Joe Girardi’s first two coaching hires vital to his success as Phillies manager | Bob Brookover
Girardi's staff is mostly in place, but he has to make significant choices at pitching coach and hitting instructor.
It is a different kind of puzzle the Phillies are putting together. Typically, when a team fires its manager following a season, the bulk of the coaching staff leaves with him.
In the Phillies’ case, they parted ways with Gabe Kapler and pitching coach Chris Young and left the rest of the staff intact.
It works out nicely for new manager Joe Girardi that Rob Thomson, one of his most trusted lieutenants with the New York Yankees, already has spent two seasons in the Phillies dugout as Kapler’s bench coach. Thomson will be able to provide Girardi with a thorough scouting report about not only the players but also the culture in the clubhouse.
Still, the new manager, who will be formally introduced at a Monday press conference, has two key hires to make and it’s possible he could add even more new coaches if he so desires.
The first order of business for Girardi is the most important one. Phillies team president Andy MacPhail often has said he believes the relationship between the manager and general manager is the most important in baseball, and if that’s the case, it will be fascinating to watch Girardi’s interactions with Matt Klentak in the days ahead. It is sure to be different from the Kapler-Klentak relationship.
I’d argue that the relationship between the manager and the pitching coach is just as important. I’m not sure the Phillies ever win the World Series if Charlie Manuel does not have Rich Dubee as his right-hand man in charge of the pitching staff. The trust and respect between the two men was and remains unbreakable.
With a lifetime of big-league ties, Girardi should have an impressive list of candidates to choose from as his pitching coach, and as a former catcher the new Phillies manager also will have a deep insight into the strategic part of the pitching game.
Whenever a new manager takes over, it’s always natural to look at some of the people who have worked with him in the past.
Perhaps conveniently for Girardi, his pitching coach when the Yankees beat the Phillies in the 2009 World Series is available.
Dave Eiland, who was with the Yanks from 2008 through 2010, was fired by the New York Mets in the middle of the 2019 season. Eiland, 53, was also the pitching coach in Kansas City when the Royals went to consecutive World Series in 2014 and 2015, winning it the second time against the Mets.
Eiland’s 2013 staff with the Royals had the lowest ERA in the American League and that started a string of three straight seasons in which Kansas City posted an ERA under 4.00, which is always an impressive accomplishment in the league with a designated hitter.
The Mets, however, struggled with Eiland as their pitching coach last season despite having one of the better rotations in baseball. The team’s 4.70 ERA when Eiland was fired June 20 ranked 13th among the National League’s 15 teams. After Eiland was replaced by 82-year-old Phil Regan, the Mets had a 3.88 ERA over their final 88 games, which was third in the league.
Still, the fact Eiland has a track record at all is good news because the Phillies’ decision to go with the inexperienced Chris Young as pitching coach in 2019 was an obvious mistake.
Two other men who worked with Girardi and remain on the Yankees’ coaching staff also could be in the running for the job as pitching coach.
Eiland was replaced in New York by veteran pitching coach Larry Rothschild and he has remained with the Yankees for the last nine seasons. The Yanks reached the postseason in six of those nine seasons and also had a team ERA below 4.00 in six of those nine years.
With Rothschild as pitching coach, the Yankees have had a consistently solid but never dominant starting rotation. Their bullpen, on the other hand, has been among baseball’s best each of the last three seasons.
Rothschild, 65, was the first manager in Tampa Bay and the Marlins’ pitching coach under Jim Leyland when Florida won the World Series in 1997. He was also the Cubs’ pitching coach from 2002 through 2010, working under Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella. He obviously has a ton of experience, but the Yankees would have to let him go in order for the Phillies to hire him.
Mike Harkey, the Yankees’ bullpen coach, is also a potential candidate. The former big-league pitcher was part of Girardi’s first coaching staff after being hired in 2008 and he returned to the team in 2016 following a two-year stint in Arizona. Should the Phillies want Harkey as their pitching coach, it seems unlikely that the Yankees would prevent him from that kind of promotion.
The Phillies, of course, also need a hitting instructor, which is obviously an important job after the team underachieved in almost every offensive category in 2019.
Kevin Long was Girardi’s hitting instructor when the Yankees beat the Phillies in the 2009 World Series, but he is unlikely to be available after serving in that role this season with the Washington Nationals.
Jim Presley was Girardi’s hitting instructor with the Marlins and Alan Cockrell worked for the Phillies’ new manager in New York. There is some sentiment within the organization to bring back Matt Stairs, who was the Phillies’ hitting instructor in 2017 before leaving for the same job in San Diego. Stairs was out of baseball in 2019.
Girardi’s hiring will surely change the culture of the Phillies and the manager’s first two coaching hires also will have a significant impact on the franchise’s immediate future.