Charlie Manuel is the winningest manager in the history of the Philadelphia Phillies. He managed a talented team to a win in the 2008 World Series. Still, a growing chorus of frustrated fans appears to be anxious to get rid of him.
Would it be a good idea to fire Charlie Manuel?
There are many reasons that I think some people want to fire Charlie Manuel. Examining those may helps us answer the question.
The foremost reason I see is that people are looking for a scapegoat. There is a general frustration with the way the Phillies have struggled to recover from their binge-induced hangover and as well as during their attempts to retool on the fly over the last two seasons. Excesses must be "paid for" and someone must be "responsible" for the decline in the team's collective performance. A fair amount of criticism has been leveled at Manuel for this, but more at Ruben Amaro, though Manuel gets some of it too. Guilt by association, perhaps.
A secondary reason I see at times is dissatisfaction with Manuel's in-game managing skills. Working matchups, platooning, and showing loyalty to players by continuing to send them out after they have failed (Qualls and Durbin come to mind, note your favorite in the comments and explain in 200 words or less why this frustrated you).
A third reason is that Ryne Sandberg is standing at third base during half of each game, looking fetching. I think a certain percentage of Phandom has a Ryne-Curious itch that they fear may not be scratched if Manuel isn't deposed before next season starts. I don't think any of us have gotten over giving up Sandberg once, and by God, it must not happen again. I am only mildly facetious about that last part. I don't personally get the whole Sandberg thing - it is not as though he appears to be the second coming of Joe Maddon. Of course, he is new and shiny and thus plays well in the role of backup quarterback, unstained by failure.
No matter what the reasons are, the decision to fire or retain Manuel should be based only on the answer to the following question: "If the Phillies fire Charlie Manuel, will they win more games?"
That question can be subdivided into periods, such as "next week" or "next month" or "the rest of 2013" or "the future." Still, it is the same question. My preference is to look out to a future period longer than "next week" but the question is still how handling Manuel's employment can translate to more wins.
In answering a question like this, it helps to have some data instead of emotion. Unfortunately, emotion rules right now, and that is not fair to Charlie Manuel nor is it fair to fans who want to have better performance from the team.
Many of us run to the trope of "Charlie's gut" where we assign to his relative obesity some sort of moral failure with a side of intellectual and cultural smugness. He's fat (sometimes), ergo he is lazy and stupid. And we stir into that devilish mix a helping of cultural scorn for the rural, white folks of Appalachia. It doesn't help that Charlie Manuel isn't exactly a poster child for anything "saber" except maybe saws. Let go of all that baggage. Any analysis about whether to keep Manuel should begin and end with data, not emotion.
How about trying a refined question: What could cause the Phillies to win more games that some other manager would do better than Charlie Manuel?
Players getting old is not something Manuel can control. Maybe he can control when and how to play them to try to mitigate injury risk, but that is about it. Firing Charlie Manuel will not make the team younger and better. So...that's not it. He can't draft and develop new talent. He can't make trades for better talent. He can't sign free agents. Those can't be it, either.
So, what can he control?
Generally, my criticisms of Manuel have related to his failure to use platoon options better and his use of the bullpen.
Are there platoon possibilities that we can isolate and suggest as superior alternatives to Manuel's choices (usually on a cherry-picked basis full of predetermined outcome fallacy)? Sure. But when I whine about sitting Ryan Howard against lefties so John Mayberry or Michael Young could play because the numbers would look better, I honestly have no idea what the effect would be on Ryan Howard on days when he does play against right-handed pitchers.
A team of 25 massive egos is not Babbage's Difference Engine. Pressing a button to alter a variable is not a simple and isolated act. It has unpredictable consequences in other areas. Knowing when and how to platoon is a really complicated act when the team and players have not had platoon expectations. Imposing those at this point may be good as an isolated thought experiment, but when transferred onto an exceptionally public stage with meat computers doing the calculations, you might not like the answers that are produced.
Recall that there were days when Shane Victorino did not play full time. Jayson Werth platooned till he won his job full-time. Manuel can adapt to new circumstances and changes in performance. His "steady hand at the tiller" approach helped (or maybe better, did not interfere with) development of at least some consequential Phillies over his tenure.
Other than the unlikely benching of Ryan Howard against lefties as an iron-clad rule, I can't really find a beef with Manuel this year, other than I'd like to see Kevin Frandsen more often. I mean, the guy can't turn chickenshit into chicken salad. What is he supposed to do with this roster? Win 102 games? How?
If all of the foregoing discussion of soft people skills doesn't move you at all, and you are raging to yourself about a man making $25 million a year having a hissy fit over sitting on the bench more often, I'm not done with you. I have two more words to add to convince you: "Larry fucking Bowa." Imagine the Phillies of the Aughts with Rolen at third instead of David Bell or Pedro Feliz. Bowa wasn't all of that, but he was part of it. And he alienated nearly every other player on the team before he was through.
Is bullpen handling a weakness? Sure - he should bring in Papelbon when things are falling apart rather than when the Phillies have a 96% win expectancy with a 3 run lead in the ninth at home. But that isn't just Charlie Manuel, that is Major League Baseball. Will the Phillies hire someone who will completely rearrange the way bullpens are managed? Nope. But maybe you'd get a manager who is less wedded to the notion that bullpen roles must be strictly adhered to, regardless of matchups. Or perhaps a manager who would not pitch Chad Durbin after it has become abundantly clear that Durbin is incapable of reliably causing outs. But that weakness of Manuel is the other side of his strength in keeping an even keel and keeping players content. Failure is part of the game, and managing to control the damage caused by negative aspects of failure is necessary. Bowa would scream at players who had a bad outing. It didn't work. Manuel may be too patient at times, but perhaps that is forgivable on the whole.
Managers are worth something. A good one may carve out a few extra wins. A poor one may cost a few wins. Legions of articles have been written trying to untangle the Gordian Knot about the value of a manager on a baseball team. The most plausible answer appears to be "not much." Here are some places where you can read about that. The difference is maybe five games a year for a good versus bad manager. I am not convinced Manuel is a "bad" manager, either. If he is middle of the pack, maybe the Phillies could improve 2 games or so over a whole year and 1 game for the rest of this year. That is hardly earth-shaking.
I think the Phillies could win more games by going full SABR with a manager, but I don't think such a creature is available to be hired right now. I have no reason to believe that person is Ryne Sandberg. Absent a mythical SABR manager, I do not have any real firm belief right now about whether the Phillies can improve by hiring a real-world (and more importantly, a "Phillies World") plausible and likely candidate for manager.
Should the Phillies fire Charlie Manuel? The facts on the ground right now tell us that a new manager can't change much, since managers don't have a huge effect overall. Other managers are worse than Manuel. Manuel can adapt and change to changing player abilities and he is not blindly loyal. There are not many gains to be harvested. Where, then, is the value proposition? It may not exist.
I'm not sure I see a compelling reason to fire Charlie Manuel.
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