I’m not sure if anyone has seen the blog post by my colleague, but @southjerseysports tried to excuse Kapler’s managerial mistakes and explain our misgivings of his current position by saying it’s not his fault. It’s the higher-up’s fault. Look, I feel you here—there are way more people in this organization to be upset with than just Kapler. But that’s no excuse to his mistakes and the way he drove this team into the ground.
Before we start off, I’m going to say: I am a Kapler fan! Or I was one. When he was announced as our manager, I have to admit, there were some frightening options out there and I didn’t want the Phillies to land any of them. So when I heard the Phillies grabbed the Dodgers’ director of player development, the same player development who helped developed the likes of Corey Seager, Chris Taylor and Walker Buehler, I was all for it! Finally! A guy who gets baseball players and can use the new baseball information we have in sabermetrics and combine them with old baseball methods to formulate the perfect combination of in-game tactics!
Boy, was I an IDIOT. I had no idea Kapler would rely so significantly on “new baseball” tactics and matchups that just didn’t make sense. Now, does my increasing dislike of Kapler’s managerial style completely exonerate the Phillies front office who picked him specifically for this role? Absolutely not. Unfortunately, Kapler was picked to fill the mold they created; whether Kapler remains with the team or not, whoever holds the position of managing this baseball team is going to reflect the same misguided values and priorities of our front office— which means until we will still be dealing with this issue for as long as those values and priorities stay the same.
But just because I want to see the Phillies completely clean house with people who rely so heavily on “new baseball” tactics and statistics, DOESN’T MEAN I don’t want to see Kapler off this team now!
First, let me clarify by which parts of the “new baseball” are bugging me right now. I’m not talking about the shift— Oh, the dreaded shift. The absurd third baseman playing shortstop and three guys right of second base preventing and ball being hit into the outfield—except left field of course. But these days players can’t pull the ball to save their lives. No. Listen. The shift has been a part of baseball for generations, maybe even since the turn of the 20th century. But back then, it was just called “playing your position.” Seeing a player come in significantly from the outfield or a corner outfield play more center, heck even seeing infielders drop back or allow more space in one area to close off another, that’s normal. That’s part of the game. That actually helps tams win ballgames when done correctly, and I believe there are statistics which support this statement. The Phillies performed better utilizing the shift than when not utilizing the shift, but just not as well as other teams who utilized the shift. Which basically just speaks to our defensive abilities, and not really the shift. (These are memories of statistics from last season, however, so I’m not sure if the same goes for this season given that we greatly increased our defensive abilities by adding new seasoned and proven players.)
No, the “new baseball” tactics bugging me are relying too heavily on pitching matchups and wasting players. Relying on new statistics which A) only tell you the events of the past and 2) really only highlight a player’s failures rather than his successes. It’s the reason we don’t have defined roles in the bullpen anymore and the reason for the epidemic facing Major League Baseball in what is the lack of efficient and consistent relief pitchers. But that’s a blog post for another time.
I can’t remember the exact match-up, but I remember seeing a pitcher cruising through a game and the other team pinch-hit their player solely because of match-ups. The problem is, regardless of matchups, the player is notorious for grounding out against this particular player. But new baseball statistics tells everyone that 9 times out of 10 this guy should be successful against this pitcher, because he bats left-handed. And do you want to know what happened? The batter grounded into an inning-ending double play.
Similarly, and adversely, I’ve seen too many player take a pitcher yard when the pitcher JUST entered the ballgame. Even though the other pitcher was cruising, and yeah maybe his pitch count was getting a little high but he wasn’t showing signs of fatigue and his stuff was not lost. The only thing that was lost on me was the manager’s decision to take him out of the game. There was a runner on first because of a walk and that walk should’ve been a called third strike. So the manager takes the pitcher out and puts in an inefficient relief pitcher with no defined role, and the guy takes him yard.
I’ve seen each of these scenarios in Phillies games multiple times since hiring Gabe Kapler.
I’m not in Philadelphia anymore so I don’t get to watch most of the pre- and post-game stuff, so I don’t see Kap’s happy-go-lucky attitude or positive reinforcement stuff everyone complains about. And quite frankly I don’t think it matters. He’s trying to give a sound bite to a media crowd who’s looking to hang him regardless of what he says. Big whoop. He needs to be crucified for his decisions during the games, not the fodder he feeds the chicken shack that is Philadelphia sports media.
I wish I could say Klentak and the others were pulling the strings of Kapler high above, and that Kapler had a little earpiece listening to the front office executives carrying out their every whim during the ballgames, but that just isn’t the case. And that’s the only way I can give Kapler a break.
I do think we need to clean house of every front office executive that’s going to die on this hill of “new baseball is the way of the future,” but that only includes Kapler. It doesn’t exclude him from scrutiny.
Maybe Kapler would manage differently under a team that doesn’t rely so heavily on these new tactics and statistics. Who’s to say? I think they picked him because he was just the guy they were looking for. The experiment didn’t work, but the front office won’t abandon it— they’re just going to change the variables until they get the answer they want.