Phillies bolster dugout IQ as analyst dons red pinstripes

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Phillies bolster dugout IQ as analyst dons red pinstripes

CLEARWATER, Fla. — It’s spring training and first-year Phillies manager Gabe Kapler will do anything (see story).

He will shift outfielders from left field to right field on the fly.

He will bat his best power hitter leadoff.

He will ask an analyst from the team’s research and development department to put on a uniform, hang out with Charlie Manuel during batting practice, take in a few innings from the dugout and a few more from the bullpen.

That’s what happened on Tuesday. Alex Nakahara, a senior quantitative analyst from the team’s R & D department, took the field in uniform as batting practice was about to begin and did not leave until the bullpen emptied after the last out in an 11-6 loss to the Tigers (more on the game here).

What in the name of Dr. Sheldon Cooper is this all about?

“First and foremost, it's being inclusive,” Kapler said. “It's something we've talked about a lot — bringing the front office and the field staff together. Bringing our R & D department, our analytics department, together so that they can experience what we're going through. They can understand how we're making decisions, listen to conversations on the bench, maybe get more inspired by those conversations.”

Nakahara is a Penn grad who spent five years as a systems engineer with Northrup Grumman before joining the Phillies' rapidly expanding analytics department.

“Alex just blends in anywhere,” Kapler said. “He represented himself really well. I think he learned a lot from listening to [the coaches] talk about the game situations. Understanding what goes into our decision-making process, what factors we layer on top of the analytics to make good decisions is really important, right? It’s very similar to how cool it would be if we went up to their [analytics] office and listened to them talk through how they come up with information.”

Kapler hoped having Nakahara in the dugout sent a message to the players.

“Alex is our teammate,” he said. “Our R & D department are our teammates. Every person in the organization is a shareholder in our organization. We want to treat them like they’re part of our group, not they’re up there and we’re down here, which historically has been sort of the divide in baseball.”

Kapler was impressed with how Nakahara looked in a uniform.

“There are a lot of people in this building who are huge fans of Alex," he said. "He may not be the only person that comes in the dugout during this time period. This is an inclusive environment. We want people to be familiar with one another. We want departments to be familiar with one another.”

Former Phillies pitching coach Rick Kranitz leaves on the high road

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Former Phillies pitching coach Rick Kranitz leaves on the high road

When the news broke that he had been let go as Phillies pitching coach earlier this week, Rick Kranitz's cell phone started dinging.

And dinging.

And dinging.

From all over the country and Latin America, stunned Phillies pitchers sent well wishes.

"I heard from all of them," Kranitz said Friday from his home in Arizona. "It meant a lot. It was nice to know they were thinking of me.

"That's the thing I'm going to miss the most, the relationships I've built with these guys. The players are the ones who do it but I was always happy to be able to guide them through the good times, the tough times, the emotional times. I've been in the game for 40 years and the relationships have always been what means the most to me."

Kranitz, 60, was pushed aside in favor of Chris Young. Kranitz had been with the Phillies for three seasons, first as bullpen coach, then as assistant pitching coach and finally as head pitching coach in 2018. Teams don't typically let coaches go in mid-November, particularly after saying seven weeks earlier that the entire coaching staff would be returning. In this case, Young, 37, had received interest from other clubs and rather than risk losing him the Phillies promoted him from assistant pitching coach to head pitching coach. Kranitz was told that he was free to seek employment with other organizations, though the Phillies will still pay him through 2019.

The whole thing seems cold, but Kranitz is taking the high road. He's a big boy. He's been around — he'd previously been pitching coach in Miami, Baltimore and Milwaukee — and understands the business of baseball and these days the business of baseball is more new school than old school. That doesn't mean it's better. It's just the way it is for now.

"I was surprised and very disappointed when I first got the news," Kranitz said. "I'd built a lot of good relationships with this group. I believe in every one of these guys and I believe the future is bright for the Phillies. I wanted to see it through."

The news that Kranitz had been let go broke on Wednesday. That night, Aaron Nola finished third in the NL Cy Young voting. For three years, Kranitz had been influential in Nola's development.

"I was so proud of that young man," Kranitz said. "He deserves everything he gets. He's a class individual and the Phillies are lucky to have such a special young pitcher — not just a pitcher but a person. I could not have been prouder. I'm thankful to have gotten the chance to watch him, grateful to be able to see special times."

Kranitz began his pro career as a pitcher in the Brewers' system in 1979. He would like to continue to work and surely some team will benefit from his wisdom. But in the meantime, he intends to spend his unexpected free time focusing on the people who have always been there for him, his wife Kelly and their four children.

"We have four grandkids and one on the way in March," Kranitz said. "So I'll be around for the birth and that makes me happy. 

"This game has been great to me. The Phillies were great to me. It didn't end great but my experience with the city and the people in that organization was great. Now it's time to shift my focus to my family and give back to them."

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What would spending 'stupid' money look like for Phillies this offseason?

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What would spending 'stupid' money look like for Phillies this offseason?

Phillies owner John Middleton recently reiterated what he's been saying for years: The Phillies will spend aggressively this offseason.

This time, he was a bit more colorful about it.

"We're going into this expecting to spend money," Middleton told USA Today at the owners meetings this week. "And maybe even be a little bit stupid about it.

"We just prefer not to be completely stupid."


You know the usual suspects: Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. But the Phillies' needs go beyond offense and there is a top-tier left-hander on the market who could boost this rotation (see story).

Harper turned down a $300 million offer from the Nationals, so it's safe to assume he's expecting a deal closer to the $350-400 million range, one with an annual value in the neighborhood of $40 million.

It's hard to gauge where Machado's price tag will be and whether his October comments affected his market. Will he get slightly less than Harper because of it? Will he get more than Harper because of the position(s) he plays?

Including guaranteed contracts, projected arbitration figures and the raises due to pre-arbitration players, the Phillies' 2019 payroll is in the vicinity of $110 million right now. But that figure is cut in half in 2020 and next-to-nothing in 2021, when the only two guaranteed deals on the Phillies' books belong to Odubel Herrera and Scott Kingery.

Aaron Nola will have to be paid sometime before 2022, and Rhys Hoskins before 2024, but the Phils still have so much wiggle room. 

Team president Andy MacPhail has been sure to remind Middleton and others that there is baseball to be played beyond 2019. But it's not often a free-agent class has headliners like this. 

The Phils could feasibly afford both Harper and Machado, but things would get extremely tricky down the road when Harper, Machado, Nola and Hoskins are combining to make about $120 million per year between the four of them. Those are the kinds of long-term issues this front office has to consider and will consider.

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