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It is time to begin scrutinizing Pete Mackanin
by Scott Butler 9/11/16

Pete Mackanin

Pete Mackanin earned his job as Phillies manager and he deserved the extension he received over the offseason. He developed a nice rapport with his players, remedied some of what was lost with Ryne Sandberg, and was a great fit to begin this rebuild.

But I'm not so sure he earned another extension.

It's hard for me to wrap my head around that last sentence because I was such a Pete Mackanin fan from the start. But 2016 has been far from a perfect season for the Phillies skipper.

Speaking about bullpen coach Rick Kranitz, Andy MacPhail told Phillies Magazine, "I've just noticed that pitchers get better with him. I don't know any more simple way to evaluate a coach than who improves and who doesn't."

Based upon that evaluation process, Pete Mackanin has failed in his first full season as Phillies manager. Obviously it is a different set of standards for coaches and managers, but players as a whole have not improved under Mackanin's watch and he must be held accountable for that. That's not true for every player, as Jeanmar Gomez and Hector Neris have enjoyed break out seasons, Cameron Rupp has improved, and to a lesser extent Cesar Hernandez, but they are in the minority.

Two of the most notable names who regressed during the season are Maikel Franco and Odubel Herrera.

Compared to last season, Maikel Franco has seen drops of 34 points in batting average, 46 points in on-base percentage, 75 points in slugging, and an astounding 121 points in OPS.

Odubel Herrera's overall numbers are similar to last season, but since a hot start, Herrera has been a well below average ballplayer. The numbers are startling:

--Herrera hit .303 through June, but since that time he is batting .239.

--After an incredible 12.5 percent walk rate through June, his walk percentage since that point is 7.0 percent and well below the league average of 8.2 percent.

--His strikeout percentage was a solid 17.6 to start the season, but since June that rate is 23.8 percent and well above the league average of 21 percent.

Similarly with Aaron Nola, he went from being a legitimate All-Star candidate to one of the worst pitchers in baseball before his injury.

Galvis, Velasquez, and Goeddel are a few other young players who showed very little improvement through the season.

While it isn't a universal regression, it is a troubling trend and particularly with Herrera and Franco, you have to wonder if Mackanin has lost respect in the clubhouse.

One thing I learned as a former Elementary teacher was that the most important factor in earning respect is consistency. If you punish "the bad kid" for calling out, you better do the same with the "good kid" or you will quickly lose the classroom.

With Pete Mackanin's inconsistent approach in dealing with his players, he has potentially lost the clubhouse.

Mackanin benched Odubel Herrera on multiple occasions for lack of effort or poor decision-making. He also demoted him in to sixth or seventh in the lineup six times this season.

You could argue that Franco's transgressions during the season are equally if not more worthy of disciplinary action.

Franco went 0-for-4 on just four pitches seen twice this season. He rarely gives 100% running out balls. He was caught watching hits he thought were homers and one time he even nearly hurt himself tripping over first base while admiring his work.

Franco has not been reprimanded once. He has not been benched once, has only batted sixth in the lineup once, and has never batted seventh or lower.

Perhaps more concerning is Mackanin's handling of Tyler Goeddel.

Goeddel struggled with his transition to the big leagues in the early parts of the season, particularly since he was not receiving regular at-bats. So Mackanin made a decision.

"I've made a choice to play him," Mackanin said. "I'm going to give him a chance to at least get something going. I can't just let him stagnate on the bench."

His plan paid off. With regular playing time, Goeddel raised his average from .143 on May 4 all the way to .278 on May 23.

Goeddel was hitting .255 on June 2 when Cody Asche made his return and Mackanin scrapped his plan altogether. After starting 22 games and improving in May, Goeddel started 10 games in June and then 15 games in July, August, and September combined.

Goeddel is now hitting .184.

He was asked by reporters recently about Goeddel. “I’ve seen enough of Goeddel to know – we’ve kept him (on the roster) this long and we’re going to keep him (as a Rule 5 pick) and we’ll see where we go next year with him,” Mackanin said. “I don’t see a need to play him, especially after he hasn’t played so much. What’s the point?”

