Commentary

Commentary: I’m letting go and joining the Church of Kapler



Top of the sixth inning, home opener, Philadelphia. Nick Pivetta had just allowed a single to Derek Dietrich, then gave up a 338-foot fly ball on a 2-2 count to Starlin Castro, which was caught by Odubel Herrera.

Suddenly, as I watched players surround Pivetta and a red-clad figure emerge from the dugout, the boos rained down onto the Citizens Bank Park field. I smirked. I shook my head.

And that is when I realized, no matter what, I will be a staunch defender and fan of Gabe Kapler.

Yes, that’s me, the guy who might annoy the hell out of you. I’m the guy you might mock, call “nerd,” and claim I live in a basement and work on math problems all day. Maybe you think I’m just tethered to a computer all day (the truth is I am, but that’s because I’m a self-employed full-time writer), and maybe you think I’m a soft millennial (the truth is I’m actually the definition of a soft millennial, and that’s because I’m soft and also born in 1984). Whatever the case, I give myself up to the Church of Kapler. Come at me with your barbs. Come at me with your scorn. Come with torches and bats – I don’t care. I am standing strong for Kapler.

Gabe Kapler has made one mistake this season, and that’s not ensure that Hoby Milner knew he was supposed to be warming up in the bullpen. That was a real boner.

Otherwise he has come into every game with a plan backed by information. He has stuck to his plans. Some have worked, some haven’t worked, but that’s how the world works. Look close enough at any manager in history and you’ll see decisions that have and haven’t worked, but the difference here is that Kapler is up front about having a plan and sticking to it.

Now, you might say I’m a hypocrite because I was upset that Aaron Nola was pulled early from his opening day start. Yes, I admit to that. But honestly I selfishly want Nola to have all the good numbers. I want him to complete every game and be the best pitcher ever, because I believe he can be that guy. I love watching Aaron Nola. He’s my softest spot.

But Kapler actually made the right decision. It was Nola’s first game after a spring training where starters were still working up to full strength. He had a 5-0 lead against a bad Braves team, and there was no reason to think that offense would explode as soon as Nola was removed. Plus, yes, Nola is less effective the third time around and, yes, Freddie Freeman has a good history (even if it’s small) against him. The signs pointed to a lefty, and Milner nearly succeeded, but here’s the thing – and this may be crazy: Freddie Freeman is incredible at hitting.

So forget that. I also wasn’t excited at the prospect of relative walk-on Drew Hutchison pitching in a tie game in the sixth inning Wednesday. But here I’ll simply believe that Kapler knew what he was doing there. Because I’m letting go. I’m giving this team to Gabe Kapler. I will follow him into the dark.

Because at the end I believe there will be light.

I shouldn’t fight this. When I play video games I’m pulling starters after giving up long fly balls. I keep spreadsheets to track player performance in Out of the Park Baseball, which is a simulation game where my power is reduced to putting the right guys in the right situations. I’ve always been a lover of analytics because, long term, it proves rights and wrongs. And while a decision Kapler makes may fail in execution in the short term, the long term ramifications can be very different. The Phillies are looking far beyond one pitching change in one April game. Yes, I want to win every game, but I won’t be deterred if execution fails, because long term, I think the Phillies will have the advantage.

So that’s it. From hereon, I’m a staunch Gabe Kapler follower. I believe in the pitching changes and matchup considerations. I believe in the defensive substitutions and shifts. I believe in the outfield swap and the ever-changing lineup configurations.

I believe in Gabe Kapler. I know there aren’t many with me, but that’s fine.

19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Ken Bland

    April 6, 2018 at 2:29 pm

    I guess my biggest gripe about the whole Kapler ordeal is day after day, he’s made debatable moves, but so many articles and comments are of a pile on nature. Hell, you would think Aaron Nola’s highlight legacy years from now would be his OD start. Perhaps of equal weight, so many are trying to rush his losing the clubhouse (or so it seems), and speculating when that likely leading reason triggers his dismissal. God forbid anyone should let the process play out and wait to hear from the decisionmaker(s) whose opinions are the ones that really matter.

