Things have been tough for the Phillies and their fans this season. Not a lot of wins, young players like Maikel Franco and Vince Velasquez are more disappointing than exciting and many of the offseason acquisitions aren’t working out. But one of those newcomers is. One is making all the difference in the world to this team and its loyal fans. And this acquisition may be the single best reason to watch a Phillies game.
Of course, that acquisition is John Kruk, color commentator for the Phillies TV broadcast. He has far exceeded any and all expectations; he’s an aerosol can of clever baseball personality sprayed over what would otherwise be a frustrating, less than pleasant experience.
Last year the Phillies broadcasters ranked at #17 according to awfulannouncing.com and #30 on Fangraphs.com. Basically, not great by either account. New rankings haven’t come out but you can expect a significant rise thanks to the Krukker.
The thing you catch when listening to Kruk is that he’s funny. He’s not laugh out loud, roll on the floor (LOL and ROFL for you kids out there) funny but he is clever funny, in a baseball kind of way. It’s his sarcastic comments that exemplify the exact same frustrations we feel as fans with regards to the Phillies but its cleverness and quickness make that frustration seem tolerable.
Something awful and stupid happens on the field and Kruk is at the ready with a quip that simultaneously tempers your anger to what just happened and makes you realize that it’s just not that bad. It’s exactly what you would have said had you thought of it.
He’s also enlightening, even to those of us that think we already know it all. Recently he touched on how defensive metrics can be affected by the quality of the pitcher. The defense behind the pitcher is adjusted based on what pitch is called and the pitcher is responsible for hitting that spot, be it outside or inside. Outside-located fastballs will typically go to the opposite field and inside-located breaking balls will be pulled and pre-pitch the defense is adjusted accordingly. If the projected pitch location is missed the defense will be out of positon casuing what should be an easy play to be a lot harder.
It’s sound logic but it’s rarely thought of when considering a player’s defense and Kruk was able to easily and clearly illuminate the gist. While the average fan would never consider this as part of their homegrown evaluation it’s something a baseball lifer like Kruk can. It’s an example of the knowledge and experience that Kruk vocalizes during any given broadcast and how that vocalization makes the game that much more interesting.
There’s also Kruk’s comparison of today’s game to the era in which he played. It’s interesting to hear his take on the direction the game has gone – pitchers not going deeper due to pitch counts, the general lack of hustle and the new rules put in place to protect the players at the expense of game. During the recent series with the Arizona Diamondbacks Kruk continually praised the Phillies opponent for their hustle to first and the hard turn they took on outfield singles, how they, as a a team, looked for any and every opportunity to just get another 90 feet. Tis was commonplace in Kruk’s era yet seemingly non-existent in today’s game.
Mainly though Kruk seems absolutely mystified in the decline of, or in some cases the 100% lack of, baseball IQ displayed by today’s major leaguers; players no longer seem to have the instinctual feel for the game they did in his day. What was just common sense to the players of Kruk’s era has become complete anathema to the current generation of ballplayers.
He recently went on for two-plus innings, and rightly so, when a pitcher threw a 2-1 breaking ball to another pitcher. The fact that an opposing pitcher, who in this case hit exactly like a pitcher, wasn’t aggressively targeted for challenging fastballs was simply beyond Kruks, and many of us fans, comprehension.
In the above-referenced DBacks example Kruk was astonished, to an almost insulted level, that hustling on the diamond was even something that had to be instructed. When he was a player it wasn’t special, it didn’t have to be taught and managers and coaches didn’t need a mandate for it; it was just how a Major League ballplayer played the game.
The only downside to Kruk is that he doesn’t cover every game. Seriously, the team needs to be a bit proactive here and lock him up for the foreseeable future. It doesn’t seem like they’re planning on being much better for a while, so they should do everything they can to make experiencing a Phillies game as enjoyable as it can be and that most certainly includes giving us more Kruk.