Was Phil Nevin really to blame for Angels’ falter?

Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports
The Sporting Tribune's Taylor Blake Ward wonder how much of the Angels' issues falls on Phil Nevin, who was let go on Monday.

ANAHIM, Calif. — On Monday afternoon, the Angels announced that they would not be picking up the option on Phil Nevin’s contract, and that he would not return as manager of the club for 2024.

The decision came two days after a season where the Angels finished the year with a 73-89 record, their eighth consecutive losing season. Despite the record, there were stages over the summer where the Angels looked not only to move beyond a losing record, but potentially be a team headed for the postseason. Going into the trade deadline, they were five games over .500, sitting three games shy of a wildcard spot and 4.5 games back of the division lead. They made aggressive moves on the trade market to try and bolster both their pitching depth in both the rotation and bullpen with Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito, while adding hopeful impact bats at positions of need in the likes of C.J. Cron and Randal Grichuk.

Though all justifiable in the actions, the moves did not move the needle for the Angels and actually may have cost them dearly in the future and during the presence of their new acquisitions. The going rate for a starting pitcher and high-leverage reliever came at the expense of both their top position player prospect and top pitching prospect in Edgar Quero and Ky Bush. Though Lopez aided a bullpen in need of assistance, Giolito pitched his way to a 6.89 ERA while the Angels went 1-5 in his starts. Cron and Grichuk came at a lesser cost, but neither had much impact during the potential October push seeing a combined .552 OPS in August.

In the span of 30 days, the Angels went from threatening for a playoff berth to sitting six games under .500 and well out of any thought process for October.

It all adds to the question: Was it Phil Nevin’s fault the Angels faltered so substantially?

Every decision a manager makes can be nitpicked in the modern era of baseball. We have near unlimited data to process every move made within a game and can defer whether the decision was the proper one regardless of the circumstance and the eventuality of whether the move was successful or not. In the scenario for Nevin, nothing was glaring in terms of failure. In general, every move was reasonably conservative without much cause for alarm, particularly, with the players he had at his disposal.

It’s an easy cop out, but it comes with merit. The Angels spent most of the latter stages of their season without key cogs to the lineup and rotation. In fact, looking at the entirety of the season, only two players from the Opening Day roster spent the entirety of the year without a trip to the injured list: Reid Detmers and Carlos Estevez.

Anthony Rendon spent the bulk of the season on the injured list, and whether or not you believe it, there was impact when he was on the field — healthy. Mike Trout spent a large part of the year on the injured list. Shohei Ohtani finished the year on the injured list. Add in about 20 more names, and you could see an entire roster missing throughout the course of the summer.

Injuries happen to every team, and the Angels are not in some special placement of being “cursed” but the constant turning tables of who is available every day, or week, or month can be challenging for a manager who is the midst of a pivotal season for the franchise.

Phil Nevin didn’t have an impact on the return or causation of any of the Angels injuries over the season. His decisions, particularly in bullpen usage, had to be made based on the pitchers available to him, and sometimes, throwing a pitcher with an ERA north of four of five was his only option. If not for one of those pitchers, his secondary option may have been one of the nine pitchers designated as rookies. The Angels, an in particular Perry Minasian, attempted to address this pitching depth over the winter and in recent drafts, but with the high bulk of injuries that depth quickly diminished into lower-tier arms by the time the Angels needed consistency from their bullpen.

Decision making is one of the hardest things to address when accessing a manager in the Major Leaguers, and hindsight is 20/20 when the results have already been shown, but nothing glaring popped when it came to Nevin’s full bulk of decisions over his year-and-a-half as manager of the Angels.

One thing that did jump off the page was comments from the players about their manager. In an age where sports figures are more open and available for comment than ever before, Angels players continued to praise the efforts of Nevin. He had the respect of the clubhouse, while many players said they enjoyed playing for him, and there was little doubt that Nevin went to war for each of his guys every night. He had common explosions towards umpires while defending his team, and even sporadically had spats with opposing managers and players (Scott Servais and Jesse Winker in particular) in full defense of his club.

There’s few that would deny his desire to win, and even in his final week, Nevin said managing the Angels was a “dream job.”

Despite the decision making, players respect, and dream job with a desire for victory; results speak for themselves. The Angels lost an opportunity at the postseason late in the summer of 2023, and the full extent of Nevin’s managerial career with the Angels saw a combined 119-149 record, 30 games below .500.

In his full managerial career prior to the Angels, Nevin had a 518-563 record while managing teams in the Independent League, Double-A, and Triple-A across eight seasons. Now it must be said that those years came as a development coach, but the continuous theme was a lack of a winning track record as manager.

In simpler terms, Phil Nevin just wasn’t good enough to carry the Angels towards their ultimate goal of the playoffs and further.

Whether you can directly point the blame at Nevin for the Angels failures will come down to personal opinion, but it must be stated that the Angels will now be seeing their fifth manager over the span of seven seasons, all with equivalent results.

The Angels are in desperate need of stability at the managerial position.

Though Perry Minasian is the general manager and has gained confidence from ownership in his decisions, there is still heavy influence on the team from ownership and Arte Moreno. To garner stability, it is time for Moreno to allow the smart men he has brought in to make decisions for him make a decision about who will be at the helm of the Angels for the foreseeable future.

Though it is immediate speculation, the Angels have a large contingency of candidates that could follow Nevin and become the next manager of the Angels. Houston Astros bench coach, Joe Espada, has garnered much attention at a managerial prospect, as has Milwaukee Brewers bench coach, Pat Murphy. Fellow bench coaches Rodney Linares (Tampa Bay) and Fredi Gonzalez (Baltimore) have jumped into the prospect pool of future managers among their peers. There is a surplus of former Angels players who have jumped into coaching roles at the highest level, not limited to Sal Fasano, Bobby Wilson, Mike Napoli, and Andrew Bailey, while Angels legends like Darin Erstad and Troy Percival have seen success as collegiate managers.

There has not been note on if the remainder of the Angels coaching staff will return as of publishing, but Angels GM Perry Minasian will address the media on Tuesday morning with a likelihood of addressing the future of the Angels coaching staff.