Phillies

This year, Gabe Kapler using his gut to set Phillies' lineup — here's what that means

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This year, Gabe Kapler using his gut to set Phillies' lineup — here's what that means

TAMPA, Fla. — With the Phillies' lineup as deep and as talented as it's been in a decade, fans can't get enough of lineup chatter.

Who should lead off? 

Is the two-hole still reserved for the Phils' best hitter, as Gabe Kapler laid it out in 2018?

How do the seven- and eight-spots shake out?

Will the pitcher definitely bat ninth?

Kapler talked at length Wednesday afternoon about lineups, both in a philosophical sense and practically with the 2019 Phillies.

Reading between the lines, it sounds as though we won't see as much of the pitcher batting eighth.

It sounds like Jean Segura will indeed bat second, not Bryce Harper or Rhys Hoskins. That may sound obvious but it's not, given the way modern lineups are constructed. Mike Trout bats second. Kris Bryant bats second. So does Aaron Judge. Christian Yelich was the Brewers' two-hole hitter. One-third of Paul Goldschmidt's plate appearances came batting second.

Segura is most comfortable in the two-hole. He had 505 plate appearances there last season.

Kapler's take:

Last year, we had a lineup where we had to optimize for every last advantage. Lineup optimization was critical to us. We also know that the right guy in the right spot does give you an edge over the course of a long season but it's barely a marginal edge. Now I'm weighing that marginal edge that we get from putting out the strategically optimized lineup every night and balancing that with how's the clubhouse going to feel with a particular player in a particular spot and how is that player going to feel. That's probably the thing that I'm thinking about the most.

It's difficult for some baseball fans to understand, but this is the way lineup construction is viewed around the league for the most part. Over the course of a full season, having the perfect lineup may net a team 10 to 15 additional runs, which theoretically is worth about one win. 

Could those same 10 to 15 runs be replicated by hitting guys where they're most comfortable, even if statistically, it's not the most optimal lineup?

The other consideration is that the "perfect lineup" is hard to formulate with certainty. A manager can put together what he feels is his best batting order, but it's easier to determine that perfect lineup in hindsight than in advance. This is made even truer by the fact that year to year, all players do not perform the same as they did the prior year. A quick example would be Odubel Herrera's 2015-17 vs. his 2018.

"Let's suppose that you think Bryce Harper is the best all-around offensive performer in your lineup," Kapler continued. "And let's suppose that you think the best all-around hitter should bat fourth. Maybe that's how you feel about it. But then you know that player feels most confident in a different spot in the lineup. Maybe that's what you go for. Especially when we're going to be a better offensive team.

"Maybe the (additional) runs that you score over the course of the season, maybe isn't worth it. Everyone is saying — and I'm hesitant to lead you in any particular direction — but let's go with the assumption that everyone feels best with Cesar Hernandez in the leadoff spot or Andrew McCutchen in the leadoff spot. Maybe that's the way to play it. Like, everyone is going to feel best with one of those guys in the leadoff spot."

The other factor to this is wanting your best players to compile the most plate appearances. This is one of the reasons you see so many MVP candidates bat second. Over the course of the season, it may get that hitter a meaningful number of plate appearances more than the third or fourth batter.

Yet, Segura has succeeded in the two-hole. He makes a ton of contact. He has standout bat control. He can hit behind runners. He can make use of the gap between first and second base when the leadoff man is being held on. Those skills, along with his comfort in that spot, could make him a more useful two-hole hitter than Harper or Hoskins, even if that duo provides more overall offense.

"Game on the line, if that's one more at-bat in that really important game, that matters," Kapler said. "I think it's really critical if you have a big on-base threat at the top of the lineup because even if that spot comes up and he doesn't hit a homer or doesn't hit a double, but he gets on base and keeps the line moving, yeah. Then it's Harper or Hoskins whoever is hitting in that (next) spot."

The Phillies, with this much offensive talent, can afford to bat a traditional two-hole hitter like Segura there and a traditional slugger like Harper third. McCutchen has a .356 OBP the last three seasons. Segura's is .353. The Phils have enough talent to not need the perfect formula every night.

"I'm going to go with my gut on this one," Kapler said. "I mean, I'm going to study the [bleep] out of it, but then I'm going to go with my gut on it."

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At The Yard Podcast: Effect injuries will have on lineup; did Aaron Nola turn a corner?

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At The Yard Podcast: Effect injuries will have on lineup; did Aaron Nola turn a corner?

On this edition of At The Yard, Corey Seidman (live from New York for the Mets series) and Ricky Bottalico discuss how the mounting injuries may affect the lineup. What does Scott Kingery need to do with his time on the injured list?

Did Aaron Nola turn a corner in his start in Colorado? How much concern over the workload the bullpen has faced so far?

Also, the proper strategy pitching to Bryce Harper in a high leverage situation.

0:30 - Impact injuries will have to the lineup.
3:30 - How Scott Kingery should stay sharp while on the IL.
5:15 - Positives from Aaron Nola's start in Colorado.
10:00 - Aces around MLB are struggling.
12:00 - Too much bullpen?
17:30 - Confidence that Jake Arrieta can keep up this form?
20:30 - Strategy pitching to Bryce Harper in key late-game moments.

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Phillies change lineup vs. Mets thanks to injuries

Phillies change lineup vs. Mets thanks to injuries

NEW YORK — The injury-ravaged Phillies went with a new-look lineup Monday night on the road against the Mets.

J.T. Realmuto, who has batted fifth in 17 of 18 starts this season and cleanup in the other, is in the two-hole for Gabe Kapler against Mets lefty Steven Matz.

Kapler said Monday afternoon that he spent some time thinking about who to bat second in this lineup. His goal was to keep Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins and Realmuto as the 3-4-5 because of how well they've fared in those spots, but the more he thought about it, Realmuto was the most logical option to bat second.

Maikel Franco remains in the five-spot for the second straight game. Aaron Altherr is in center field in place of Roman Quinn.

1. Andrew McCutchen, LF
2. J.T. Realmuto, C
3. Bryce Harper, RF
4. Rhys Hoskins, 1B
5. Maikel Franco, 3B
6. Phil Gosselin, SS
7. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
8. Aaron Altherr, CF
9. Jake Arrieta, P

Batting Realmuto second could get him an extra plate appearance in this game. On Sunday, the Phillies had runners on second and third with two outs in the ninth inning, trailing 4-1 with Hernandez at the plate. Hernandez grounded out softly to end the game with Harper waiting on deck. 

If a similar situation is presented tonight, the Phillies would have a better bat in the two-spot.

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