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 pitching prospect Zach Warren has a dirty car but a bright future

Phillies pitching prospect Zach Warren has a dirty car but a bright future

Every one of the 15 minor-league prospects that the Phillies have invited to big-league spring training camp has a story.

Zach Warren’s is unique because (in his heart) he was a Phillie before he was technically a Phillie.

Warren grew up in Vineland, New Jersey, in the “glory era,” as he correctly called it, when the Phillies were racking up National League East titles, going to two World Series and winning one of them. Young Zach rooted for Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, but his eye always drifted toward the work being done by Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, not surprising because Warren was a left-handed pitcher on the rise in those days.

After successful runs at St. Augustine Prep in South Jersey and the University of Tennessee, Warren is still a pitcher on the rise. Three strong seasons in the Phillies’ minor-league system earned him an invite to major-league spring training camp next month in Clearwater.

At the Phillies’ prospect-education seminar last week at Citizens Bank Park, Warren recalled the pinch-me moment when he got the phone call from Josh Bonifay, the Phillies director of player development, telling him he’d been invited to big-league camp, and following up that thrilling news with a phone call to his dad, Geoff.

“I had dropped off my car to be worked on in Vineland the day before,” Zach recalled with a laugh, “and my dad was a little unhappy because it was dirty and had no gas. I told him the news and that cheered him up.”

Warren, 23, is one of a handful of left-handed relievers coming to big-league camp on non-roster invites. Most, if not all, will open the season in the minor leagues, but team officials, including new manager Joe Girardi and new pitching coach Bryan Price, clearly want to get a look at what they have for future reference. The Phillies, under general manager Matt Klentak, have been aggressive running relievers in and out from the minors so it’s likely several of these relievers will get a shot in the majors this season. And if they throw strikes and get outs – well, they’ll stick around.

Warren, 6-5 and 200 pounds, was selected in the 14th round of the 2017 draft. He features a mid-90s fastball, a slider and a changeup. He has racked up double-digit strikeouts-per-nine innings in each of his three pro seasons. He spent the last two seasons working late in the game, including closer, at Lakewood and Clearwater. In 116 2/3 innings the last two seasons, he allowed just 76 hits and 34 earned runs (2.62 ERA) while striking out 180 and walking 66.

The 2020 season will be a prove-it one for Warren. He projects to make the jump to Double A Reading and be an important part of that club’s bullpen. Double A is the level where they separate the men from the boys. Have success at the level and you can rise quickly to the majors.

“I’m not thinking too far in advance, where I’m going to be and things like that,” said Warren, showing a healthy perspective. “All I can control is working on what I need to work on to get better and becoming the best player I can be. My ideal blueprint for this season is to make strides and get better and help my team win games and get to the playoffs.”

First-timers in big-league camp are like sponges. They soak up the experience and try to learn from the players who’ve walked the miles they hope to one day walk. Warren has a healthy respect for Adam Morgan, another lefty reliever and SEC product from the University of Alabama, and is eager to speak with him.

“I want to learn from Adam Morgan,” Warren said. “He was up as a starter and had to go to the minors to learn, adapt and change, and he developed and got back. I think there’s a ton I could learn from someone like that.

“I’m just looking forward to learning from everybody. I think it’s going to be a great experience and I can’t wait to get down there and get going.”

With a clean car and a full tank of gas, of course.


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Brian Dawkins schools Phillies prospects on how to handle boos

Brian Dawkins schools Phillies prospects on how to handle boos

A group of Phillies prospects was in town this week for the organization’s annual prospects education seminar.

One of those lessons came from a legend.

Brian Dawkins, the most motivational athlete this city has ever seen, shared with the group his thoughts on playing in Philadelphia and responding to the passionate fan base.

“Playing in Philadelphia is different,” Dawkins said. “If you get on the field, there is a 99.99 percent chance you will be booed. The thing I always knew though was that you may boo me that one time but I’m not gonna make the same mistake again.”

The group included Alec Bohm, the Phillies’ top offensive prospect, and Cristopher Sanchez, a pitching prospect with a 100 mph arm profiled here by Jim Salisbury.

Check out the video here if you’re seeking some extra juice at the gym or just want to see Weapon X drop some jewels.

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