What's the point? I'm sure Tyler still hears those words in his sleep.

Those are potentially damaging comments to a young player and another example of Mackanin communicating through the media. He basically insulted Goeddel and made headlines where he shouldn't have. He then went on to say he planned to play Jimmy Paredes more frequently, then in the next breath said he did not even consider Paredes to be a regular player.

Since that time, Peter Bourjos has started 6 games and Goeddel has started just one. Paredes, by the way, didn't start any.

Why is Peter Bourjos getting regular at-bats? He won't be with the team next year and since he can no longer be added to a team's postseason roster, he can't even be traded for anything of value.

So, why is he playing? To win a few games?

Goeddel is now officially property of the Phillies and will be sent to the minors next year, so they don't need to play him. I get it. But if he is part of their future, don't they owe it to themselves to give him regular at-bats down the stretch and not toy with him like they did with Ruf? And if he isn't part of the future, why has he remained on the roster this long?

Speaking of Ruf, that leads us to the next major inconsistency with Mackanin.

On August 30, Mackanin announced that Tommy Joseph would start nearly every day for the remainder of the season.

“I think it makes sense to see Joseph as much as possible,” Mackanin said. “I don’t want to happen to him to happen to (Darin) Ruf, where he didn’t have opportunities to get him at-bats.”

When Howard understandably made known his distaste of the situation, Mackanin immediately backtracked.

"I never said Howard was not going to play," Mackanin said Wednesday, asked again about the rest of this season. "I said that Joseph was going to get as many at-bats against righthanders as I see fit. I'm going to pick my spots where he gets enough at-bats against righthanded pitchers, but at the same time Howard is going to play a lot. He's going to play."

"It's important to see Joseph," Mackanin said. "If Howie's not going to be here next year, [Joseph] is at the top of the list right now."

Howard has started 5 of the 9 games since then and Tommy Joseph has started just 4 of those 9 games.

Those inconsistencies send a strong message that Mackanin does not stick to his word. It is also is clear that if you have a certain name on the back of your uniform, you get special treatment.

You better believe the rest of the team took notice.

And now Mackanin has given reason to question some of his in-game moves.

I have had issues with his management of pitching for a while of both the starters and relievers. Mackanin routinely pulls his starters well before 100 pitches in unnecessary situations. Just last night, he ended Jerad Eickhoff's evening after 85 pitches during a game in which he had yet to allow a run.

It is a different story with the bullpen. Hector Neris is tied for the MLB lead in appearances with 71, Jeanmar Gomez is tied for 26th with 63 appearances, and since July, Edubray Ramos' usage rate would give him 81 appearance if he pitched the entire season.

It shows that Mackanin has not been exactly protecting the arms of his relievers. Yet on Friday night, he decided to allow Frank Herrmann to bat with one out in the ninth inning of a tie game in order to save those arms.

“My biggest concern was protecting Ramos, Neris and Gomez,” Mackanin said. “I knew going in we weren’t going to have those guys available. They’ve been working a lot, five out of seven, four out of six. So we were relying on other guys to do the job.
 
“I thought about hitting Joseph there or Ruf, someone to maybe hit a home run, but my biggest concern was going 14 innings and having to go to those [relievers]. That would have been the worse-case scenario for me.”

After continuing to run his relievers out there more than most managers, it seemed to be an odd time to all of a sudden protect them. To make matters worse, Mackanin had veteran David Hernandez and Severino Gonzalez available in the bullpen if the game went into extra innings.

To make matters even worse than that, he could have done a double-switch the inning before and avoided the entire situation altogether.

Players regressing, inconsistent messages to his team, and a few questionable in-game moves are definite warning signs for a manager. Mackanin made a great first impression last season and Matt Klentak was smart to offer Pete an extension. With a great start to this season, it seemed nearly a lock that Mackanin would quickly earn another extension, but that extension might be in danger now.

It's important to point out that this was Mackanin's first full season as a major league manager. Just as players need a chance to grow, so do managers. But he has plenty of areas to work on, and a less than impressive 2016 campaign must have Klentak and MacPhail thinking a lot harder about their next managerial decision.

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