By Peter Gleason
Charlie Manuel is hands-down the greatest manager in Phillies history.
He won a World Series, went to another and guided a collection of talented players through the most winning this town has ever seen on a baseball field.
Then the Phillies unceremoniously dumped him in August 2013.
It is a measure of Manuel’s devotion and loyalty that he has accepted the task of saving another manager’s job and with it the Phillies season.
The Phillies fired hitting coach John Mallee and replaced him with Manuel, who is 75.
It is not a long-term move, a source told MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki.
Manuel certainly knows hitting. It’s his passion. But one of his greatest strengths is his ability to connect with people. He builds confidence. He keeps them loose. Former players have said he helped get the best out of them.
The Phillies’ offense could use some help. They are ninth in the NL in scoring (4.72 runs per game); 10th in on-base percentage (.322) and wRC+ (91); 11th in home runs (149); and 12th in slugging percentage (.417) and weighted on-base average (.312). They rank in the bottom half of the league in every key offensive category, despite the offseason acquisitions of Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura and Andrew McCutchen, who suffered a season-ending left knee injury in June, and in-season acquisitions Jay Bruce, Corey Dickerson and Brad Miller.
Manuel is expected to simplify the Phillies’ offensive approach, something manager Gabe Kapler acknowledged in June had become too complex. It might be why the team has struggled to hit fastballs in the strike zone. They have a .336 wOBA (25th in baseball) and a .504 slugging percentage (25th) against fastballs in the zone. To put that into perspective, the Phillies had a less talented offense under former hitting coach Matt Stairs in 2017, but had a .342 wOBA (17th) and a .505 slugging percentage (20th) against fastballs in the zone.
Seven of the top teams in wOBA against fastballs in the zone this year would make the postseason, if the season ended Tuesday.
Nobody knows if the Phillies’ offense will suddenly take off, but the front office felt it needed to try something because it had not clicked under Mallee, who joined Kapler’s staff before the 2018 season. Mallee joined the Phillies following a stint with the Cubs. He was their hitting coach when they won the World Series in 2016.
But sometimes a new voice helps. Manuel knows this better than anybody. He replaced hitting coach Milt Thompson with Greg Gross in July 2010. He said then that he hoped a different voice would connect with his hitters. Coincidence or not, the Phillies hit better the rest of the way. The club slashed .254/.322/.411 and averaged 4.6 runs per game through July 22 under Thompson. The Phillies slashed .269/.345/.417 and averaged 5.0 runs per game from July 23 through the end of the season under Gross.
The Phillies are hoping for similar results under Manuel. They had the second-best record in the NL on May 29, when they were 33-22 and averaging 5.1 runs per game. They are 27-36 since, which is the fifth-worst record in the league, and they’re averaging 4.4 runs per game. Philadelphia enters Tuesday in fourth place (60-58) in the National League East, nine games behind the first-place Braves. The Phillies are two games behind the Cardinals for the second NL Wild Card spot, with the Brewers and Mets in between them.