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November 01, 2023

Phillies stay or go: Is Rob Thomson the long-term solution as manager?

2024 is the last year on Rob Thomson's contract, but should the Phillies commit to him with an extension after the club's NLCS performance?

Oh, Rob Thomson.

The Phillies' manager has had a ton of success in his two seasons in South Philly, leading an expensive and talented roster to back-to-back deep postseason runs after a decade of failures.

But Thomson is under the microscope now and is in a contract year. He likely will not be fired any time soon, but 2024 is a really important campaign for the Phillies and for him, as the club will need to decide whether to extend him or let him manage as a lame duck next season.

This is more of a wide-angle lens "stay or go" article, but there is a lot to be critical of when it comes to Thomson's decisions down the stretch this season.

Let's look at the arguments for keeping him long-term against letting him walk:


• Thomson's numbers sort of speak for themselves. Over the last two years, he's accomplished a lot. These numbers are all-time among Phillies managers:

Win %.5682nd
Games over .500379th 
Playoff wins162nd
Playoff berths2T2nd

The Phillies are a long and storied franchise, but one without a ton of actual success. The stats above are probably more reflective of how awful this team has been historically than how special Thomson is as a manager.

Philly has won two World Series in 141 years and has made just 16 postseason appearances, of which Thomson led the Phillies to two. He hasn't even managed two full seasons and is in the top 10 in basically every franchise category.

• The players love Thomson. He is known as a clubhouse manager, and maybe not a tactical one, which has served him well during the regular season. He can handle big egos and stars, and has led the Phillies through a ton of adversity, including multiple injuries to Bryce Harper, horrible slumps for Trea Turner and Nick Castellanos, and a bevy of other minor crises. 

“I’m proud of them,” Thomson said of his team after they fell in Game 7 of the NLCS. “They prepared and they competed every day this year, and we had to go through some tough times. I’m proud of this group that our front office has put together, because they’re talented, and they have great makeup, and they’re great to be around. I love them all. I really do. So it is disappointing, but it’s tough to get back to this position two years in a row. It is. But they fought to get here, and we came up short. That’s baseball sometimes.”

• Thomson is an aggressive manager. It's got a lot of pros to it, especially in Philly. He wants his players to swing. He wants them to steal bases. He is quick to make a pitching change when he needs to, and decisiveness can be half the battle sometimes. Overall, this mentality has served the team and the city pretty well.

• One of the biggest reasons to argue Thomson should stay is that, well, it's hard to find a good manager out there. The alternatives would likely be a bunch of retreads or unproven guys. Do you prefer Gabe Kapler, Don Mattingly, Craig Counsell? Would they just anoint someone like Jimmy Rollins, who has dipped his toes in the coaching pool? Sometimes a bird in the hand is better.


• Thomson made a lot of high-profile decisions that may have determined the Phillies' fate in the NLCS, and the conversation will no doubt be focused on that. Here's a roundup of some of those decisions:

  1. He tagged rookie Orion Kerkering to pitch in a key spot in Game 3 with a lead, skipping over all of his experienced arms in the seventh inning in Arizona. If the Phillies hold in that seventh inning, perhaps the series never even gets to a Game 7.
  2. Thomson elected to go with what was basically a bullpen game started by Cris Sánchez in Game 4. He skipped over Taijuan Walker, and used eight different pitchers in that game.
    Walker calling out his manager is not the best look. 
  3. After watching closer Craig Kimbrel blow Game 3, he called on him to try and close Game 4 with a 2-run lead. This is a prime example of Thomson trusting his veterans and it failed.
  4. Thomson stuck with Aaron Nola for too long in Game 6, as the Phillies fell behind 4-1 by the time the starting pitcher exited.
  5. Thomson stuck with Ranger Suárez for too long in Game 7, as he allowed the Diamondbacks to tie the game in the fifth inning.
  6. And finally, his handling of the batting order. He did not shuffle it once. He wasted five Kyle Schwarber solo home runs by having him lead off. He gave Harper almost no protection in the order by keeping a struggling Alec Bohm and Bryson Stott behind him. He did not move Castellanos, who was 0-for-21 in the series after a Game 1 home run, nor did he consider going with some more offense in the 9-hole and let Johan Rojas whimper with a .093 postseason batting average.

• The Phillies job is the first managerial spot Thomson has had. He was an assistant for Joe Girardi with the Yankees and then here in Philly — and he assumed Girardi's duties in an interim role first. It's quite the firestorm to be thrown into in this kind of city and in these kinds of postseason. Perhaps that inexperience showed?

Wait and see

Thomson was self-aware when he spoke to the media following the end of the season. He accepted blame for the things we mentioned above, and perhaps that's something that could earn him goodwill from the franchise going forward.

"It’s difficult, you know? There’s a lot of reflection … it’s very disappointing to me and I’m accountable for everything that goes on around here. There were a lot of decisions being made bullpen-wise, there are some things there that I would’ve wanted to change. The lineup situation, there’s some things there that I maybe I need to be a little bit more adaptable. But every decision I make, there’s always a reason. Now, was the reason correct? Those are things I reflect on."

The Phillies will probably hold off on making the extension decision for a bit. They would be wise to do so. Thomson will have a third year to lead this team and the expectations will be through the roof. A slow start could see him on the hot seat this spring, while a playoff push and another deep run could make him a staple in the city for a decade.

Until then, let the revisionist history and blame game continue. Are you still on team Philly Rob?

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