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2018 Phillies in review: The Gabe Kapler Decision Maker

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You are the manager. Choose wisely when making decisions for the Phillies.

Philadelphia Phillies v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Hello.

You have now entered the subconscious of Gabe Kapler.

You have been named the manager of a major sports team in one of the biggest markets in the sport. You will have to make decisions that you once only made using game theory spreadsheets and an old copy of “Out Of The Park” baseball that Andrew Friedman lent you during your time in Los Angeles. While that may have seemed fun, dominating an artificial intelligence that seemingly knew your moves ahead of time, now when you make an on-field decision, there are real-life consequences. As you press forward, click on each link to determine your fate on the decision you chose.

Read on to continue...

The initial meeting with the press

You are a polished public speaker. Judging from your blog posts, you have studied many a man who has had to give his opinions in front of an audience. As the day dawns and you prepare to meet the press, your phone pings.

Then it pings again.

And again and again.

It’s your personal blog. It’s letting you know that someone is scanning it very carefully, reading several posts that you had forgotten about completely. Looking at the mobile device quizzically, you wonder who in the world is digging into your past. Almost nonchalantly, you toss the phone on the bed, paying those alerts no mind, continuing preparation for the day ahead. Fast forward to the conference. You have been asked several questions thus far, those questions being fairly standard (philosophy of the game, lineup construction) when suddenly a furry-armed hand goes up. The other hand continues holding a phone transfixed on your face, trying desperately to do what the kids these days call “Periscoping”. You turn to answer the man, trying to think of who he reminds you of. Wolf Blitzer? Is that it? Frantically in your mind, you try and answer your own question as the man begins to ask you about your blog. “Coconut oil....” he bellows. Suddenly it becomes clear who was looking at your blog. You have to decide right now about how you will consider this man the rest of the year. Do you:

Take him seriously as an actual hard hitting reporter?

or

Scan his own Twitter account, looking for signs of dementia or hunger?

Spring training and setting the mood

Many have been taken off guard by your hiring. There are some people wondering if you’ll make to the All-Star break as the manager, but still you plug on. As spring arrives and many of your players begin arriving, full of optimism but still shying away with a bit of trepidation at having a manager so different from what they have experienced before, you decide now is the time to show how different you really are. When it comes to make the most startling change possible, your eyes and ears go to what they will experience every day: the in-house lighting and music selection. This is where you decide to show that you will be different from everything they have ever experienced, setting a tone that is more relaxed than before. What do you choose?

Those fluorescent lights to go with the classics?

or

Setting a certain ambiance by lighting candles in your office to go with the #4 artist on this list?

The first challenge

You have an ace pitcher that is seemingly cruising through several innings to start the first game of the season. He has not reached an inordinate number of pitches in his five innings of work, but now here we are in the sixth. He is coming up on the vaunted “third time through the order” ghost that keeps Grady Little up at night. You have bullpen arms primed and ready to go, but also you have an ace on the mound that has been great so far. The numbers say “Pull him! Pull him!”, but the fire in your bench coach’s belly screams for a longer leash. What do you choose?

Let’s go to the bullpen; no use wasting this guy’s arm so early in the season

or

Let’s see what he can do. Maybe he’ll be pretty good facing a lineup the 3rd time.

Handling the kids these days

It’s after the game on Sunday, May 13. One of your mandates, either from above or one that is self-imposed, is to make sure that a roster full of starting caliber players gets enough plate appearances to stay on top of their game. However, as the season has unfolded, one of your plethora of outfielders is outwardly unhappy about the amount playing time he is receiving. You have explained to the team repeatedly that when the season ends, if all goes according to plan, they will look back and marvel at how much playing time they actually go as opposed to how much they felt like they got. It’s a foolproof plan that you developed in other organizations, but some are still having trouble buying into it, this player in particular. How do you choose to handle this?

Continue with the guy who has started in 34 of your team’s 36 games so far

or

Discuss with the unhappy player why you are doing what you are doing and see what he can do from that point forward

Using data to make decisions

It’s August 18th. The day dawns grey, but there will be baseball. Your team awakens that morning only 12 game out of first place behind the Braves. You are scheduled to go up against the Mets, a team that has given the Phillies fits the past few years despite being talent deprived. Their biggest weapon, though, is on the mound that day in the form of Jacob deGrom. deGrom has been magical so far this season and your team has been struggling to score runs. You have spoken all season about using the available data to give you a better handle on what kinds of lineup decisions you should be making and just that afternoon at a Baseball Prospectus event, you will tell a group of fans that more often than not, you will go with the data in front of you rather than trusting your gut. You have begun to eschew defense lately in order to get a better offense on the field, but today you are left with a decision, one that could have major bearings on this game. Sitting on your bench is a newly acquired bat that has been brought to this team for just such an occasion: to give you offense you sorely need. He has been especially good in his career against deGrom, but he also would displace the player your general manager signed in the offseason as his marquee signing. Do you:

Start the player who is, prior to today, 8 for 21 against deGrom with two home runs?

or

Continue with the “steady as she goes” approach with your regular first baseman?

New inning, same pitcher

This year, with your bullpen, you have begun to rely on matchups. Even though a lot of the people available in the ‘pen are seemingly suited for particular roles (LOOGY, closer, etc.), you are continuing on with the theory espoused by Bill James that a bullpen shouldn’t have defined roles. Rather, each player should be prepared to enter the game when called upon since there are reasons you are choosing him. However, one of the habits you have fallen into is that if a pitcher has come into a high leverage, high stress situation and wiggled his way out of it, ending that particular inning, you let him return to the mound to begin the next innings. This is because you like how he shoved in the inning prior or you like the matchups coming up. Several pitchers, though, are beginning to show signs of wearing down. Their numbers when pitching on back to back days are starting to go in the bad direction. How do you decided to continue with your bullpen handling?

Ease up on the gas pedal with certain guys

or

Continue using guys in a similar pattern, hoping they can just make it through the season

Fighting the good fight

It’s now September. You are faltering. As good as your team has been and as surprisingly long as they have lasted in the playoff race, they are leaking oil. You’re not hitting well, you’re not pitching well and the fielding.....well, the less said the better. This Sunday, the gods of weather have bequeathed to you the gift of a rainy day that the umpiring crew has decided was not heavy enough to cancel, causing you to play on. However, the Mets have decided against sending deGrom to the hill, fearing he would injure himself in an unnecessary start. Instead, you face a guy named....I don’t even know. It’s not deGrom, meaning you’re basically given a desperately needed win...only to see your team lose again. As the leader of the team, your response needs to encouraging but also realistic. All eyes are on you now as you stand in front of a horde of reporters. How will you respond to this skid that has taken the wind out of the team’s sails?

Stay the course and keeping believing in this team’s ability to win games

or

Take the realistic approach and begin to play those who might help in the future


Gabe Kapler will return in 2019....maybe.