Phillies

Gabe Kapler recalls the challenge of his final days in Philadelphia

Gabe Kapler recalls the challenge of his final days in Philadelphia

SAN DIEGO — The beginning wasn’t easy for Gabe Kapler in Philadelphia and neither was the end. He was booed before managing his first game in Citizens Bank Park in 2018. Eighteen months later, he twisted in the wind for 10 days as Phillies ownership pondered whether to bring him back for the 2020 season or let him go.

Eventually, Kapler was fired but he wasn’t out of work long as the San Francisco Giants hired him to manage their club in November.

At the winter meetings Tuesday, Kapler recalled waiting for John Middleton’s verdict over those uncomfortable final 10 days in Philadelphia.

“Those ten days were challenging because I definitely wanted the opportunity to continue to manage the Phillies,” Kapler said. “I wanted to see the work that we put in, and I wanted to see it through the finish line. In my mind, that finish line was still in the future and in the distance, and I think there's going to be a lot of great things accomplished in Philadelphia next year.

“But it was difficult, and sometimes there's a real silver lining to those situations. I think the Philadelphia Phillies got a great manager in Joe Girardi in place, and I think I have an opportunity to manage a club that I'm incredibly excited about, and the people that I'm working with, I'm really excited about as well. So I think, interestingly, even though it was challenging, those 10 days, it worked out pretty well for the Phillies, and I think it worked out really well for the Giants as well.”

Kapler was asked what he said to Middleton upon learning that he would not return to manage the Phillies.

“The last words were 'thank you for the opportunity,' ” he said.

Kapler was asked how he might have been able to save his job in Philadelphia.

“Probably win more baseball games,” he said.

Kapler’s record in Philadelphia was 161-163. He learned a lot in those two seasons.

“I think the thing that stands out to me is I'm excited about getting every possible strategic advantage as a manager and as part of a coaching staff,” Kapler said. “I think that one of the things that I learned is that sometimes those small strategic advantages come at the expense of some confidence from a player.

“So I think I did a better job in 2019 than I did in 2018 of blending those two things, blending the small strategic advantages with the confidence level of the players, and I think I'm going to do a better job having learned some of those lessons in '18, in 2020, without overcorrecting. I think that's an important part as well. Bringing it back to the middle is important, too, after an overcorrection is made.

“So, specifically, it's just striking the right balance between getting small strategic advantages and confidence levels of players.”

Kapler will be back in Philadelphia with the Giants August 7-10 — unless he sneaks into town earlier for one of his favorite steaks at Suraya.

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More on the Phillies

MLB rule changes 2020: Phillies most affected by the new 3-batter rule

MLB rule changes 2020: Phillies most affected by the new 3-batter rule

MLB's new three-batter rule for relievers should have a fairly significant impact on the way managers manage and pitching coaches handle their bullpens.

To review, the new rule is that a pitcher entering after the starting pitcher must face at least three batters or pitch to the end of the current inning. So, for example, if Adam Morgan comes in with two on and two outs in the sixth inning and gets the third out, he does not need to come back out for the seventh.

This rule will obviously most affect relief specialists. Let's use Jose Alvarez as an example. Last season, Alvarez was one of the few Phillies pitchers who didn't take a step back from the prior year. He had a 3.36 ERA in 67 appearances. In 14 of those appearances, Alvarez faced one or two batters. It's why he amassed just 59 innings in those 67 appearances.

As best as they could, the Phillies tried to avoid having Alvarez face right-handed hitters. But it still happened frequently because there are more righties than lefties and because other teams routinely try to gain the platoon advantage by pinch-hitting.

Lefties hit just .236 with a .277 on-base percentage and .382 slugging percentage vs. Alvarez in 2019. Righties hit .328/.385/.475. 

An actual example

To find an example of the type of appearance we'll no longer see, let's go back to last June 15, a 6-5 Phillies win in Atlanta. In that game, Alvarez came on with runners on first and second and two outs in the bottom of the seventh to face left-handed hitting Nick Markakis. He struck him out looking to end the inning.

This season, Joe Girardi and Bryan Price may be leery of bringing in Alvarez in that spot. The next two hitters were right-handed Austin Riley and switch-hitting Ozzie Albies, who was one of the best hitters in baseball last season against lefties (.389/.414/.685). The upside of ending the inning at Markakis may not be worth having to potentially use the lefty Alvarez against Riley and Albies. 

Risk vs. reward

Managers and pitching coaches will have to constantly weigh whether the platoon advantage against a specific player (Markakis in this case) is worth the subsequent disadvantage if the inning doesn't end. You're always going to want a lefty facing Freddie Freeman, but you may be able to get away with keeping your right-handed pitcher in to face Markakis in that instance above.

Recently signed Francisco Liriano could be better equipped to deal with this rule change. While he's been much better against lefties throughout his career, he's also had some success against righties because of the effectiveness of his changeup. His career splits: .218/.296/.305 from lefties and .249/.335/.399 from righties. That follows closely with how he performed against righties last season as well.

Morgan should be relatively unaffected — when he's been successful it has been against hitters from both sides, not just lefties.

Righties could feel it, too

The rule change doesn't end with southpaws, though. While the left vs. left matchup traditionally is harder on the hitter than right vs. right, some right-handed relievers will feel this too.

Vince Velasquez, for example, could play a key relief role for the Phillies. Throughout his career, Velasquez has allowed left-handed hitters a batting average 24 points higher than righties and an OPS 67 points higher. Maybe you want Velasquez coming in to face Marcell Ozuna, who is 3 for 20 lifetime off of him, but you're going to hesitate if Markakis (9 for 22 with a double and four walks) is lingering on deck.

How 'bout the hitters?

On the flip side, this could benefit a few Phillies hitters. We don't yet know how the Phils are going to construct their lineup, but you'd think that Bryce Harper will be followed by right-handed Rhys Hoskins and J.T. Realmuto. Harper was so good against lefties last season (.283 BA, .949 OPS, 15 HR) that teams in 2020 may opt to just use a right-hander against those three hitters. Why bring in a lefty who may not retire Harper anyway just to be forced to use that lefty against Hoskins and Realmuto?

Faster pace of play

It's unclear exactly how managers will adapt to the new three-batter rule but it is clear that it will shorten games. Think about all the innings last season — particularly in September — when three or four different pitchers were used. That's about 10 minutes right there of just pitching changes, factoring in the time it takes a manager to walk to the mound and the time it takes the new reliever to get to the mound and complete his warmups.

This should also create more offense, too, since there will be fewer platoon-based matchups late in games. If MLB goes away from golf balls and goes back to actual baseballs that don't turn 50 percent of the league into 20-home-run hitters, that extra offense should be a positive as well.

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More on the Phillies

At the Yard podcast: 3-batter rule, DH dynamic, NL East predictions

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At the Yard podcast: 3-batter rule, DH dynamic, NL East predictions

Ricky Bottalico and Corey Seidman discuss one big rule change, another on the horizon, and make their NL East predictions in the latest At the Yard podcast.

• How does the new 3-batter rule for relievers change their mentality?

• Which Phillies relievers does it affect the most?

• If the DH does come to the National League in the next two years, how would it help the Phillies?

• Both guys are still vehemently anti-DH.

• Fan Q&A.

• NL East win total predictions.

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