I want to start by giving some credit to my partner, Dan Primiani, as we both have talked at length about this topic and both contributed to this article. In our conversations, we agreed that when we first heard Joe Girardi had been named the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies after the 2019 season, we were ecstatic. After two years of Gabe Kapler, whose managing style consisted of a rigid adherence to sabermetrics and a sense of optimism that grated on the most patient of nerves, having a rock-solid figure like Girardi step in was a breath of fresh air. We felt like Girardi got a bit of a raw deal in New York after managing them to a World Series and that his reputation preceded him; From an outsider’s perspective, we were getting a championship pedigree coach who resonated well within the clubhouse. However, although the Philadelphia Phillies sit just a game back of the Mets in the NL East standings, it’s hard to ignore the missteps this team has taken along the way.
Questionable Roster Moves
Thus far in 2021, Joe Girardi has been suspect at his job. There really isn’t any way around that. From questionable personnel decisions in spring training to ill-advised in-game moves, I’ve found myself angrily ripping out the little hair I have left a few too many times. Is it easy for us to manage from our sofas and second guess every decision that doesn’t work out? Absolutely. Still, there have just been some utterly baffling decisions made by the Phillies manager.
If you have read my other articles or follow me on social media you may be tired of hearing about this, but I will continue to be the old man yelling at the sky…CUTTING TONY WATSON WAS ONE OF THE STUPIDEST ROSTER MOVES THE PHILLIES HAVE MADE IN OVER 10 YEARS. I say “one of” because I don’t want to detract and get into a debate about all the dumbass moves the Phillies have made over the years. But for me, this is near the top of the list. As of the writing of this article, Tony Watson has a 2.57 ERA and has pitched scoreless in 12 of his 15 appearances with the Angels. That would rank third in our bullpen to only Sam Coonrod and Hector Neris. Instead, we’re stuck with David Hale, Brandon Kintzler, Matt Moore, and their 5.0+ ERAs.
While the Watson move was the most obvious, there was another brutal roster decision made this offseason that has flown under the radar…The trading of Cole Irvin to Oakland for basically nothing.
We’ve acquired LHP Cole Irvin from the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for cash considerations. Welcome home, Cole! #RootedInOakland pic.twitter.com/VFMxkMkWsT
— Oakland A's (@Athletics) January 30, 2021
This may seem like a “nothing” move to some because in 19 career appearances with the Phillies Irvin was 2-2 with a 6.75 ERA. That’s not great, but let me dive a little deeper into those numbers and explain why we gave up on this guy WAY too early. ‘Cause I sure as hell would love to have a lefty starter with a 3.06 ERA and a 39 to 8 K/BB ratio right about now…
The Phillies drafted Cole Irvin in the 5th round of the 2016 draft, so he was clearly a solid prospect coming out of college and not just some late-round flier. He spent 2016-2019 in the minors and over 3 years between A, AA, and AAA accrued a 34-15 record with a 3.07 ERA over 452 innings…Great numbers AS A STARTER. So what do the Phillies do in late 2019? They brought him up, as they should have, but used him primarily AS A RELIEVER! For those who don’t know, the routines of a starting pitcher and a bullpen pitcher are DRASTICALLY different. It’s different preparation, different mentality, different pitch selection, the list goes on. So naturally, he struggled, ending his Phillies tenure with just 19 appearances, 16 as a reliever.
Basically, we took a perfectly good hammer, asked it to do the job of a screwdriver, and when it didn’t work we threw it away. All to make room on the roster for Matt Moore, who hadn’t pitched in the MLB since 2019 and in his last two full MLB seasons (2017-2018) had a 9-23 record and a 5.99 ERA. As a Phillie, he is currently 0-1 with a 7.16 ERA and has been relegated to the bullpen because of how horrible he’s been as a starter. So that move has gone well…
Aside from the early season roster decisions, the biggest indictment on Girardi is that he seems at a loss at times when it comes to in-game decision-making. Particularly in regard to his bullpen management.
Larry Andersen on the radio: "I'm not second guessing Joe Girardi. I'm first guessing him."
LA wonders why Connor Brogdon wasn't used for another inning, instead of the Héctor Neris-Michael Conforto matchup.
— Dave Uram (@MrUram) May 2, 2021
I’m not going to go back and nitpick every single bullpen decision that Girardi has made, but the fact of the matter is our bullpen was supposed to be much improved from last year, and while they have improved it’s still been a bit of a nightmare. The Phillies bullpen currently ranks fifth in Blown Saves with nine, and has a less than stellar 5.82 ERA in save situations. Timely hitting has kept this team afloat but we can’t rely on our offense to continue to bail out the bullpen all year. It’s simply not sustainable.
I will though point to one glaring decision Joe Girardi has made that I have a particular issue with…His insistence on keeping Hector Neris as the closer. There’s a saying that goes “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” and that’s how I feel every time Neris comes in in the 9th inning. On paper Neris has seemed fine this year, he has seven saves in nine chances and a 2.33 ERA, but if you’ve watched the games he is often putting himself into trouble and narrowly escaping. You’ll see in the video below, he gets out of the inning, but that ball is likely a home run in Citizens Bank Park.
I feel like I’m on the edge of my seat every time out and it seems like only a matter of time before he implodes. Obviously with the Archie Bradley injury Neris would have been next in line for saves but the fact that Girardi named Neris the closer while Bradley was healthy had me scratching my head and questioning how he evaluates players. Neris has been the closer for almost three years now and it hasn’t gone well, why should we expect anything different as this season progresses?
Then there are the flat-out mental mistakes Joe Girardi made that come from a clear lack of focus.
Joe Girardi taking the blame for the mistake of Enyel De Los Santos not on the lineup card. #Phillies https://t.co/7OHA8eMlWk
— Dave Uram (@MrUram) May 5, 2021
In case you missed this one, on May 4th against the Brewers Joe Girardi tried to enter Enyel De Los Santos into the 7th inning when the Phillies led 6-1. One problem, Enyel De Los Santos had been called up that day and by way of a managerial error, was not on the official line-up card. So instead, Girardi was forced to bring David Hale into the game who immediately gave up 3 runs and turned what should have been an easy victory into a nailbiter. Thankfully the Phillies went on to win 6-5 but the issue still remains that a rookie mistake was made that almost cost us the game.
Earlier in the season, there was another situation where Girardi wanted to have a mound visit with Zack Wheeler. Again, this would have been fine except that pitching coach Caleb Cotham had already been out to speak with Wheeler that inning, and by MLB rule a second mound visit in an inning requires a pitching change. So Girardi was forced to take Wheeler out of the game when he hadn’t actually planned on it. In a vacuum this isn’t that big of a deal, Wheeler had been starting to struggle anyway, but again it’s another mental lapse by the manager that simply can’t happen at this level.
Now let’s be real. The Philadelphia Phillies are in a much better position with Joe Girardi at the helm than their previous manager, Gabe Kapler. For as much of a player-manager as Gabe strove to be, it was easy to see the disdain that many players had for him. It’s hard to make an argument, though, that the Phillies are really any better in 2021 than they were in 2019 or 2018. They still struggle to develop young talent, and while guys like Nick Maton have been a pleasant surprise, this team as a whole has underperformed in all facets of the game. I look at this roster and see a team that is on the precipice of being a legitimate contender, but if we keep mismanaging the roster and not utilizing the talent we have correctly we are going to come up short again. Ultimately it all falls on manager Joe Girardi to pull the right strings and get this team back where they belong, the postseason. And from what I’ve seen so far this year I definitely have concerns.