The Phillies have reportedly promoted assistant pitching coach Chris Young to the position of pitching coach, bumping Rick Kranitz out of his job, according to Ken Rosenthal at The Athletic. The decision was apparently due to “multiple teams showing interest” in snatching Young away from the Phillies, including, as Scott Lauber reports, an NL East team.
This was seemingly not in the Phillies’ initial off-season plans after Gabe Kapler had told reporters that “the entire Phillies coaching staff will return next season” in late September, and GM Matt Klentak had echoed that plan, per Jim Salisbury:
“There is one area that Klentak will not change: on-field leadership. He said first-year manager Gabe Kapler and the coaching staff would be back next season.”
Young’s background hits all the beats of a big league scout. On the final day of the 2002 regular season at Mississippi State—where he was teammates with Jonathan Papelbon—Young pitched the Bulldogs into the SEC tournament in his first career start, beating Mississippi and being named the SEC Pitcher of the Week. Young was drafted by Colorado later that year and spent parts of seven seasons in the Rockies, Marlins, and Pirates farm systems before playing his final professional games for the Camden Riversharks in 2008.
Not long after his playing career ended, Young coached at Georgetown (Texas) High School and St. Edward’s University before his interest in scouting was piqued by several friends in the industry. He then capitalized on a connection to the Padres and was hired by their scouting department in 2010, a position for which he was quite young at only 29 years old, but through which he became “well-respected” in the industry. He stayed with San Diego through 2014 and shifted over to the Astros to be closer to his home in Georgetown, and with Houston he was promoted to MLB Scouting Supervisor prior to the 2016 season. While with the Astros, with whom he won the World Series in 2017, he is also listed as a member of the staff at Coast to Coast Athletics, an organization that primes elite young baseball players for the college and professional levels of the sport. Young first arrived on the Phillies coaching staff along with Kranitz in December 2017 at 37 years old as another notably youthful addition to Gabe Kapler’s coaching staff. This past season, part of Young’s job was to orchestrate outfield position shifts.
The decision to replace Kranitz with Young is an interesting one, given some of the improvements made by the Phillies pitching staff last year.
As a team, their 4.15 ERA was just 18th in MLB, certainly not a number to brag about. But the peripherals tell a different story, with a team-wide FIP of 3.83 that was 7th-best in MLB. That difference between their FIP — a number that strips out all balls in play and evaluates only what is in a pitcher’s control — and ERA was 2nd-largest in the league. That difference is supported by their .303 BABIP allowed, the 5th-highest in baseball. It’s also fairly obvious that pitching in front of a substandard defense didn’t help, either.
Last year, their team ERA was 4.57, still 18th in the Majors, but their 4.56 FIP was 19th. There is virtually no daylight between those numbers. The team’s strikeout rate improved from 16th in the Majors to 6th, and their walk-rate improved from 15th to 12th. And a fair number of individual players also showed improvement.
Aaron Nola’s 2018 season was Cy Young worthy. Nick Pivetta had a 4.77 ERA but a 3.80 FIP, with his 10.32 K/9 and 27.1% strikeout-rate leading the starting rotation (Nola’s whiff rate was 27.0%). And Vince Velasquez, who struggled so badly pitching deeper into games, did a better job with pitch economy this season, with a 4.85 ERA and a 3.75 FIP.
The bullpen also had its ups and downs, but some of that is due to usage as well as year-to-year fluctuations in relief pitchers, too.
This is not to say there isn’t plenty of room for improvement, and the Phillies obviously feel Young is a superior choice over Kranitz, who was a holdover from the Pete Mackanin coaching staff.