By: Joe Staszak
Disappointment almost always leads to change. If that’s the case, Phillies’ manager Gabe Kapler should have been fired three weeks ago if not sooner. After a 4-3 loss to the Miami Marlins on Sunday, the Phils finished an extremely disheartening season at .500, 81-81. But does the much-maligned-outside-the-box manager deserve to get whacked? The answer is unequivocally no. Why? Because he was dealt a lousy hand and had to go out every day and play with the cards he was dealt. If the roster was a poker game it would fold.
Let’s face it, Kapler wasn’t out there giving up homeruns and extra base hits with two outs in the 9th en route to several devastating losses. That happened an astounding five times this year. Digest that if you will. He didn’t bat in the clean up spot and hit .184 since the all-star break like his first basemen Rhys Hoskins did and he wasn’t committing costly errors at inopportune times like his defense did. Consider this:
1) Four of Kapler’s starting pitchers missed starts this year due to injury, including a season ending elbow injury to his number two pitcher Jake Arietta.
2) Rhys Hoskins had an awful year.
3) His starting pitching compiled a record of 41-42.
4) 42 times this year his starting pitcher did not make it to the 5th inning (let that marinate
for a bit).
5) His bullpen was decimated by injuries.
6) He lost two starting outfielders for the year due to injuries including lead-off man and
former MVP Andrew McCutchen.
7) His general manager, Matt Klentak, gave him a bench that consisted of, but not limited
to, Logan Morrison, Jose Pirella and Sean Rodriguez and pitchers with the likes of Nick
Vincent, Jared Hughes and Drew Smyly.
None of the above is his fault. Does he struggle at times with situational baseball? Does he rely on analytics too much? Is he too soft in the clubhouse? That’s debatable but even if the answers are yes, yes and yes those things have nothing to do with his underachieving roster. The bottom line is his team needs better players. It’s that simple.
The great hall of fame manager, Whitey Herzog, once claimed that a baseball manager has an
effect on the outcome of a game about five times per season. That’s about three percent of the
season. That tells you how much impact the manager has on the game. That tells you that games are won or lost by the players on the field.
Kapler’s record as the Phils’ skipper is 161-163. Believe it or not, that’s not terrible considering
he was given dreck to work with last year and a minor league-looking starting rotation to work
with this year, sans Aaron Nola.
I know the fan base has had enough of Kapler. I honestly believe that most of the disgust from Phillies fans and the media alike has to do not with what he does but rather what he says. Philly fans aren’t stupid and don’t appreciate their intelligence insulted. Admittedly, Kapler is almost comical in his post-game pressers. Not once this year did he criticize his team for their hideous play. That’s 81 times. And true to form, an emotional Kapler had this to say after Sunday’s loss that wrapped up a dismal season.
“I’m not sure if I’ve ever been more proud of a group of men like these guys. We didn’t get the job done. But it wasn’t for lack of effort. And it wasn’t for lack of character and it wasn’t for lack of grit. I’m truly proud of every one of those guys. The emotion is being proud of our players. As a manager, this year I was blessed with high character, high quality, players and men. What you’re seeing right now, emotionally, is me feeling the power of that.”
That’s great, Gabe, but what about your team failing to meet expectations this year? Any opinions on that? His comments come off as disingenuous and insincere. Fans don’t want to hear that any more. It’s as bad as former Eagles head coach Andy Reid saying “I have to do a better job” after each and every loss.
For the 2nd year in a row, the Phillies collapsed in the 2nd half of the season, a season that included a 16-37 record since August 7th. It wasn’t quite the collapse of last year but it was a collapse just the same. The real collapse though was back in May and part of June and pretty much defined their season. On May 30th, the Phils were 11 games over .500 and had a three and a half games lead in the National League East. Less than 30 days later they found themselves six and a half games back. If you go back and look at the statistics of that brutal
stretch though you’ll find that not only did the pitching go south, but the mighty bats of this “offensive juggernaut” went silent. Is that Kapler’s fault?
The Phils paid right fielder Bryce Harper $330 million over the next 13 years this past off-season. He did not disappoint. Harper hit 35 homeruns this year and drove in 114 runs. But one player can’t carry a team. Harper needed help and only got it from catcher J.T Reamulto who had a career year. His supporting cast played like bushers for most of the season.
The Milwaukee Brewers lost reigning MVP Christian Yelich when he fractured his knee cap from a foul ball back on September 11th. So what did the Brew Crew do? They went 14-2 since the injury and earned themselves a playoff berth. Why? Because Milwaukee has a quality supporting cast with the likes of Ryan Braun, Mike Moustakas and Yasmani Gradal. In losing Yelich, the Brewers lost a guy who was hitting .329 and 44 homeruns and they didn’t miss a beat. They actually elevated their game and their stars played like stars. Is Brewers manager Craig Counsell a much better manager than Kapler or does Counsell have a playoff roster that played like a playoff team?
The Chicago Cubs fired their manager, Joe Maddon, on Sunday. He was the manager when the Cubs won their first World Series three years ago, it was their first World Series championship since 1908. The Cubs missed the playoffs this year. Did Joe Maddon all of the sudden forget how to manage or did his players let him down?
The Phils didn’t deserve to make the playoffs this year. Right now they’re not a playoff team. Klentak put together a team that boasts five all-stars. But he counted on his young pitchers to take a step up this year. It turned out to be an egregious miscalculation. Does Klentak have a big piece to this disappointing season? Absolutely. He has plenty of work to do this off-season. He needs to completely revamp the starting rotation, two to five. If anyone is to blame for this past season you can blame him. His “dream team” came up short (where have we seen that before?).
Having said all of that, I think it’s time for a change at the helm. There are a couple of managers out there without jobs, namely Joe Girardi and Joe Maddon. They won championships with great teams. Can they fix the issues with this team? I doubt it (see Whitey Herzog). But they do have world championship pedigree and there is something to say about that.
If Kapler returns next season there will be apathy among Phillies Nation. It’s time to shake things up. But the question was “does Gabe Kapler DESERVE to be fired?) the answer again is absolutely not. His players love him and they agree with me. Harper said this after Sunday’s game. “It hasn’t been his fault,” Harper said. “He’s had some tough decisions he had to make, bullpen-wise, lineup-wise; not having your leadoff guy, not having your setup guy, things like that. A lot of guys have been thrown into the fire this year from Double A and Triple A, it’s just how the season goes. It’s part of it. We’re going to build on that next year, hopefully. I love our staff. I enjoy our staff. I enjoy playing for our staff. They’ve made me better each day and I appreciate that.”
Kapler’s all-star catcher agrees with Harper. “As of now, I expect to see him back here,” Realmuto said. “We feel like he’s done a great job for us. He gets the guys to play hard. We all love playing for him. He’s been our manager all year and nobody’s had anything to say about it. We’ve obviously had a rough last couple of weeks and fell out of contention. For me, Gabe’s our manager. He’s a guy that this clubhouse really respects.”
His players obviously have his back. But will it be enough to keep his job? Professional baseball is all about wins and losses. He has one year left on his contract and he deserves to see it through. If Kapler gets whacked it wouldn’t be the first time a manager got a raw deal. But if Klentak let’s him go he would be admitting that he made a mistake. General managers tend to avoid indicting themselves, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Kapler retains his gig. After all, he deserves it.