Phillies Mailbag: McClure, Howard, and Stairs the Hitting Coach?
It's time once again for the Phillies weekly mailbag. We take your Phillies questions each week and answer them on sportstalkphilly.com and 973espn.com. Send a question to us anytime via Facebook at facebook.com/sportstalkphilly or Twitter at @FrankKlose.
Why did the Phillies retain pitching coach Bob McClure? If they would dismiss Steve Henderson, why not McClure?
The Phillies offered the entire 2016 coaching staff minus one a job on the Phillies coaching staff in 2017. Steve Henderson, a member of the Phillies organization since 2010, was not retained as hitting coach. That means the rest have been offered the opportunity to return: pitching coach Bob McClure, bench coach Larry Bowa, first base coach Mickey Morandini, third base coach Juan Samuel, bullpen coach Rick Kranitz, and catching coach John McLaren.
While it is almost too easy to look at the struggles in the Phillies bullpen in 2016 and look to blame the pitching coach, let us first consider who some of those pitchers are. On the roster in 2016 and likely not in 2017 are Frank Herrmann, David Hernandez, Phil Klein, Colton Murray and Patrick Schuster. Waiver claims Phil Klein and Michael Mariot ended up itching plenty and the Phillies gave innings to James Russell and Daniel Stumpf, all whom seemed over matched.
What really is the true mark of the success of McClure would be the young Phillies starting rotation. The Phillies got a lot of out the young Jerad Eickhoff in 2016, who made 33 starts, despite missing some time in Spring Training with a broken thumb. Eickhoff had two rough starts this season, giving up seven and eight runs, respectively, but was generally the most reliable Phillies pitcher.
Jake Thompson and Zach Eflin also overcame rough initial starts in the Major Leagues to be very productive for the Phillies. Eflin pitched two complete games for the Phillies, something rare in the big leagues in 2016, and Aaron Nola pitched well before an elbow injury derailed his season. Whether or not McClure can be blamed for Nola's injury remains to be seen.
Vince Velasquez gave the Phillies a very memorable complete game shutout victory against the Chicago Cubs early, but was up and down afterwards. High pitch counts led to an early offseason for Velasquez, who pitched just 131 innings, but many of them laborious. Velasquez hopefully will continue to improve in 2017.
Finally, the Phillies developed a couple arms that look like they could help the team in the future. Both Edubray Ramos and Hector Neris played themselves into potential relief arms for the club long-term. Their development was led by McClure. It is very possible that Neris will close in 2017, while Ramos will be counted on as a potential set-up man.
Additionally, the still-young Jeremy Hellickson had his best season in many years under McClure's leadership.
McClure could only work with what he was given, and it would be unfair to expect the miraculous from McClure. Additionally, it would also be unfair to say that McClure connected with every player and helped all of them to their full potential. But, with many successes, McClure will be back in 2017.
What were the odds six months ago that Howard would've still been on the roster yesterday?
This is a pretty good question. If we went back to the beginning of the 2016 season as the calendar turned from March to April and the season began, it would probably be hard to picture the Phillies without first baseman Ryan Howard. Howard hit 25 home runs in 2016, but despite his power numbers, once the season began it was pretty certain that Howard would not play for anyone else in 2016.
They say in baseball that there's no such thing as a bad one-year contract. But, the $25 million that the Phillies owed Howard made the money that the Phillies would have to eat so great that the Phillies might have simply been better off keeping him. Howard and Tommy Joseph combined to hit 43 home runs as first baseman. That was the most home runs hit from first basemen in all of baseball in 2016. On a team starved for power, that combination worked pretty well for the Phillies.
The Phillies got to see several stars depart the last couple years: shortstop Jimmy Rollins first, then Cole Hamels second, Chase Utley and then Carlos Ruiz. All of those players provided a return that was worth taking. What those players all did not have, despite some of them having declining numbers, was a brutal Achilles injury. Howard's 2011 injury forever changed his career, even before his five-year, $125 million contract began.
Fans get angry at the money given to Howard in the extension, but unlike the teams who signed Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols, both free agent first basemen at the same time Howard was due to hit free agency, the Phillies are free and clear of any financial commitment once they soon pay the buyout on Howard's contract. Fielder has three more seasons left on his contract, and he has already announced he will never play again. Pujols essentially has a full Howard contract remaining with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Pujols and the Angels may go through the same thing as the Phillies and Howard. But that is part of the risk of doing business. Had Howard departed as a free agent after 2011, the Phillies may have ended up with no one, essentially putting Utley at first base and Cesar Hernandez getting to play sooner. The Phillies took a risk, and Howard's Achilles went. That's the cost of doing business sometimes.
So, once 2016 began, it was most likely that Howard was here to the end. In the offseason with a new team and a much-lesser commitment, Howard might latch on to someone. But that team could cut him at will the way the White Sox released Rollins earlier this season. Howard will not mean to that team what he did to the Phillies organization. So, Howard stayed and the Phillies and the fans got to say goodbye.
Who is a candidate to be the Phillies hitting coach in 2017? Would the Phillies consider Matt Stairs?
The reason for letting hitting coach Steve Henderson go could be because of the regression of a couple players. Maikel Franco seemed to take a step back in 2016, as did outfielder Odubel Herrera, who despite an All-Star first have took a sharp dip before finishing the season strong. So, the Phillies decided to look for a new voice.
After John Mizerock was not retained after 2015 (though Mizerock continued to work in the Phillies organization at Williamsport) and the position of assistant hitting coach went away in favor of bringing in former Major League manager John McLaren as catching coach. Wally Joyner was the first Phillies coaching staff member to hold the assistant hitting coach position prior to Mizerock replacing him. If the Phillies retain the rest of the coaching staff, they will not have an extra uniformed coaching slot to do so. Baseball allows one manager and seven uniformed coaches (Bowa, McClure, Kranitz, Morandini, Samuel and McLaren leave room for just one more).
It is hard to say if the Phillies plan to promote someone from within. Organizationally the Phillies have Sal Rende at Triple-A Lehigh Valley and Frank Cacciatore at Double-A Reading. The way their careers have gone they might have gotten promoted by now if the Phillies were willing to give them a shot. Perhaps long-time organization coach and manager Greg Legg has a chance at the job.
As for Matt Stairs, current Comcast Sportsnet broadcaster, it is unclear whether or not Stairs would be interested in the job or if the Phillies would be interested in him. In the past the Phillies looked at the likes of former Phillies Jim Thome and Raul Ibañez for the assistant hitting coach positions, but they may wish to find someone with some coaching experience to be a coach on the Major League staff. The Phillies may keep an eye on what veteran coaches become available this offseason.
So far the Walt Weiss of the Rockies, Chip Hale of the Diamondbacks, and Robin Ventura of the White Sox will not return to their teams. That could open up the likes of veteran coach Dave Magadan or Blake Doyle, brother of former Phillies pitcher Denny Doyle, and long-time instructor in the famous Doyle Baseball Academy.