Coming into the 2018 season, Philadelphia Phillies manager Gabe Kapler was a polarizing character. As the dog days come to an end, that hasn’t changed at all.
In Kapler’s first season at the helm, the team has battled through trials and tribulations, with each series seeming to serve as a referendum on his managerial style. While some question his bullpen usage and lineup changes, one Phillies hitter views Kapler in a positive light.
In an article by MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki, Rhys Hoskins admitted that playing for Kapler is “different,” but also praised the interpersonal skills of the rookie manager:
“One thing that stands out to Gabe is the way that he listens. If you think something the opposite of what he thinks, he’s very willing to listen to what your opinion is and very open to changing his mind about it. Some of the things that Gabe does and the way he thinks are unique, but I can guarantee you that everything that is talked about in those rooms is thoroughly talked about from every single viewpoint.”
“It’s huge for players. He’s not going to tell you, ‘No, this is the way it’s going and that’s it, sorry.'”
Hoskins isn’t the first player to publicly support Kapler. In a piece by Bob Nightengale of USA Today examining the first month of Kapler’s managerial tenure, Carlos Santana praised Kapler, saying “he’s a guy you want to play for. He’s a guy you want to win for.”
What Hoskins said about Kapler being open to opinions also seems to be truthful. Earlier in the season, Nightengale reported how reliever Pat Neshek and Kapler had a heart-to-heart talk after a 1-4 start to the year. According to NBC Sports Philadelphia‘s Jim Salisbury, Kapler recently conducted an anonymous survey with the coaches and support staff. Salisbury also mentioned that Kapler plans to meet with coaches and the front office on becoming a better leader and manager in the future.
However, not everything said about Kapler is complementary. Jon Heyman of Fancred Sports reported earlier this week that there’s “some disenchantment” among veterans over how Kapler has managed. Others, like Howard Eskin of SportsRadio 94 WIP, say that Kapler could serve as a detriment to the Phillies free-agent plans and that stars such as Bryce Harper and Manny Machado may choose not to sign with Philadelphia because of his unorthodox style of managing. And, of course, the team’s performance is also a knack on Kapler. The Phillies crumbled down the stretch, going 13-14 in August and 6-20 in September. They enter the final weekend of the season with a .385 winning percentage since the All-Star Break.
Even more puzzling is trying to determine how much of the negativity Kapler truly deserves. While the team was in first place in the National League East for almost a month, they likely weren’t ever that good of a team. Just by looking at the standings in Major League Baseball, it’s clear the National League East is quite weaker than many of the other divisions in baseball. Only the American League Central has less teams over .500 than the National League East does. Baseball Reference’s Pythagorean win-loss formula gives the Phillies a record of 74-85, right around where they are now. Likewise, FiveThirtyEight predicted them going 79-83 back in March. Based on those mathematical views of the team, Kapler’s squad has played up to their potential. At the same time, the Phillies were in a position to strike, and failed spectacularly. Even for a young team, the Phillies couldn’t capitalize against teams below .500 during that tumble down the standings.
While it is clear that Kapler is dedicated to winning over his pride and wants to become a great leader for the ballclub, the way the season has concluded cannot be ignored, nor is it sustainable. Four pitchers in one inning is not a winning strategy. A 6-20 September obviously isn’t either. Expectations will be higher next season, and repeats of moments from this season will be even more scrutinized. Improvement will be demanded from the fans and front office. Otherwise, Kapler’s willingness to listen may only get him so far.
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