A little more than a month ago, new Phillies manager Gabe Kapler was dealing with a litany of criticism for the Phillies’ slow start. The club got off to a 1-4 start which included some questionable bullpen management. Everyone was jumping on Kapler for adhering too stringently to newer, untested methods of running a baseball team — fans, writers, even an anonymous Phillies player. That anonymous Phillie said, “We’ll be OK … We just need the manager to get out of the way,” Jon Heyman reported for FanRag Sports.
Since then, things have gone much better for the Phillies. They’re now 24-16, just one game behind the first-place Braves in the NL East. The club has one of the best pitching staffs in baseball with an aggregate 3.40 ERA, fourth-best across MLB. That includes a 3.46 ERA from the starting rotation (sixth of 30) and a 3.30 ERA (seventh) from the much-maligned bullpen. Even the offense has picked things up, as their aggregate .320 weighted on-base average (wOBA) ranks 11th of 30 teams. Criticism of Kapler has almost entirely gone away and, in fact, he’s even won some people over by being willing to listen to criticism and make adjustments. He’s managing much better now than he did last month.
But not everyone has been converted yet. Heyman has another report today for FanRag Sports, this time citing an anonymous scout. Here’s Heyman’s full blurb on Kapler:
This rumor could be going around because Gabe Kapler is unpopular among scouts around the game, but word is that bench coach Rob Thomson has gained influence after a few early mistakes by Kapler. Thomson is well-respected around the league and has long experience as Joe Girardi’s right-hand man with the Yankees, and he should be a managing candidate somewhere, but in this day and age where more famous guys with bigger playing pedigrees seem to be favored, he has yet to have that opportunity. Anyway, one rival scout said he heard this: “Thomson literally has taken over game decisions. He just tells Kapler what to do and he does it – like a puppet.” (FWIW, we think that has to be an exaggeration, at the very least.)
Note the wording: “One rival scout said he heard this.” This is “Whisper Down the Lane” at best. Heyman provides the necessary caveats, but reporting this is really unfair to Kapler. Heyman also published an article last November with unflattering anecdotes about Kapler, including one anonymous source who called Kapler “more persona than person.” As Heyman was also the source behind the anonymous Phillie’s quote regarding Kapler, one wonders if Heyman’s source(s) just have it out for Kapler and are trying to smear him for whatever reason.
Kapler is a polarizing figure. He’s extremely dedicated to the use of analytics, which has led to unorthodox bullpen usage — even excluding the Hoby Milner screw-up — that rubs people the wrong way. He also uses defensive shifts that, in the rare moments they have backfired, have gotten some people’s goats. Kapler has some interesting health beliefs. He doesn’t fit many people’s idea of what a manager should look like, as he’s relatively young, in incredible shape, and generally good looking. There was also a whole thing with Nick Francona, a war veteran, that seems to have gone away, but may not have sat well with some people. That Kapler has some people out there who not only want him to fail, but want to see him crash and burn in a spectacle, is not much of a stretch.
Recently, Mets rookie manager Mickey Callaway cost his team a scoring opportunity with an egregious mistake — he didn’t notice his players batting out of order. Callaway doesn’t have the same new-age stigma that Kapler has, so the mistake was laughed about in the moment and then forgotten about not more than a couple hours later. No one suggested he’s on the hot seat now, like many did when Kapler mistakenly brought Milner into the game without warming up. No one suggested that newer ways of thinking about baseball have been discredited because of his mistake (Callaway is a proponent of analytics). The disparity in treatment between Kapler and Callaway, and other rookie managers like Alex Cora and Dave Martinez (who have also screwed up without being tarred and feathered for it), is part of why I take the aforementioned anonymous scout’s quote — and anything Heyman reports about Kapler, honestly — with a huge grain of salt, and you should too.