Phillies

Phillies avoid status quo with Gabe Kapler hire

Phillies avoid status quo with Gabe Kapler hire

Gabe Kapler’s formal introduction to Philadelphia will come later this week following the conclusion of the World Series.

His informal indoctrination as Phillies manager came Monday afternoon when he stepped off the plane at Philadelphia International Airport and was greeted by the city’s unofficial welcoming committee — "Johnny Airport" himself, John Clark.

Kidding aside, Kapler’s impact on the Phillies is a story on its first page, let alone chapter. With no previous track record as a major-league manager or coach to rely upon, we’re basically all guessing what Kapler brings to the table. 

So what can we reasonably take away from the Kapler hire right now? 

• Status quo simply will not do for the Phillies anymore. There was a time, not that long ago, when the organization likely would have hired Dusty Wathan as the next manager. He’s been a good soldier for the club at the minor-league level, winning games while developing some of the talent that has now arrived at the big-league level (more on him here). I actually think those factors worked against Wathan this time around. Starting with managing partner John Middleton and working down to GM Matt Klentak, the mandate for a fresh approach has been made clear. You could argue that the three most prominent roles in the organization — team president, general manager and manager — are now helmed by three men (Andy MacPhail, Klentak and Gabe Kapler) who had no ties to the organization as early as two and a half years ago.

• The front office wants more say in the day-to-day roster usage and game management. That doesn’t mean that Pete Mackanin did not use analytics in creating lineups or managing the pitching staff. It also should not be interpreted to mean that Kapler is just turning his lineup card over to the club’s recently bolstered analytics department and calling it a day. But I think it’s safe to assume that the days of starting Cameron Perkins as a leadoff hitter six times in a season are gone. It’s just logical to have a manager and front office as united as possible on how the roster is being deployed.

• It’s a low-risk, high-reward hire. Hiring a manager is an uncertain endeavor, a fact more crystallized when the selection has no prior experience at the big-league level. It’s possible that Kapler’s methods, whatever they might be, will not be received by the players. Then again, Kapler may be a revelation, a force of nature the likes of which has never be seen in the Phillies' dugout. Either way, managers are not forever. They are replaced with relative ease. More importantly, Kapler is not going to deliver Sixto Sanchez to the big leagues fully healthy and dominating the competition. And Kapler is not going to help Mickey Moniak take the steps necessary to develop into the player the Phillies dreamt of when taking the high school product first overall. It’s in individuals like that where the Phillies’ future success or failure ultimately lies.

So basically, we’ll have to wait and see with Gabe Kapler. It may work. It may not. The only thing we can truly count on in this world is "Johnny Airport."

Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

For long stretches in each of the last two seasons, Zack Wheeler was every bit as effective as Aaron Nola.

Wheeler had four terrific months in 2018, posting a 2.52 ERA over his final 20 starts beginning on June 1.

In 2019, he found his groove right around midseason, pitching to a 3.04 ERA over his final 16 starts.

When you hear the phrase "untapped potential" in relation to Wheeler, this is what it means. It means that if he can pitch like this a bit more consistently — four good months instead of two — he can be a legitimate ace.

If he can't? Well then, if you trust his stuff and his results the last two years, you're getting no worse than a low-end No. 2 starter. Wheeler has made 60 starts the last two seasons with a 3.65 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, a strikeout per inning and less than a home run per nine.

Those numbers might not jump off the page, but they are impressive when you consider the surge in home runs in 2019 and especially so when considering his workload.

Wheeler is one of only 12 pitchers to reach 375 combined innings the last two seasons. The others are Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, Aaron Nola, Patrick Corbin, Trevor Bauer, Jose Berrios, Miles Mikolas and Mike Leake.

In 2019, Wheeler made 18 quality starts (at least six innings with three earned runs or fewer). Nola also made 18. Zach Eflin had 14, Jake Arrieta had 10 and no other Phillie was in double-digits.

When Nola did not start a game for the Phillies in 2019, they received a quality start 31 percent of the time — less than once every three games.

Wheeler obviously helps with that. Think back to late last season when the Phillies could generate no momentum and had such a smaller chance to win when anyone was on the mound other than their ace. Wheeler changes that. He offers more of a chance for series wins, sweeps, actual winning streaks.

He also brings velocity, something the Phillies' rotation has sorely lacked for years. Wheeler's four-seam fastball averaged a career-best 96.7 mph last season, fourth-fastest in the majors behind Noah Syndergaard, Cole and deGrom.

The Phillies have never had a starting pitcher throw at least 100 innings in a season and average better than 95 mph with his fastball. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez came the closest. Wheeler has done it comfortably in back-to-back seasons.

Velocity is not the only thing, especially these days when so many have it, but it is obviously still a major part of missing bats and getting outs. Because Wheeler has 3 or 4 mph more on his fastball than Nola, and because he can locate significantly better than Pivetta or Velasquez, he offers the Phillies' rotation a different, much-needed look.

This is not to say Wheeler comes without flaws or concerns. He hasn't yet ripped off a string of strong seasons. Two is a start and the Phillies are banking on it continuing.

He hasn't been a Top 10 Cy Young finisher, though he should have been in '18.

He's never reached 200 innings in a season, though some of that was because of caution the Mets exercised with him.

And Wheeler, despite the velo, has gone through plenty of multi-start stretches where he's been hit hard and doesn't miss many bats, in a way you don't see with the tippy-top guys like Scherzer and deGrom (which Wheeler is not).

He had three starts in a row like that last August and two straight in June.

But Wheeler is as capable of 7 innings, 1 run, 11 strikeouts as any pitcher in either league. When he's on, he can be so, so good. He went at least seven innings 15 times last season and allowed one or no runs in seven of them.

This one addition will not boost the Phillies to 90 wins, but it's the first giant step to another critical offseason.



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At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news

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NBCSP

At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news

Ricky Bottalico and Corey Seidman react to the big news of the Phillies agreeing to a five-year deal with Zack Wheeler on the latest At The Yard podcast.

They also discuss the possibility of the Phillies signing Didi Gregorius, Cole Hamels heading to the Braves, and much more.

• Initial impressions of the signing
• What the guys like most about Wheeler
• Was this the right price?
• Bittersweet day with Hamels to Braves
• Phillies still need to add another good SP
• One Wheeler concern
• The market for Anthony Rendon



Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Phillies