Dillon, Castro let go amid coaching changes

October 4th, 2021

MIAMI -- Joe Girardi said that sometimes somebody takes the fall when a team doesn't meet expectations.

The Phillies dismissed hitting coach Joe Dillon and infield coach Juan Castro before Sunday’s season finale at loanDepot park. Assistant hitting coach Pedro Guerrero is not expected to return, as the new hitting coach will hire a new assistant. The changes come as the Phillies missed the postseason for a 10th consecutive year, despite one of the highest payrolls in baseball.

Everybody else on the coaching staff is expected to return, Girardi said. Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said on Friday that Girardi will return in 2022, which is the final year of his contract.

“It’s been a tough day,” Girardi said. “Sometimes when seasons don’t go the way you want, sometimes people are let go. Sometimes it’s the manager. Sometimes it’s coaches. And unfortunately it didn’t go the way we want and we let some go today. I think they worked extremely hard, but we just felt at this time it was time to make some changes. The difficult part is that you know how hard they work at it, you know that they’re friends.”

The Phillies ranked seventh in the National League in runs per game (4.53) and on-base percentage (.318), eighth in slugging percentage (.408) and ninth in batting average (.240). Phillies infielders ranked 27th in baseball with -17 Outs Above Average, according to Statcast.

But how much can be pinned on the coaches vs. the personnel? In other words, is a new infield coach going to get more from the left side of the infield in 2022? Didi Gregorius ranked last among 36 shortstops with -18 OAA. Alec Bohm ranked 29th out of 43 third basemen with -2 OAA. Is a new hitting coach going to get more from a lineup that could see significant changes anyway?

“We’re looking for our guys to be more productive,” Girardi said. “I think that’s the bottom line. Some guys had some tough years. I’m not blaming that on anyone, but again we just feel that if we’re going to compete at the highest level, we need more production. So we’re going to try to do that and see what happens.

“I think approach is important. Combating what they're doing to you is probably the most important thing that you can do as a hitter. You have to adjust always in this game because they're adjusting to you, and I think that's the biggest things. And who helps you make those adjustments the quickest? That's what we're looking for.”

Ironically, Bryce Harper could win the National League Most Valuable Player Award with Dillon as his hitting coach. Harper raved about Dillon when the Phillies hired him before the 2020 season. In the pandemic-shortened, 60-game season, the Phillies ranked fourth in the league in scoring.

“Me and Joe have a great relationship,” Harper said. “He's a very good hitting coach. He did a great job for us. I thought working with him every day personally was really good for me. But as an offense, I don't think we did our job enough to really warrant anybody's success. Right? I think it's just part of how the game works. It's part of the business side of the game. It's part of the process if you're not winning, if you're not doing well. Sometimes that happens and there's nothing much more to say than that. It's part of the game.

“Whoever comes in to replace Joe Dillon, we definitely need to have a top guy that can come in here and mix well with us and mold us well. Understanding game plans, what type of hitters we want to be, what type of hitters we need to be.”

Defensively, Girardi said, “We have to get better. I believe that our defense cost us games this year. How many? I can’t tell you exactly how many. But when plays aren’t made that should be made, it leads to extra pitches for the pitcher, it leads to more appearances for your bullpen. Sometimes you don’t have the closer or the eighth-inning guy because you had to use him in a game you shouldn’t have. There are a lot of things. I think that range and ball securement is really important. And those will be the things that we continue to try to tackle and accomplish.”

Girardi said he thought pitching coach Caleb Cotham did a “really good job” in his first season. The Phillies rotation ranked ninth in the NL with a 4.23 ERA. The bullpen ranked 11th with a 4.61 ERA.

The bullpen also tied a Major League record with 34 blown saves.

“I think pitchers responded well to Caleb,” Girardi said. “I think Caleb is very innovative. I think Caleb also understands what it's like to be out there in a big situation. He pitched in New York. But I think Caleb is up on technology and brings just a lot of great ideas to our pitchers that they've responded to.

“I figure our bullpen has been better than it was last year. I really do. I don't know what the exact numbers are, but I think that we have the makings of a much better bullpen going into next year.”