    So while it’s miniscule what we fans think of the guy (no question, collectively, it does carry SOME weight), the bottom line is this guy is odds on likely to keep pulling questionable moves that are rightfully subject to opinion. And an objective mentality as each develops seems the way to go. A predetermined hate of Kapler, while understandable just isn’t productive, nor is a Church of Kapler subscription. Roll with the flow. In my opinion, or, if you will, and expression of what I feel is the right way for me to think in conjunction with Julius Erving’s time honored line about not letting the highs get you too high, or the lows too low.

    Quickly, since I’m responding directly to a Tim Malcolm piece, and he’s the one who said it, a few threads back, it was written by Tim that Kapler guaranteed the playoffs. Pardon my having a strict definition of the word guarantee, but Kapler voiced confidence that the club would make the playoffs, as opposed to guaranteeing it. This was after the Comedy of Kapler started, so it was easy to get lost in the shuffle, and maybe he did say it, I just couldn’t find the word guarantee in any quote or audio I checked.

  2. Rod S.

    April 6, 2018 at 2:45 pm

    That was far from Kaplers’s only mistake. He set a record for using the most relievers in the first two games to start the season and for the first 3 games of the season. His misuse of the bullpen cost them in the third game of the season, which is why he had to use an non pitcher to pitch. Here’s the problem with managing by analytics. Those stats were made based on normal positioning of fielders and normal expectations of batters. Once you shift the fielders, the hitter changes what he is trying to do and that changes the expected results. Pitchers only go 100 pitches because that’s how managers use them. There is no valid reason Nola couldn’t have gone to 100 pitchers. Carlton and Ryan often went over 200 pitches in a game before everyone started freaking out over pitch counts. Here’s a novel idea. How about the manager get his head out of his computer and react to what is actually happening on the field. Your pitcher is dominating and looking strong. Great! Don’t screw it up by playing analytics based on numbers that have nothing to do with what’s happening in front of you.

    • Jeff Orbach

      April 6, 2018 at 4:55 pm

      Rod S. I agree with you. Players are not just numbers to plug in to an algorithim somewhere, they have emotions and feelings. As a manager you can’t just run roughshod over the way people feel and adjust to situations. One other thing players need is to get a rythym going by getting regular playing time. It is very difficult to plug someone in who is cold and expect them to perform. I believe that is what analytics misses.

      Also pitchers are graded by “quality starts” among other stats. Nola by being prematurely yanked missed out on one. Pivetta could have had one if he was left in 1/3 of an inning more.

      We’ll see , but as of now I’m not a believer.

  3. Nathan Fisher

    April 6, 2018 at 3:27 pm

    Tim
    I’m right behind you! Let’s give Kapler at least 2 months to prove his body of work and his theories. The league leaders are are using analytics for a very good reason: the system Works!

  4. Vernon Dozier

    April 6, 2018 at 5:01 pm

    It’s too early for me to join the church. I’ll wait a few months to see how this all plays out. It’s fascinating to watch, and I’ve never seen a manager get so much national attention so early in his tenure. He’s given MLB radio hours of material this week.

    This reminds me a little of Charlie’s first season. Eskin started the narrative that Manuel wasn’t bright enough to pull off a double switch, and it took Charlie a while to shake that label. Winning usually solves everything though.

    #BeBold

  5. Betasigmadeltashag

    April 6, 2018 at 8:43 pm

    I didn’t agree with the hire when it happened. And I do not have a problem with using anylitics, but not a fan of using them only. And when you use match up like it is game 7 every of the 162 it will not work. And you end up with games like game 3 when you needed a full pen that was rested, and he is not going have 3 out of 10 days off during the season. And about rotating line ups when you have s young team just takes ABs away from kids(ok young adults) and get them to work through slumps. I’ll give Kapler some time but winning despite him, in a short term will not save his job. And if you give him too much time he could ruin some of the young players careers

    • czontixhldr

      April 7, 2018 at 12:51 pm

      Ruin careers? Who?

      If it is true that the game of baseball is in large part mental, then it requires mental toughness on the part of players – mental toughness to deal with inevitable slumps, mental toughness to deal with giving up a walk off HR, mental toughness to deal with a bad call by an umpire, mental toughness to face the criticism of fans, mental toughness to play through nagging injuries or fatigue, mental toughness and self-awareness to make adjustments – and a whole host of other things.

      If any player has the required mental toughness to get to – AND SUCCEED – at the highest level, then IMHO it’s pretty damn hard for any manager to ruin the guy’s career.

      More likely, the guy didn’t have what it takes to begin with.

