Opinion

Why not take stock of this team after just 3 games?



The Phillies are scheduled to start a three-game series tonight at Citi Field. Currently, 15 miles north of Citi Field, it’s snowing. We’ll see what happens there.

Meanwhile we’re a day removed from that ultra-weird series against the Braves that still ended with the Phillies getting a win. With some distance, even though it’s early, there are some takeaways:

  1. Gabe Kapler is unafraid to employ several relievers in a game, even a close one, even when a starter pitches well.
  2. Kapler is likely to make non-traditional substitution decisions, like swapping out his best offensive player for defense before the ninth inning.
  3. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez still look like Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez, which forced Kapler to use his bullpen earlier than he probably would’ve liked.
  4. Kapler and his staff need to tighten up communication with the bullpen, especially if that group is going to work in a way no bullpen has worked before.

Three games and we have these takeaways, which are substantial. So naturally we have a response from both fans and media – some people want to fire Kapler, while some are leaping at the opportunity to be critical.

So far, I think Kapler made one unequivocally bad decision: pulling Aaron Nola after 68 pitches on opening day. That move was unnecessary and triggered a domino effect that lasted through the series. If Kapler keeps Nola in for the entire sixth, maybe even the seventh, he might have had easier decisions to make later.

The other decisions (pulling Hoskins, when to use certain relievers) are debateable. (The Hoby Milner debacle is more a full-on blunder than a decision, and obviously the Phils will have to fix that or MLB will come down hard.) Hoskins has already shown he still needs a lot of work in left field, while I don’t think this bullpen is necessarily great, especially without the two guys Matt Klentak added in the offseason.

The point is: Three games is not enough time to make any sweeping judgments. In fact, it’s going to take more time to see how Kapler’s strategy works.

Another reason we need patience: We actually don’t know everything about his strategy. It’s easy to scream “analytics!” or point fingers and say that nerds have no business in baseball or whatever, but Kapler hasn’t once said he’s only looking at data and nothing will sway him otherwise. It’s possible Kapler didn’t want to stretch Nola out too much on opening day. Hell, pulling Hoskins from a game isn’t solely an analytics decision because there’s not enough data on him in left field. At some point Kapler had to look at the situation and say, “You know, from what I’ve seen, Hoskins isn’t good out there.” You can actually say Kapler went against data there, because the value of one Hoskins plate appearance is likely higher than the value of Nick Williams in that position for nine outs.

Anyway, Kapler isn’t a robot. He’s not going completely by the book. If he was we’d see even crazier things, like poor Milner playing left field so that Kapler can sub him back on the mound against lefties spread out in a lineup. Again, we don’t know everything about his strategy.

So we have to let this ride. Be patient. Yes, we want this team to win. Yes, we’re tired of being laughed at and derided. But this team wasn’t expected to contend for a world championship. They may – and could still! – be a wild-card contender, but while Kapler is doing all these non-traditional things, the Phils are still 1-2 and it’s primarily because Velasquez is still Velasquez and the bullpen isn’t necessarily great. That was going to be true regardless of the manager.

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Vernon Dozier

    April 2, 2018 at 12:26 pm

    The Phillies’ bullpen may not be “great”, but there’s certainly reason to believe that it will be pretty good again. They ranked as the sixth best in the NL last season and they should be at a similar level this year. They played the Atlanta series without Hunter, Neshak, and Leiter, which definitely was a factor.

    https://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=rel&lg=nl&qual=0&type=8&season=2017&month=0&season1=2017&ind=0&team=0,ts&rost=0&age=0&filter=&players=0

    I’ve lost all hope that Velasquez will ever be a dependable starter, which is why I wasn’t a big fan of the Santana deal. I still think that money would have been better served if it was allocated to starting pitching (Cobb, Lynn?).

    #BeBold

  2. Hornet

    April 2, 2018 at 12:34 pm

    It’s not “just 3 games”. Spring training started a month and a half ago, there has been plenty of time to assess, evaluate, and adjust. Other teams don’t seem to have a problem with this, yet the Phillies continue with the philosophy of “give it time”. There’s been enough time. You’re out of time. The team should be expected to win starting Day One and nothing less should be tolerable. Kapler’s already talking playoffs when he should concentrate on winning 2 games in a row first. Enough with Pivetta and Velasquez, Edith send them to the pen or send them packing. Use Franco for trade bait and tell Hoskins he needs to prove he belongs at this level.

  3. Jeff Orbach

    April 2, 2018 at 4:47 pm

    Kapler will be fired if and when he loses the clubhouse. If he keeps looking incompetant that may come sooner rather than later. I thinnk if he ar and is still not doing a great job, the Phils will pursue Buck Showalter, who will be a free agent next year.

  4. Jeff Orbach

    April 2, 2018 at 4:49 pm

    … if he lasts the year…

  5. Keg

    April 2, 2018 at 5:37 pm

    Why we didn’t get Girardi is beyond me. He’s a proven winner in a tough market. I understand, to an extent, that Klentak wanted his own guy… but come on.

    • denzen

      April 2, 2018 at 6:24 pm

      Really.! Maybe he just did not want to upstaged. weak…

    • Ken Bland

      April 2, 2018 at 8:00 pm

      Regarding Girardi per se, it was my feeling at the time they should at least reached out to him and initiated talks. Had they actually done that, you’d think it would have been reported the way these media folk are stepping on each other for stories. I’d guess they were pretty stoked about Kapler already, it just wasn’t finalized.

      But speaking of JG, do you know who his bench coach was for a long time? Phillie bench coach Rob Thompson. The way I figure it, and I guess it may vary in each organization, but the bench coach is a sounding board for all facets of the game. I wonder what a long term baseball guy like Thompson is sounding with all these decisions.

      • Jeff Orbach

        April 3, 2018 at 2:40 pm

        Probably Thompson is sounding like this “#%&&**)!!!%^^^)”

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