When I was a kid, I fell in love with the long ball. Like everyone else, I was enamored with Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa back in 1998; the Summer of Baseball Love.
Well, the game ain’t the same, friends. More teams are manufacturing runs the old fashioned way. The Phillies are slow to change with the times.
It’s not really any fault of theirs, truthfully. Ryan Howard, Raul Ibanez and others were all used to winning by playing a certain way. Swinging for a three-run homer was the plan four or five years ago. It’s how they made their coin. Just ask Shane Victorino; he might tell you that paydays are a little bigger when that HR number is larger. A guy who hits .280 with 17 homers might get paid more than a guy who hits .300 with 9 homers. A little pop goes a long way.
But now, the philosophy is clearly changing within the Phillies; or at least that’s what Ruben Amaro hopes will be the case. In what became a mission statement of sorts, Amaro challenged everyone in the organization to a revolution. Well, you know.
Easier said, Rube. Easier said. The question isn’t whether the Phillies need this philosophical restructuring when it comes to their offense; it’s quite apparent they do. The question is can the players be something they aren’t?
Amaro thinks that change can occur.
“Ability-wise, there is no question in my mind this is a championship caliber lineup and championship caliber players. We have to go about it in a different way. I have talked to Greg Gross and talked to Charlie. We have to have a different mindset or different approach than we did in ‘08 or 2010. 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.”
Charlie Manuel is also on board with the changes to come.
“I think I’m definitely on board with what Ruben says when I talked to him,” said Manuel. “At the same time, if you guys listen to me during the course of the year and last couple of years, I touch on it when I talked about hitting. He would like to see us grind out more at-bats, learn how to work more counts, plate discipline. All those things he talks about, I talked about, I teach that…”
Situational dysfunction is nothing new with this team. They’ve been playing with fire the past two seasons and finally got third-degree burns when they got too close to the Cardinals, a team that Amaro must be eluding to. He witnessed long at-bat after long-at bat from the opponent in the NLDS, while the Phillies couldn’t start a rally if they tried. He saw batters choke up and spray hits to all fields. He did not see much over-swinging.
Charlie Manuel has, for the most part, been a hands-off manager by allowing each player to play to their strengths. That has basically meant let everyone swing for the fences, because that’s what the Phillies were good at. What lies ahead for Manuel and his staff is an offseason of going back to the drawing board. How can they fit a square peg into a round hole?
But Manuel did lay some blame on the sub-par statistics on the inability to field a true lineup for the better part of the year.
“From an offensive standpoint, with the core players, the health thing definitely comes into play, having them on the field for a period of time and instead of having a disarray of lineups. When I say together, I don’t know how many lineups changes we had, if we have same guys in our lineup for a long period of time we get a better read on it. The last 2-3 years we just haven’t had that.”
Amaro mentioned Placido Polanco in the same breath as the new strategy he’d like to see implemented in 2012.
“Polly is the kind of guy that we’re trying to strive to have more readily at our disposal. Those are the kinds of at-bats. He works the count, he understands the importance of making contract with two strikes. Those are the things we’re looking to improve [overall].”
To me, Amaro is saying that it’s time to back off the home run swing in counts that don’t call for it. It’s time to read more into the numbers, get down to studying, and figuring out more tendencies of pitchers. It’s time to do real work. Because for years, it has been exceptional players getting by on brute strength and an aggressive approach.
To be a perennial contender, it will take a keener eye and more patience. It will take going the other way when baserunners and counts dictate it. Are the players willing to make this kind of concession?
Think of it like this: if you’re at the top of your occupation, making top dollar, are you going to let someone making less than you, or someone in a position of less power, tell you what to do? That’s the issue Greg Gross will come to find once Spring Training rolls around in February. Will the players shelve their egos for the greater good? In theory it’s possible, but try telling a smoker he can’t smoke two packs a day. It takes a long time, with many hiccups and several setbacks.
My thought is, the Phillies can do it, but with caveats. I think you’ll see them grasp the concepts of it, however, I don’t believe it will be the smoothest of transitions for some. To survive, Ryan Howard will have to fix his swing. His baseball life depends on it. But, there will be times when he reverts back to what he’s known for so long. Same goes for those who stick around for next year.
So, while the memories are still relatively fresh, think back to the 2008 and 2009 seasons when the Phillies launched 448 home runs combined. Those days are long gone. Prepare to welcome the slap-hitting Phillies of the new decade.