The Phillies are highly unlikely to fire pitching coach Bob McClure this season. I’m OK with that. Bringing in a new trail guide mid-stream could confuse the young arms and backfire just as likely as it could succeed.
But that doesn’t make it unfair to assess the job McClure has done in his four seasons crafting this staff.
By any measure, that’s been a failure.
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Start by comparing year-to-year stats. In his first season, 2014, McClure had Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon and Cliff Lee, at least in part. The team’s ERA was a decent 3.79.
Since then, the digression — of talent and statistics — has been scary. Team ERA went to 4.69 in 2015, to 4.63 last year and 4.94 this season — worst in all of MLB. Homers allowed is an industry worst 1.6 per nine innings, dreadful enough that fans throwing back those potential souvenirs risk repetitive stress injuries.
Most frightening is this: Pitchers never seem to get better under McClure’s tutelage.
Vince Velasquez arrived in the 2015 trade that shipped out Ken Giles, brandishing an electric arm that occasionally found the strike zone. In his second start as Phillie, Vinnie V struck out 16 in a three-hit shutout.
In 15 months since, Velasquez has mostly proven unable to control secondary pitches and remain on the mound past the fifth inning. In a public plea for help last month, he called himself, “clueless … a chicken running around with its head cut off.”
How much of that is on the player and how much on the coach? Tough to say. It always is. But it’s clear that the lessons McClure tried to impart have not been received by Velasquez’s brain.
And then there’s Jerad Eickhoff, last year’s most dependable starter, who hasn’t won a game all season. Back on May 10, McClure said that “mechanical issues” were to blame to Eickhoff’s woes, and an adjustment could quickly fix it. Since then, Eickhoff is 0-3 with a 5.85 ERA.
This list goes on. Hector Neris, last year’s bullpen revelation, has given up more hits and homers this season, while striking out fewer batters. Youngsters like Zach Eflin, Nick Pivetta and Adam Morgan come up, go down, come back and never seem to improve.
There’s culpability to share for this abysmal pitching staff. Injuries play a role, as they have with Aaron Nola. Other organizational pitching coaches — those in the minors — may be sending mixed messages. Catcher Cameron Rupp’s pitch selection has been criticizd, begging the question of why McClure or Pete Mackanin don’t take over that task.
And sometimes pitchers fail because, well, they’re just too stubborn to take instruction. Most of any player’s success or failure relates back to what he sees in the mirror.
But you’d like to be able to cite one success from Bob McClure, one pet project who stands tall and thanks the pitching coach for his newfound brilliance. And that guy’s not here. Instead it’s starters who get chased from the game while you can still catch the end of “Wheel of Fortune,” followed by four innings of Bullpen Roulette.