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:
- Gabe Kapler is unafraid to employ several relievers in a game, even a close one, even when a starter pitches well.
- Kapler is likely to make non-traditional substitution decisions, like swapping out his best offensive player for defense before the ninth inning.
- 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.
- 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.