MacPhail on Mackanin, new manager, pitch-framing, analytics, CBP renovations

MacPhail on Mackanin, new manager, pitch-framing, analytics, CBP renovations

Andy MacPhail sat in the Phillies' media room Tuesday and answered an assortment of questions pertaining to the dismissal of Pete Mackanin, the state of the rebuild, offseason plans and more.

Here are some of the more interesting tidbits from the 45-minute session:

2016 vs. 2017
"I think we did a reversal of what we did last year. We started out good (in 2016), we were playing .500 or better really up until June, got everybody excited early, and then we faltered at the end. This year we stunk in the beginning, we were decent in April and then we were bad for a long time, and then in the last 70 games, we were 35-35, playing .500. 

"Last year in the last 70 games we were 28-42, 14 games under .500. So there's an entirely different feel to the team. Our run differential last year was the worst in baseball at 186 runs. We've cut that in half to 92 and over the second half our run differential was zero, we were essentially a .500 club.

"We were the second youngest team in baseball. Effective [Aug. 31] when the rosters were still at 25, our average age of the roster was 27.03. Only the Padres were younger."

Phillies want to focus even more on analytics
"Our major-league analytics group is going to continue to grow. We've gone from one (person) to 14. I've been a career baseball guy, it's all I've known all my life. It is amazing to me what information can be generated now with the push of a button that I used to slave over for hours. It's incredible. They do the coding in that room and come up with stuff — some of which is proprietary and some of it is not — that to me is pretty remarkable. As we go along, we start to figure out things that say 'Gee, wouldn't it be nice to have that?' 

"All of it emanates from one thing, it emanates from ownership. They have come to us with one thing: seek competitive advantages. If you are not dedicating resources towards payroll, then put it towards finding every competitive advantage you can find and exercising your strength in a different way."

Front office unhappy with Phils catchers' pitch-framing
Specifically, MacPhail mentioned that the Phillies want to use analytics more to help correct an organization-wide problem with catcher framing.

"We don't think as an organization that our catchers' framing is very good. We think we are well-below-average. There are certain technologies that will help you instruct, teach, measure how well someone does that. We need to acquire those technologies to ensure that's an area that gets improved. We think that's an area that needs improvement, significantly. It's a hard thing. You want to take as much subjectivity out of it as you can. The player will likely learn better if he can see tangible results of things he does. Maybe this pitch you took out of the strike zone, maybe you stole one here. It's an ever-evolving thing. 

"There were stories written about (Jonathan) Lucroy, who went from being one of the very best framers one year to one of the very worst the next year. Well, that makes me suspicious. How does a guy go from one of the best to one of the worst overnight? It's something that we continually have to evaluate, keep our eyes on. But it's definitely an area of interest for the organization."

MacPhail told Klentak the Mackanin dismissal would confuse people
"Obviously, I talked to Matt when he came to me and talked about where he was. I probably spent more time with Matt talking to him about sort of the ramifications of his decision as anything. I told him that this is going to confuse people. You just extended the guy when we stunk four months ago and now we're getting better and you make a change. You're going to have to explain that. I also told him the media is going to be surprised by some of this. And my experience would tell me that media does not like to be surprised. They get pretty angry when they get surprised. Just make sure you're ready for that. 

"We also talked about — and you guys have already written it — that the GM only gets so many managers. If you make this move, you're going to increase the scrutiny on yourself. Are you prepared for that? He understood. He's unafraid. He feels like it was the appropriate time. 

"That was not an easy thing for Matt to do. He knew it was the young guy reassigning the old guy ... he understood that had he felt that way and not taken action, he essentially would not have been doing what his job requires him to do."

Remember when Chase Utley yelled at Bob McClure in Baltimore?
"Speaking for myself personally, just my own view, I always expected when we extended Pete that we were eventually going to pass the baton to another manager. Pete took over when the manager before (Ryne Sandberg) quit. The team hadn't really fully committed to a rebuild. They were half-committed. They hadn't gone all the way yet. Pete was in a tough spot. You think about it, and you'd just come off that awful game in Baltimore. You had Utley yelling at McClure and (Jeff) Francoeur pitching. It was pretty bad. Pete has taken us from that point to this point. He's taken us from A to B. If Matt thinks that, OK, I'm at this point, now to get to here, I need a different voice, that's up to Matt and I support his decision. He understands the consequences.

The timetable for naming a new manager
"I think ideally before you get to the GM meetings (early November) you'd like to have your manager in place. To help you kick off the sort of the official acquisition season. You want his input and you want him to be part of that."

