went at least seven innings 15 times last season and allowed one or no runs in seven of them.

This one addition will not boost the Phillies to 90 wins, but it's the first giant step to another critical offseason.



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At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news

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At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news

Ricky Bottalico and Corey Seidman react to the big news of the Phillies agreeing to a five-year deal with Zack Wheeler on the latest At The Yard podcast.

They also discuss the possibility of the Phillies signing Didi Gregorius, Cole Hamels heading to the Braves, and much more.

• Initial impressions of the signing
• What the guys like most about Wheeler
• Was this the right price?
• Bittersweet day with Hamels to Braves
• Phillies still need to add another good SP
• One Wheeler concern
• The market for Anthony Rendon



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