  6. MadferitDog

    April 6, 2018 at 10:17 pm

    I’ve been a Phillies fan my entire life and still marvel that there is such a large contingent of us who jump to talking about “losing the clubhouse” and “saving his job” a week into a manager’s first season with a team that’s in the middle of rebuilding. Some baseball perspective is needed here. This is a long season and a complicated one in a changing and evolving game. Anything successful in baseball, even analytics, takes time and has a much higher failure rate than in any other sport. Relax.

  7. Andy

    April 6, 2018 at 11:41 pm

    It seems to me, at least, that it might be more complete to describe it as the “Church of Klentak & Kapler”. The latter was hired by the former EXACTLY to do things in the ways he’s doing them, and the former is also completely responsible for the roster mess that the latter is forced to negotiate. It’s a perfect storm with the two of them. As others have noted, it’s hard to see the numbers-plugging making up for what might seem to be a dearth of finesse in handling the players as PEOPLE. Can you imagine a Dallas Green or Jack McKeon notifying Nick Williams of his playing time over TEXT? The typically Millenial modus operandi–to deal with potentially difficult interactions over people’s PED rather than in-person–would appear to be espoused by the Church of Klentak & Kapler. Maybe this is OK for an established team. NOT going to work in this case.

  8. Mitchell Nathanson

    April 7, 2018 at 8:41 am

    I’ve often said that relying on GPS is in many ways akin to believing in religion: you have to abandon all doubt and just give in to it, in the hope that it will take you where it says it will. Questioning it does no good and can actually lead you astray (“hey, screw the GPS, that road looks right. I’m going down it despite the computer’s commands”). Same with joining the church of Kapler. Problem is, I don’t think Kapler could lead you to your neighborhood Dairy Queen. But by all means follow him. You’ll no doubt end up on a dead-end road in the middle of nowhere, but you’ll get to experience the glory of absolute devotion along the way. Enjoy the ride. Because the destination’s gonna be a mother.

  9. John kwiatkowski

    April 7, 2018 at 9:26 am

    The problem I see is the idea that analytics are a solution. Not true. analytics are just another tool. Games are won with superior performance. When the basses are loaded it’s not time to work the pitcher and get down in the count, it’s time to rip the ball and put the game away. Analytics ignore the clutch performance. It didn’t matter if Freddy Freeman was facing a lefty specialist, he came up big in the clutch. If Nola is going to be a stud you have to let him come up big with the game on the line. when you bring Williams in 50 feet in right field you insult the hitter. If he’s any kind of ball player he makes you pay. He’s probably still laughing about it. He hit a can of corn fly ball that didn’t make the warning track. You can’t play a crazy shift on a banjo hitter and allow him to go 4 for 4. You have to make him beat you straight up. Start playing hard nosed baseball , this team has the talent to be good if you cut them loose.

  10. czontixhldr

    April 7, 2018 at 11:58 am

    “Gabe Kapler has made one mistake this season, and that’s not ensure that Hoby Milner knew he was supposed to be warming up in the bullpen. That was a real boner.

    Otherwise he has come into every game with a plan backed by information.”

    Tim, while I support the general premise of your POV, I believe you are incorrect. He has made more than one mistake – and one mistake in particular was NOT backed by information.

    He had Neris walk Freeman to face Markakis.

    Now, you can argue sample sizes all you want, but relievers against batters are almost always small sample sizes, and that’s what he had to work with.

    However, the available information at the time indicated that Neris should have faced Freeman. So, if he’s going to ignore the information available in situations like that, and apply the standard inconsistently, then I will continue to take issue with it all season long. What’s the point of compiling the information in the first place if it’s going to be ignored?

    Saying “You don’t let the other teams’s best player beat you” while ignoring the available information, is not making an “informed” decision.

  11. Mike Fassano

    April 7, 2018 at 12:52 pm

    Ah, the benefit of hindsight. If Kapler pulls Nola in game one, and the bullpen does it’s job, no problem. Nola gets the W, and the bullpen doesn’t get overworked. There was the Hoby fiasco. I’m not sure that Gabe didn’t take the bullet for his bullpen or bench coach. In another instance an outfielder was playing out of position. Again, that’s an assistant coaches job. Kapler needs to make sure that he, and his coaches, are on the same page. I’m with Tim on this one guys.

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