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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Phillies' 2020 World Series odds are pretty surprising

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Phillies' 2020 World Series odds are pretty surprising

Most of the baseball world agrees that the Phillies are improved with the additions of No. 2 starter Zack Wheeler, shortstop Didi Gregorius, and the new contingent of manager Joe Girardi, pitching coach Bryan Price and hitting coach Joe Dillon.

The question is how much improved?

The Phils won 81 games last season, a year after winning 80. Both years, they totally collapsed in September. Both years, a good number of players were simply playing out the string, though the effort level was more questionable in 2018 than in 2019.

Even though the Phillies were quiet this offseason after their two big signings, and even though the NL East is still a beast, they should still exceed 81 wins. If they don't, there's a serious problem. If they don't, the GM probably won't be here to try to rectify things next offseason.

The over/under win totals are out and the Phillies' number is 85.5 at FanDuel and 84.5 at DraftKings.

I'd go over at 84.5. Think about how many injuries the Phillies suffered last season. Think about the talent gap between Wheeler and every Phillies starting pitcher behind Aaron Nola last season. The impact of Girardi, Price and Dillon won't be all that quantifiable, but it is realistic that this revamped coaching staff can conjure a few more wins out of the 2020 Phillies, whether it's in-game decision-making or better instructions given to young players who underperformed last season.

At DraftKings, the Mets' over/under is a game better than the Phillies' at 85.5. The Braves are at 90.5 and the Nationals 88.5. The Marlins are at 64.5, higher than only one team, the Tigers.

Much more surprising are the Phillies' World Series odds. They have the sixth-shortest odds to win it all. Seriously. They're +1800. Here is the Top 10:

Yankees: 3.5/1
Dodgers: 5/1
Astros: 6/1
Braves: 11/1
Nationals: 14/1
Phillies: 18/1
Mets: 20/1
Twins: 20/1
Red Sox: 22/1
Cubs: 22/1

Apparently, the expectation is that the NL Central will be bringing up the rear in 2020. Really, the only NL Central team that improved was the Reds. The Cardinals lost Marcell Ozuna, the Brewers lost Yasmani Grandal and the Cubs didn't spend money on a single major-league free agent.

Four of the top seven teams being NL East teams just shows you how much of a battle these next seven months will be for the Phils.

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Phillies prospects Spencer Howard and Alec Bohm make Baseball America's Top 100 list

Phillies prospects Spencer Howard and Alec Bohm make Baseball America's Top 100 list

Baseball America’s always interesting Top 100 Prospects list landed this week and the Phillies are represented with two players in the top half.

Starting pitcher Spencer Howard ranks 27th on the list and third baseman Alec Bohm 28th. Both players are projected to open the coming season at Triple A and get to the majors at some point in 2020. Both have been invited to major-league spring training camp, which begins in less than three weeks in Clearwater. See the complete list of Phillies’ in-house non-roster invites here.

Howard, a 23-year-old right-hander, was the Phillies’ second-round draft pick in 2017. We profiled him here.

In its story on the Top 100 prospects, Baseball America offered this take on Howard: Triple-digit fastball, swing-and-miss curveball and the ability to work the edges of the strike zone, Howard flashes front-end potential.

Bohm, 23, was the third overall pick in the 2018 draft. He hit .305 with 21 homers, 80 RBIs and a .896 OPS at three levels, including Double A in 2019. We profiled him here.

Baseball America offered this take on Bohm: Even with questions about whether he’ll have to move to first base, Bohm has the feel to hit and plus power to hit in the middle of the Phillies’ order, and soon.

Shortstop Wander Franco of the Tampa Bay Rays was ranked No. 1 on Baseball America’s list for the second year in a row. The Rays placed eight players on the list. Because of a loaded farm system, the Rays were unable to protect left-hander Cristopher Sanchez on their 40-man roster and the Phillies traded for him in November. Read about Sanchez here.

The Los Angeles Dodgers placed seven players on the list and the Minnesota Twins and San Diego Padres had six each.

The Miami Marlins led National League East teams with five players in the Top 100, including former Phillies pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez, who was traded for J.T. Realmuto a year ago. Sanchez ranks 16th on the list and is projected to arrive in the majors sometime in 2020.

The Atlanta Braves placed four players on the list and the Washington Nationals and New York Mets joined the Phillies with two players.

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