Renovations coming to Citizens Bank Park
"We are the oldest park in the National League East, which is a bit of a surprise. So we plan on redoing the field next year. We're going to put in a new PA system. We're going to add new lighting. And then we're going to explore and add different security enhancements, which unfortunately at this day in age are required of us. ...
"Upgrades to the fan experience at Citizens Bank Park are essential. We think we have some very exciting things on the horizon. I can't be as detailed as I'd like to be because we haven't secured the necessary government approvals in some cases to do all the things we want. But while our payroll is not at an accustomed level that we've had in the past, then this is the time to make investments in the ballpark and in the fan experience and we hope to be, we're certainly going to do some of that for '18 and some of it in '19."

Phillies set to unveil new ace Jake Arrieta in spring training

Phillies set to unveil new ace Jake Arrieta in spring training

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Thursday starts the one-week countdown to opening day.

Oh, yeah, and Jake Arrieta will also make his Grapefruit League debut.

It figures to be the highlight of the spring.

Arrieta signed a three-year, $75 million contract with the Phillies last week. He has completed a progression from bullpen work — he actually had gotten well into that on his own before signing — to facing hitters in a controlled situation.

Now, it’s time to face some competition — the Detroit Tigers. The game will be televised on NBCSP+ at 1 p.m.

The Phillies have yet to decide when Arrieta will make his regular-season debut. The pitcher believes he will be ready during the first week of the season. The team will exercise caution. Arrieta’s performance Thursday — and possibly more important, his recovery — will go a long way into determining when the Phils turn him loose.

“I’m looking for him to be healthy, first and foremost,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “I would love to see him come out just like he has in his live batting practice sessions and in his bullpens, which is strong, ball looking like a lead fastball, featuring that great cutter and a lot of that great deception.

"We’re looking for him to be Jake Arrieta. Most importantly, most critically and most consequentially, I’m looking for him to be healthy and strong.”

Kapler said the Phils would be flexible on Arrieta’s pitch count. Fifty or so seems like a good guess.

Arrieta has been around for a week now. His teammates are thrilled to have him.

“Obviously, with the Arrieta signing, we got a lot better not only on the field but in the clubhouse,” Rhys Hoskins said (more on him here). “What he’s going to be able to do not only for the pitchers but for some of us young position guys — I mean he’s recently won a World Series, he’s a Cy Young guy, he knows how to compete at the highest level. We have a good group. It’s meshing pretty quickly. I’m excited to see how it goes once we start.”

Rhys Hoskins doing damage as opening day comes into sight

USA Today Images

Rhys Hoskins doing damage as opening day comes into sight


DUNEDIN, Fla. — The season opener is eight days away and Rhys Hoskins says his swing “is getting there.” 

Getting there? Really?

It looks like it already arrived with the morning mail.

Hoskins continued his recent run of excellent at-bats in Wednesday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays. He belted a two-run homer, a solo homer and also worked a walk. Over his last five games, he is 6 for 16 with five walks. For the spring, he is hitting .279 (12 for 43) with four doubles, four homers, eight RBIs, 11 runs scored and an OPS of 1.066.

“What does he have, 10 strikeouts and 10 walks on the spring?” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler asked.

Indeed, those are the numbers.

“That is fantastic,” Kapler said. “Obviously, he’s swinging the bat beautifully and really controlling the at-bats.”

It all starts with pitch recognition.

“I’ve been pretty happy with that throughout camp,” Hoskins said. “I don’t feel like I’ve chased too many, which is always good. I’ve seen a bunch of breaking balls and been able to recognize them early.”

The outstanding selectivity that Hoskins has allows him to work pitchers into fastball counts. He did that in the first inning when he got a 3-1 fastball from Marcus Stroman and drove it over the left-field wall. The ball left the bat at 108 miles per hour.

Obviously, Hoskins was pleased that the ball left the yard. He was more pleased with the swing. He believes pitchers will try to bust him in this season and he’s ready for it.

“I was really, really happy with the first at-bat,” he said. “I had been struggling with the ball in. I was able to keep my hands inside of it and the ball went.”

His second homer came on a 1-1 fastball from Luis Santos. The wind was blowing out at Dunedin Stadium. Hoskins saw a pitch up and took a rip.

“On a day like today, if you see the ball up you’re going to have a pretty good chance,” he said.

Hoskins batted second in the lineup, ahead of Maikel Franco and Carlos Santana. Kapler has juggled lineups all spring and has strongly implied that he will do that, based on matchups, during the regular season.

“I don’t care where I hit,” Hoskins said. “With the guys we have and the way they’re going to construct the lineup, if I hit second, fourth, sixth, I think I’m going to be able to hit with men on base.

“Throughout my career I’ve been a run producer, so that’s the main thing for me. If I can create some runs, whether it’s scoring runs or driving in runs, I’ll be happy.”

The Phils and Jays played to a 7-7 tie. The Phillies’ bullpen gave up five runs in the last two innings to let a 7-2 lead get away. The Phils used 10 pitchers, including two day-trippers from minor-league camp. Starter Nick Pivetta pitched two perfect innings. The team purposely scaled him back to keep him in line with a 25-inning spring target. Scott Kingery and Aaron Altherr also hit home runs.