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The Phillies are doing something right under Gabe Kapler

Let’s focus on something the team is doing quite well so far in this early season

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Atlanta Braves Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

This is not going to be a Kapler hit piece. Far too many stories are being written so far about everything the new manager is doing wrong that we are beginning to lose sight of some of the good things he is instilling in the young team so far this year. So, let’s look at one of those things: patience at the plate.

Coming in to this season, the Phillies weren’t exactly the most patient team around. Stocked with players like Freddy Galvis, Maikel Franco and others that lacked the discerning eye at the plate, the team routinely ranked in the bottom half of the league in pitches per plate appearance.

Phillies’ P/PA ranks

Year P/PA MLB rank
Year P/PA MLB rank
2017 3.94 T-9th
2016 3.81 26th
2015 3.73 25th
2014 3.85 T-10th
2013 3.78 T-22nd
2012 3.78 T-20th
2011 3.80 T-15th
2010 3.84 12th
2009 3.86 T-9th
2008 3.84 T-12th

So far in the early going, this trend seems to be reversing itself. When you look at the leaderboard through the first few games, you’ll probably be surprised to find that the Phillies are leading MLB in seeing a whopping 4.37 pitches per plate appearance prior to today’s home opener. Corey Seidman noticed this trend after the first series in Atlanta and it continued in the shortened series in New York. When the pitching matchups were announced and it was apparent that this team would be facing Noah Syndergaard, it probably worried fans that this offense, which has been anemic so far, would be overpowered in that game. Yet four innings in, Syndergaard had amassed 92 pitches and was done for the day. Normally, we’d be excited to move past the might Thor Syndergaard into the bullpen, but on this day, the bullpen won. That misses the point. Getting to the bullpen as quickly as possible, either through an offensive explosion or by driving up a starter’s pitch count is the ultimate goal of a lineup. This team is prodigious at this skill five games into the season.

Now, the question becomes: is this sudden exercise in plate discipline a result due to change in philosophy brought by the manager, or a change in personnel? Well, like love and marriage, you can’t have one without the other. Matt Klentak was very vocal in the offseason about the need for better discipline in plate appearances and the subsequent personnel moves exhibit that. The signing of Carlos Santana, the jettisoning of Freddy Galvis to promote J.P. Crawford, releasing Cameron Rupp to keep Andrew Knapp as backup catcher, all of these are moves to add players to the roster that have better discipline than their predecessors.

We can also give some credit to Kapler for putting players in the lineup who have that discipline when discussing the current shuffle of players in and out of said lineup. While it might be preferred that Jorge Alfaro be getting the lion’s share of playing time behind the plate, so far, Knapp has seen 5.07 P/PA to Alfaro’s 4.0, thus making him possibly more preferred early in the season. Selectivity is the name of the game and might probably be a precursor to how Kapler sets his lineups in the future. Of course, we know that one cannot simply trot out the players who see the most pitches most often. There is also matchups to be played, defensive positions to be considered, etc. But in the early going, there seems to be a pattern emerging about who is going to play more.

Getting into hitter’s counts will always be beneficial to the hitter. It seems like a natural issue that if a player is in hitter’s count, he’ll benefit from having a better pitch to hit. Statistically, this bears out as well. In MLB last year, batters were demonstrably better when getting ahead than they were behind in the count.

This year, the Phillies have been horrendous in these same situations so far:

This means a regression is coming. One can make an argument that the talent level affects the amount this regression will affect each individual hitter, but some of these players simply are too talented to be this bad for this long. So, as long as the approach to an at bat remains consistent throughout the year, the results will come.

It looks bleak right now for the Phillies. There have been questionable decisions made that have resulted in losses, decisions, I would argue, rooted in sound analytical foundations. However, let’s continue to look at the bright side. There is bound to be some positives soon. The numbers say so. We just need to remain patient.