The Phillies ended their major-league season riding a sweet wave of nostalgia as the club and the fans honored the end of Ryan Howard’s career with the team and, really, the era of Phillies baseball that Howard represented.
Howard was the last member of the 2008 World Series championship team to wear the red pinstripes, and now that the past is gone for good it’s time to focus on the future, which, right now, doesn’t look very good.
Every rebuilding team has to establish core everyday players and then build around them. For yesterday’s Phillies, the core was Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, with able support from good players like Jason Werth, Carlos Ruiz and Shane Victorino. For today’s Phillies, the core everyday players are Maikel Franco, Cesar Hernandez and Odubel Herrerra, and there doesn’t appear to be many good players to make their jobs easier.
All three of those young, core players have obvious talent. But there’s one problem that makes the rebuilding Phillies different than the rebuilding Eagles or rebuilding Sixers – the Phillies young core doesn’t seem to be very bright, at least when it comes to playing baseball.
The Eagles and 76ers are building their foundation around Carson Wentz and Ben Simmons, respectively, and those two future stars are even more noted for their savvy and intelligence than for their physical talent.
However, those key young Phillies appear to have their heads stuck somewhere and that is a huge concern for the future, because baseball is a mental game and so far those three have been mental midgets.
That doesn’t mean they’re not intelligent young men. They could be MENSA candidates for all we know. But when it comes to baseball smarts, these guys are in the back of the classroom. They swing at bad pitches and/or at bad counts – especially Franco, who hit a disappointing .255 this season – and they throw to the wrong bases and make running blunders that Little Leaguers shouldn’t make. Hernandez, who has the speed to be a top-notch base-stealer, did swipe 17 of them this past season, but he was also caught stealing 13 times, which means he doesn’t always get a good jump. And that is all about baseball I.Q.
The Phillies recently fired hitting coach Steve Henderson, and it’s pretty obvious that he was made a scapegoat for the Phillies’ terrible offensive season. It was hardly Henderson’s fault that his three core hitters – for much of the season they batted one, two and three – swing at bad pitches or during bad counts or lack the plate discipline you have to have in the big leagues. And it wasn’t fair for the Phillies to expect him to reverse his players’ bad habits, because, after all, he didn’t swing the bat for them.
If anything, the fault lies with the Phillies personnel department, which didn’t sign players who actually know how to play the game.
You don’t learn how to play baseball at the major-league level – in fact, you don’t learn how to play it at the minor-league level. Good, smart players – like Rollins and Utley – knew the mental game and understood the mental game and loved the mental game when they were kids playing on the sandlot, because good players know that the mental game is what usually separates the winners from the losers.
Something else that separates the winners from the losers – outfielders who can hit. That is, by far, the Phillies’ biggest weakness and even if the Big Three wake up and start playing smart baseball, it won’t matter unless they get contributions from the supporting case. The Phillies held onto underachieving outfielders like Domonic Brown and John Matyberry Jr. way too long and hopefully they realize it’s time to part ways with the likes of Cody Asche (.213 batting average), Tyler Goeddel (.192), Jimmy Parades (.217), Aaron Altherr (.202) and Darin Ruf (.205).
The Phillies do have some decent building blocks for their rebuilding program, but they have to get a lot smarter – on the field and in the personnel department.