Phillies manager Gabe Kapler must go.
He’s simply the wrong man for the job, as the Phils have quickly transitioned from rebuilding in 2018, to contending in 2019. Even with the team off to its best start in nearly a decade, Kapler is in way over his head, making the wrong moves at the wrong times.
A year ago, it was unforgivable that, as a rookie manager, Kapler made a pitching change without realizing his reliever (Hoby Milner) hadn’t started warming up yet. Realistically, that move can’t happen at any professional level, but certainly never at the top level. Unfortunately, it was a sign of Kapler’s greater, if less obvious, failings.
In Tuesday night’s 10-6, extra-inning loss to Washington, Kapler made a series of moves that further exemplified his ineptitude. With one out in the seventh inning, after starter Aaron Nola nearly choked away all of a five-run lead, Kapler brought in reliever Seranthony Dominguez. Dominguez threw only four pitches but recorded two outs to thwart a Nats rally.
To be clear, in a season where the Phillies bullpen has imploded with regularity, Dominguez had just put out a fire and had more fuel in the tank. His spot in the order was not due up, barring a long rally. He could have and should have started the next inning. But Kapler is so rigid in starting a new inning with a new reliever that he misses opportunities to maximize their output and minimize the risk of potentially less effective pitchers.
Kapler refuses to acknowledge Hernandez’s failings
Moments later in the same game, Kapler made a nonsensical double switch, removing .300 hitting Odubel Herrera for a sub-Mendoza line Aaron Altherr, and replacing Dominguez with the spotty Hector Neris. Kapler knew full well Neris wouldn’t pitch more than the top of the eighth. So he would have hit for him anyway in the bottom of the inning. Kapler lost the tactical advantage to choose his pinch-hitter in the bottom of the eighth, while retaining Herrera in the batting order, in case his turn came back up again, which it did, in extra innings. Kapler was forced to use another sub-Mendoza batter, Andrew Knapp, in Herrera’s spot with the game on the line.
These are just a couple of examples of Kapler’s repeated failures to manage in-game strategy and tactics. The larger, season-long list of mistakes is lengthy and egregious. And the team is only 11 games in.
Despite his persona as a “New Age“ manager who employs modern analytics, Kapler refuses to acknowledge the failings of Cesar Hernandez. Since Kapler took over, no player has done more to generate less production in the regular lineup than Hernandez. Batting leadoff most of last season, Hernandez failed to score 100 runs in more than 700 plate appearances, and registered only 33 extra base hits all season. So far this year, batting seventh, Hernandez is hitting under .200, with only two extra base hits and 1 steal. Meanwhile, Scott Kingery sits on the bench and waits for playing time.
Kapler just doesn’t get it. And his failings will become magnified under the pressure to win with the additions of Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura and J.T. Realmuto. For sure, the team will finish above .500 and contend for the division title. But Kapler’s mistakes and blind spots will cost the team dearly, cost them wins, and likely cost them a shot at a title.
Hopefully, general manager Matt Klentak will come to this realization soon enough and change managers before it’s too late.