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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Gabe Kapler gets a call from Joe Torre; will he be disciplined by MLB?

Gabe Kapler gets a call from Joe Torre; will he be disciplined by MLB?

NEW YORK — Lost in the on-field kerfuffle Monday night after Bryce Harper was tossed and before Jake Arrieta's pointed postgame comments was the slight contact Phillies manager Gabe Kapler appeared to make with home plate umpire Mark Carlson when he went out to argue the ejection.

Kapler power-walked past the on-deck circle to defend his rightfielder and Harper raced out behind him. As Kapler was pushing Harper out of the way to protect the player from saying or doing anything worse, he appeared to nudge Carlson.

After the game, Carlson said there was physical contact from Harper bumping Kapler into him. When Carlson was asked if the contact was intentional or incidental, crew chief Brian Gorman said that will be up to Major League Baseball.

Why does it matter? Because if Kapler's contact was deemed intentional or inappropriate, he could face discipline. As a manager with no history of on-field transgressions, the discipline would figure to be light if it comes at all.

On Tuesday afternoon, MLB's chief baseball officer Joe Torre gave Kapler a phone call to gather his side of the story.

"He called not that long ago and basically wanted to get my side of the story before he talked to the umpires," Kapler said. "I have no idea what the procedure would be but I was very cognizant of the space I had between me and Mark and feel like I respected that.

"I felt nothing. It doesn't mean there wasn't some contact, but it wasn't like, oh (crap), there was just this bump. I didn't feel anything. My intention was always to respect the distance and the space. I never felt like I got uncomfortably close to him by any stretch. 

"As always, my main goal is to protect Bryce. In those situations, you can't feel what's happening behind you. The only thing I know is that when Bryce was close to me, he also kept his distance. I thought that (Rob Thomson and Dusty Wathan) did a really good job of assisting in that situation. It was the right play to have our group out on the field making sure that's where it ended."

Jake Arrieta upset with Bryce Harper for ejection, sounds off on 'flat' Phillies

Jake Arrieta upset with Bryce Harper for ejection, sounds off on 'flat' Phillies

NEW YORK — Jake Arrieta slammed the shelf above his locker at Citi Field, still peeved moments after speaking with reporters.

Arrieta pitched relatively well in the Phillies' 5-1 loss to the Mets (see observations). The source of his anger was an untimely ejection of the Phillies' best player, Bryce Harper, in the top of the fourth inning, combined with an overall "flat" performance from the Phillies' offense.

The 33-year-old former Cy Young winner didn't mince words. He didn't rush to defend Harper or belabor the quick hook of home plate umpire Mark Carlson, who tossed Harper for arguing balls and strikes in the Phillies' dugout.

"He's got to understand, we need him in right field," Arrieta said. "I don't care how bad the umpire is. He wasn't great for either side. I'm out there trying to make pitches, he misses some calls. So what? We need him out there. 

"We were flat from start to finish. Two-hour delay, it doesn't matter. We have to be ready to play. We weren't and it showed.

"It's troubling. I'm out there doing everything I can to win a game. I need my guys behind me and they weren't."

Harper was upset during his own fourth-inning at-bat, which ended in a called strike three. One of the pitches to Harper was slightly out of the strike zone, up and away. Four batters later, Hernandez took a pitch high and out of the zone, even more so than the one to Harper. It was called a strike and Harper said something that was deemed by Carlson to be over the line. In a blink, and before any warning was issued, Harper was sent to the showers.

"He made a comment when he was in the batter's box and then he made a comment as he left the batter's box after he struck out," Carlson said after the game. "What he said warranted an automatic ejection."

From Carlson's perspective, Harper's comment was personal and involved foul language.

The ejection was the 12th of Harper's eight-year career, second-most among active players to Matt Kemp. "I'm usually zero to 100," he said. "If you look at all my ejections, it's usually pretty calm and then bam, once it happens, I try to let it out I guess."

Sometimes, a moment like that can galvanize a team, create some positive energy. It didn't on this night. After Harper's ejection, Hernandez singled, then the next 16 Phillies went down in order to end the game.

"Emotionally, it should have given us a boost but it didn't," Arrieta said. "We were flat. The dugout was flat. The defense wasn't good. We didn't throw the ball well as a staff overall. We got beat."

Arrieta would have preferred Harper showed more restraint.

"We need him in right field. I don't care how bad (the ump) is, I need him in right field, I need him at the plate and he wasn't there. So that hurts.

"He missed some pitches but for both sides. If that's the case, that happens on a nightly basis usually. The umpire is going to miss some calls. So what? Next pitch. We've got a game to play.

"I'm not happy with the way we showed up today. We need to come out tomorrow ready to go."

Arrieta is clearly one of the leaders on this team and he was clearly delivering a message to Harper and his teammates Monday night. The pitcher had not yet talked with Harper before speaking to reporters.

The Phillies have lost four of their last five games. At 12-10, they are tied with the Mets atop the NL East. The Phillies have played 15 of their 22 games against NL East teams and have gone 9-6.

"I said it from the start. This first month was pretty important, with all the divisional games," said Rhys Hoskins, whose 401-foot home run was the Phillies' only run. 

"I don't think anybody in here is hitting the panic button at all. We've been pretty good at bouncing back. I think all of us in here are feeling pretty confident going into tomorrow. We're fine."

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