PHILS INSIDER

From 'rotten egg' Phillies departure to the NLCS, hats off to Rick Kranitz

PHILS INSIDER

It's understandable, Phillies fans, if you're having trouble mustering any love for the Atlanta Braves as they march through the postseason.

But don't you at least have to feel good for their pitching coach?

The Braves are headed to their first National League Championship Series since 2001.

They've gotten there on the strength of one of the game's most powerful offenses and an overall October pitching performance that has been one for the ages.

The Braves are 5-0 in the postseason, having swept the Cincinnati Reds in the wild-card round and the Miami Marlins in the Division Series. Four of the Braves' five wins have come by shutout. Their pitching staff has allowed just five runs in 49 innings.

Atlanta's arsenal of arms deserves a lot of credit for where the Braves are.

But, so too, does the man leading that staff, pitching coach Rick Kranitz.

If the name sounds familiar, it's because Kranitz spent three years with the Phillies as bullpen coach, assistant pitching coach and finally pitching coach from 2016 to 2018. 

Kranitz was let go with a year remaining on his contract after the 2018 season. Hey, it's baseball. It's a tough business. Guys are let go all the time.

But Kranitz' dismissal stunk worse than a month-old egg salad sandwich because it did not come right after the season when staffs all around the game are in transition. It came seven weeks after the season had ended, leaving him little time to find a landing spot.

Kranitz was lucky that the Braves were looking for a pitching coach at that time. The Braves, as it turned out, were also lucky that Kranitz was available. He interviewed quickly and was hired.

 

The Braves have won two straight NL East titles with Kranitz as pitching coach. In that time, the Phillies' postseason drought has swelled to nine seasons and the pitching coach that replaced Kranitz is long gone as is much of the regime that did not value his experience and pushed him aside.

Kranitz did not have an easy job in 2020. The Braves' projected starting staff was hit hard by injuries and ineffectiveness. All-Star Mike Soroka went down with a ruptured Achilles. Cole Hamels, signed to stabilize the rotation, was limited to just one start by a shoulder injury. Felix Hernandez opted out. Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb struggled.

But young talents such as Max Fried, Ian Anderson and Kyle Wright all stepped up, particularly this month in the postseason. 

Braves manager Brian Snitker has praised Kranitz' work throughout the postseason.

"He's done a tremendous job," Snitker said. "The positivity, how he approaches things, the feel that he has with the guys, the relationships.

"He's a very hands-on guy, every day getting the pulse of everybody. He's a very positive man. That speaks volumes. That goes a long way with young pitchers and veteran guys. The good thing about Kranny is he's a crossover. He can handle the veterans and he's really, really good with the young guys also."

Fried is 24-6 with a 3.57 ERA in two seasons under Kranitz.

"Kranny has been huge for us," Fried said. "Since I first met him at the beginning of last year, he's instilled this confidence in me. He believes in every single one of his guys here. When you have someone who believes in you as much as he does, it just allows you to go out there and let your talents take over and get out of your own way. Being as prepared as he is and being able to pass along that knowledge, not overcomplicating things, keeping things as simple as possible, you know he's always going to be there in your corner."

Two things in that comment by Fried stand out:

Get out of your own way.

Don't overcomplicate things.

In this era of big data, big information and big fastballs, it's important to remember that pitching is still largely about locating the ball and changing speeds to upset a hitter's timing. All the new-school stuff is cool and it has its place. But the old-school stuff, with all its simplicity, still works, too.

Kranitz will be the first to tell you that being a successful pitching coach starts with having talented pitchers. Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos has built an excellent bullpen through a series of acquisitions and the emergence of homegrown arms like A.J. Minter. The Braves landed Wright and Anderson in the first round of the draft – Anderson went two picks after the Phillies selected Mickey Moniak No. 1 overall 2016 -- and brought Fried through their system after acquiring the former first-rounder in a trade with San Diego.

 

But Kranitz has clearly built a bond with these pitchers, earned their trust and guided them well.

And now, two years after he was dumped in a poorly handled transaction in Philadelphia, he's taking those pitchers to the NLCS.

Something to feel good about even if you can't muster any love for the Braves.