If it wasn’t clear before that the Phillies were totally committed to reinventing themselves, the hiring of former Los Angeles Dodgers executive and former player Gabe Kapler hammered that point home.
This isn’t your grandfather’s Phillies. It’s not your father’s Phillies. Heck, it’s not even your slightly-older brother’s Phillies.
These are John Middleton’s Phillies. These are Andy MacPhail’s Phillies. These are Matt Klentak’s Phillies, and these are the Phillies that have not only embraced analytics after keeping it at arms’ length for so long, but are now going all-in with the addition of Kapler to be the team’s top field general.
Kapler is the first skipper who was hired with no connection to the Phils since Terry Francona before the 1997 season. Virtually every manager in recent team history that has walked through the clubhouse doors was given that job after having spent years with the Phillies in some capacity.
Pete Mackanin was the team’s bench coach under Ryne Sandberg. Ryne Sandberg managed the team’s Triple-A team. Charlie Manuel came to the team as a special assistant to the general manager before taking the reins. Larry Bowa’s connection to the team is obvious.
Jim Fregosi, John Vukovich, Lee Elia, John Felske, Paul Owens, Pat Corrales, and Dallas Green, all of them had ties to the organization before they were hired. As The Athletic’s Kevin Cooney noted in this piece, only Tito, Nick Leyva and Danny Ozark took on the managerial role with no ties to the organization.
This team has come a long way in a few years. In November of 2013, I wrote about general manager Ruben Amaro’s hiring of Scott Freedman, the team’s first “analytics guy.” The title of the piece, “Phillies hire the analytics guy they’re going to ignore,” was largely true during most of Amaro’s tenure. At the time, it felt like window dressing, and for the first season, it probably mostly was.
But things kicked into a different gear once Dave Montgomery had to step away from his role as team president and the trio of Middleton, MacPhail and Klentak all came on board. And now, three years after that piece, the Phils have tasked Kapler, a devotee of health, nutrition, sports science and advanced metrics, to guide a clubhouse full of young, talented pups into becoming a winning team.
In some ways, it’s a hire reminiscent of the one the Philadelphia Eagles made when they brought Chip Kelly on board. Kelly was a devotee of sports science, nutrition and also approached the game in unconventional ways.
However, it should be noted the Phillies had been heading in this direction before hiring Kapler, and believed he was the right man for the job because he was the most fluent in these areas. And Kapler won’t have the kind of power selecting players that Kelly acquired for himself after a very successful first season with the Birds. Klentak gets to buy the groceries.
Kapler is inexperienced when it comes to making in-game decisions, with only one year of managerial experience at the Single-A level. But it says something that he finished as runner-up in the Dodgers’ managerial search two years ago, one that saw them hire Dave Roberts instead. Many around the league praise his smarts and intellect, but whether that translates into proper bullpen usage or pushing the right buttons in key spots remains to be seen.
But for everyone who hoped the Phils would avoid hiring a “traditional” manager and avoid going the “safe” route, their wish was granted. Kapler is anything but “traditional” or “safe.”
These are not the same Phillies you grew up watching. The only question is whether the “new” Phillies will actually be “better” Phillies under Gabe Kapler.
On Episode 160 of The Felske Files, I further break down the hiring of Kapler, and what the Phillies may now do to round out the coaching staff. Does Wathan have a place with the big league club? And who will guide the pitching staff?
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