Since his tenure as Philadelphia Phillies manager commenced in 2005, Charlie Manuel has seen his share of ups and downs. Fortunately for him and the Phillies, the majority of Manuel's experiences have been positive, though as of late the opposite couldn't be truer.
Over the last two seasons, Manuel and the Phillies have slid from being the best in baseball to the laughing stock of the league. In 2012, most of the Phillies' woes could be attributed to the injuries of cornerstone players such as Roy Halladay, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. While all three of those players have spent some amount of time on the disabled list in 2013 as well, that alone cannot be blamed for the lack of success this season.
Last year, multiple unlucky events led to the Phillies' first non-winning season in over a decade. This year, however, there are two obvious names to take the hit. One is Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. for his mismanagement of the team's roster, both in the offseason and at this year's trade deadline. The other is Manuel himself.
From playing hitters in the wrong spots of the lineup to simply allowing players to go about their own business unmanaged, Manuel has gone from franchise hero to lame duck in a short period of time.
He's made some mistakes that have cost the Phillies any remaining chances they've had in 2013 following Amaro's inactivity. While not everything the players do should be blamed on Manuel, it is the manager's job to provide an explanation for his team's errors. And Manuel has not done that.
Don't get me wrong, Manuel should be revered by all Phillies fans for leading the team in all-time managerial wins and to its second World Series title in 2008. I'm not suggesting he should be criticized solely for his miscues this season. Nevertheless, there have been miscues, perhaps too many to identify them all.
In light of that, let's take a look at Manuel's top four mistakes managing the Phillies this season.
In recent years, Phillies cornerstone Jimmy Rollins has casually been criticized by fans for seemingly taking his time jogging around the basepaths on ground-ball plays that could be more than just routine outs. Manuel has benched Rollins from time to time for his lack of hustle. But it's happened more than usual in 2013 due to the Phillies' rampant losing, yet nothing has been done about it.
Offensively, such a thing might be expected now. It's still excruciating to watch, as any chance the Phillies might have at starting a hot inning are generally squandered by Rollins' lackadaisical power walking. In fact, Philly Baseball Insider Chuck Hixson had this to say about the perceived lack of hustle from J-Roll:
If Charlie had a pair, he'd pull J-Pop-up out of the game right, freakin now! #Phillies— Chuck Hixson (@PHLBaseballNsdr) August 10, 2013
In a less crude manner, Rollins should have been pulled on August 10 when this occurred. What's more is that in the same game, Rollins had a ground ball hit to him by shortstop Ian Desmond, which he lazily approached in order to toss the baseball over to first baseman Michael Young. Had it not been for recent call-up Cody Asche over at the hot corner intercepting the slow roller, Desmond would have been safe.
Rollins isn't the same player he once was in many ways. He doesn't have as much power or as much speed and possibly lacks some of the heart and patience he once had. But as a player who earns $11 million a season, the least he can do is run out a ground ball.
Manuel needs to send a message, and not doing so doesn't solve the problem.
One of the most controversial questions surrounding Jimmy Rollins in recent years has been where Manuel should bat him in his lineup. Manuel believes Rollins is still a typical leadoff hitter. However, with Rollins' declining speed and ridiculously low OBP, he doesn't qualify for such a role anymore, tradition aside.
Neither of those factors was what should have been the nail in the coffin, though. Rather, the acquisition of Ben Revere from the Minnesota Twins in the offseason should have been enough to unseat Rollins' warm and comfy chair in the batting order.
Unsurprisingly, Manuel opted to go with Rollins to start the season instead, and when Revere did nothing but slump in an aghast April, it looked as though Rollins was entrenched, albeit pathetically, in the one hole.
Revere isn't the greatest leadoff archetype either. His OBP is too low as and his walk rates are way too mediocre for a leadoff hitter. What Revere does have is speed, something Rollins now lacks as he enters the potential twilight of his career. But as long as Manuel is at the helm, Rollins will bat first.
But then something amazing happened: Revere got hot. He batted .347 in May heading into the All-Star break. That is, until he fouled a ball off his foot on July 13, resulting in a fracture that has sidelined him since. At the time, Revere was batting leadoff. But should it really have taken Revere a hot streak to earn what should have rightfully been his?
The answer is no, and Manuel not realizing this could have caused the Phillies countless run-scoring opportunities looking back on the situation. Even though Revere has been out for a month now, the fact that Rollins boasts more games as the leadoff hitter than Revere just goes to show Manuel's erroneous old-school managing techniques. Rollins should have never sniffed Revere in leadoff starts, yet he surpasses him.
All in all, that's not right.
It's the bottom of the ninth inning of a one-run ballgame. You have to make the call to the bullpen to determine who should seal the win by recording the final three outs of the game unscathed. If you're Charlie Manuel, who gets the call?
For April and May, Jonathan Papelbon would have been the hands-down correct answer. Since June, however, there has not been a correct response to that question, yet Manuel has continued to pitch him in tight situations.
I guess it's what he's supposed to do. After all, Papelbon is the Phillies' closer, making $12.5 million a season to do what he does best: rack up saves in tight games. Unfortunately for the Phillies, Papelbon has been unable to do that for over two months now, accumulating six blown saves in that timespan.
Even in non-save situations, the Phillies can't depend on Papelbon to get the job done. That in itself is a problem. But what makes it worse is that Manuel, in spite of seeing Papelbon's woes firsthand, still continues to throw the guy out there and watch him allow baserunners until it's too late. Someone like Justin De Fratus could even take over the job if necessary. Frankly, he's been better than Papelbon, too.
Papelbon has to pitch in order to keep his arm fresh, no doubt about it. Manuel could limit that to bullpen sessions on the side until Papelbon rights his ship. Heck, Manuel could even do what he's supposed to do—manage Papelbon. He could work to get the problem solved himself.
Instead, Manuel has sat back and watched his former bona fide closer fall into a sea of mediocrity. And until he does anything about it, Papelbon will not correct his problems and the Phillies' bullpen situation will only further deteriorate.