As one of the guys who shaped the current Phillies team, you wouldn't necessarily expect GM Ruben Amaro Jr. to come out and say his team stinks. Instead, you would expect phrases like "this is a championship caliber lineup" and "these guys have the ability." Those were just two of the pro-Phillies lines that Amaro rolled out on Tuesday when he provided the results of his preliminary Phillies team autopsy.
What you might not have expected was for Amaro to announce a whole different philosophy that he expects many of these same players to adopt. You might also not really expected him to all but throw manager Charlie Manuel and hitting coach Greg Gross onto a SEPTA track. The good news for Manuel and Gross is that Amaro didn't tie them down like the heroines in those old movies were, so they at least have a chance to get up and save themselves.
"We have to have a different approach or different mindset than we did in '08 or in 2010," announced Amaro. "We don't have nearly as much power, have to be better with two strikes, better situational at-bats. Those are frankly, things we have to change."
When it comes to Manuel, Amaro stressed that he and his manager are on the same page. "He's [Manuel] come to the realization that it's not just about the home run. A lot of different pieces of the puzzle to scoring runs," said Amaro. "We just don't have the same offensive team that we had in 2008. We have to realize that and work with it. We should have more .300 hitters."
Amaro's statement that the Phillies have to change is actually an argument that detractors of the Phillies have been bringing up for a couple of seasons now. It's also a different approach than the Phillies have been using, preferring instead to wait for a big home run to put a couple of runs on the board. Back in 2008 when the Phillies hit a National League high 214 home runs, it wasn't so difficult to sit around and wait for a longball. Four Phillies - Ryan Howard (48), Chase Utley (33), Pat Burrell (33) and Jayson Werth (24) - hit more than 20 home runs and a Phillies player, pitchers and utility players included, hit a home run once every 29 at-bats. Those numbers have disintegrated since 2008 and in 2011, the Phillies had just two player - Ryan Howard (33) and Raul Ibanez (20) - who hit 20 or more home runs and the Phillies went an average of 41 at-bats without a home run. Their 153 home runs ranked eighth in the 16 team National League.
One thing that may surprise some people is the rate at which Phillies players struck out in 2011. Their 1,024 strikeouts were the second least in the National League, behind only the St. Louis Cardinals. The Phillies offensive numbers were fairly middle-of-the-pack though, ranking sixth in on-base percentage (.323), seventh in runs (713) and slugging percentage (.395) and ninth in average (.253) on the season.
Those numbers support Amaro's position that the Phillies have to be better at simply producing runs, what baseball refers to as "small ball."
The Phillies actually did more of that early in the season when Chase Utley was on the DL. There was an overwhelming feeling that with Utley out and Jayson Werth now in Washington, the Phillies would have to be the type of team that would generate runs. For instance, Jimmy Rollins stole 12 of his 30 bases in the first two months of the season. Shane Victorino swiped 19 bases on the season, with eight of them coming by the end of May. Before long, the Phillies were back to waiting for something to happen and the only thing that happened was that their pitching was keeping opposing teams off the board enough that the Phillies struggling offense wasn't really an issue.
If Manuel was thrown onto the SEPTA tracks, the players are standing on the platform waiting for a push. "These guys have the ability to do it. It's whether they are committed to doing it or not," stressed Amaro. It sounds like Amaro believes the players will buy into the system and he won't need to jettison more young prospects in deals for established hitters. "I don't know that we have to make that many trades," believes Amaro. "We have some strong pieces and a good core of young players to work with right now."
Admittedly though, Amaro isn't able to fully judge what needs the club will have to address over the next few months, because he doesn't know for sure exactly what he's got right now. Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Madson are the two most important free agents on the Phillies and there are questions about picking up deals for Brad Lidge and Roy Oswalt. Losing any of those players could easily change Amaro's plans, at least in part, but his new approach theme is going to stay. As for Rollins and Madson, Amaro didn't have much to say, preferring instead to simply state his policy of not negotiating through the media. "We're not going to have any discussions with Jimmy publicly. Things will be kept private and we'll try to figure it out," said Amaro, who reiterated those same thoughts when it came to Madson.
With an aging ball club, Manuel may also have to ease up on his policy of days off for his regulars and start mixing in more off days for players like Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. "Charlie is going to play these guys when he knows they're ready to play. It's up to Charlie's ability to manage that," said Amaro. The Phillies GM did state that he is aware of the aging status of his club and is working to make them younger. "We do have to try to get young. It's a young game, played young players and hopefully, we can get younger."
Overall, it simply sounds like Amaro took Manuel to task behind some closed doors sometime in the last few days. The words of the GM seem to fall just short of a threat against his manager, who by the way, is the winningest manager in Phillies history. Even if Manuel is buying into the philosophy, there are no guarantees that his players will or that they'll be able to play this new style of ball. It's going to be interesting to see what kind of players the Phillies do look for during the offseason and how they might fit into the new approach. It will also be interesting to see the reaction of Manuel and various players to Amaro's edict of change.