The second season for Philadelphia Phillies manager Gabe Kapler is winding down. Though the Phillies are still very much in the National League Wild Card race, it appears they are more likely to miss the playoffs for the eighth consecutive season. Still, the internal opinion on Kapler – who is rather embattled among fans and media – remains high.
General manager Matt Klentak led the search for Kapler after the Phillies fired Pete Mackanin at the conclusion of the 2017 season. Klentak doesn’t appear to have any buyer’s remorse.
“I love Kap, and I have said that every time that I’ve been asked – which is a lot over the last couple of years,” Klentak said on MLB Network Radio Saturday. “And I don’t dispute your synopsis there that he is creative, he’s outside the box and he does things differently than some, I think that’s generally true…but I think that was more true at the beginning of 2018. And as he’s become more and more experienced as a manager, as a leader, he’s become more experienced with the Philadelphia market, I think it is remarkable how much he has adjusted. And to me, that is as impressive as anything that Kap has done is his ability to read what’s going on, learn from his mistakes or the mistakes of others around him and incorporate that into the way he manages a game and manages a team.”
Bob Nightengale of USA Today wrote in early August that “the prevailing belief among Phillies executives is that Kapler’s job is safe.” Klentak and president Andy MacPhail are the chief executives of the front office, and Klentak seems to still be very keen on Kapler.
With that said, the managing partner of the organization – and ultimately the boss of Klentak and MacPhail – is John Middleton. Matt Gelb of The Athletic said that Middleton ultimately led the decision to fire hitting coach John Mallee on Aug. 13 and name Charlie Manuel – the winningest manager in franchise history – Kapler’s new hitting coach. That suggests that Middleton wasn’t content with the offense’s production prior to inserting Manuel. In the 17 games since Manuel returned to the dugout, the Phillies have averaged over six runs a game. It’s unclear if that bodes well for the future of Kapler, whose contract runs through the 2020 season.
One point of contention between Kapler and some in the fanbase has been his usage of Scott Kingery in his first two seasons. Though the Phillies hoped to use Kingery – a natural second baseman – as a super-utility piece in 2018, he ultimately received 374 of his 452 at-bats at shortstop. Though Kingery grew defensively at shortstop in 2018, he struggled mightily offensively, posting a -19.3 offensive WAR, one of the 10 worst marks among all qualified hitters.
This past offseason, the Phillies acquired shortstop Jean Segura from the Seattle Mariners and elected to hold onto incumbent starting second baseman Cesar Hernandez, pushing Kingery into the super-utility role they envisioned him in during his rookie season. In 2019, Kingery has played over 400 innings in the outfield along with 236.1 innings at third base. With some tweaks to his offensive approach, he’s found a ton of success in his second season, slashing .276/.335/.501 with 16 home runs, 49 RBIs and a 2.5 fWAR. He says that Kapler’s communication style is a big reason he’s been able to put an ugly rookie season behind him while largely playing away from second base.
“It’s awesome [to play for Gabe Kapler],” Kingery said to Joe DeCamara and John Barchard on SportsRadio 94 WIP. “He’s a great guy…very, very positive. As a player, he communicates very well and that’s something that you want, especially for a guy like me whose going to be playing multiple positions – maybe a different position every night. He’s very good at communicating and giving me a little bit of a heads up and letting me know the night before whether I’m going to be playing third base, center field, second base…wherever it might be.”
The Phillies will enter Tuesday evening’s matchup with a 71-65 record, which puts them on pace for their first winning season since 2011. With that said, the Phillies are two-and-a-half games back of the Chicago Cubs for the second National League Wild Card spot. It’s tough to tell – even with some vocal supporters in the organization – what missing the postseason would mean for Kapler’s future as Phillies skipper.
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