Phillies, Kapler A Perfect Fit: Get To Know Your New Manager

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Photo Credit: Getty Images

With the Los Angeles Dodgers in the midst of an epic Game Five match-up with the Houston Astros, Jon Heyman reported that Gabe Kapler was set to become the 54th manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. Kapler, the current Director of Player Development for LA, was one of Philadelphia’s final two candidates for the managerial vacancy, joining longtime Phillies farmhand and current Lehigh Valley manager Dusty Wathan.

Kapler was heavily considered for the Dodgers managerial opening prior to the 2016 season before Andrew Friedman tabbed Dave Roberts as the answer. His name was also linked to several other teams this offseason before ultimately landing with the Phillies. The Philadelphia fanbase should be ecstatic to have Kapler in charge for 2018 and beyond; he’s progressive, he’s intelligent, and he’s gained a ton of respect at every stop throughout his time in professional baseball.

Playing Career

A 57th round pick by the Detroit Tigers out of Moorpark College in California, Kapler managed to carve out a solid career in the bigs. In parts of 12 seasons, Gabe slashed .268/.329/.420, finishing with a .327 wOBA and accumulating 8.8 WAR.

He appeared in 137 total games with the Tigers between ’98 and ’99, slashing .243/.310/.438 and finishing with a defensive rating of 8.6 per Fangraphs. Kapler would end up becoming part of a nine-player trade with the Rangers that sent two-time MVP Juan Gonzalez among others to Detroit in exchange for a six-player package that included Gabe.

Kapler spent three years with the Rangers, posting some of his finer seasons with the organization. He hit .280/.342/.433 over 322 games, posting a wRC+ over 100 in two of his three seasons with Texas. He was traded to the Colorado Rockies at the 2002 Trade Deadline for a package that included 1996 Rookie of the Year Todd Hollandsworth.

After an intriguing half-season with the Rockies that saw Kapler slash .311/.359/.459 with an OPS over .800, the outfielder struggled in 2003, eventually finding his way to the Boston Red Sox in late June. Posting yet another intriguing half-season, Kapler went on to play in a career-high 136 games in 2004, slashing .272/.311/.390. He made the postseason roster for the second consecutive year (the final time he would play postseason baseball, coincidentally), and was one of the nine players on the field when the Sox won their first World Series since 1918.

Boston granted Kapler free agency following the ’04 campaign, and the outfielder decided to take his talents to Japan, signing with the Yomiuri Giants. Explaining that he made the decision, “more for the life experience than anything else,” Kapler mightily struggled outside the US. He battled injuries and finished with an ugly .153/.217/.261 triple-slash.

Kapler came back to the States in mid-2005, catching on with the Red Sox in July. Kapler struggled in his return to the Show, OPS’ing just over .600 and rupturing his Achilles tendon running the bases on what was actually a home run. Kapler would miss the first two months of the 2006 season before returning in June. Appearing in 72 games over the final few months of his ninth big league campaign, the outfielder OPS’d just a tick under .700.

Gabe decided to retire following the 2006 season, citing his, “opportunity to make an impact in the lives of young men, not only to help them develop as baseball players, but also–more importantly–as human beings.” Kapler became the manager of Boston’s South Atlantic League affiliate, class A Greenville, at just 31 years old.

At the conclusion of the 2007 season, Kapler had a desire to return to the majors as a player. The Milwaukee Brewers took a flyer, and over 245 plate appearances in 2008, Kapler delivered. He put together possibly the best season of his career, slashing .301/.340/.498 with a wRC+ of 119 and a wOBA of .362. Playing primarily center field, the 10-year veteran didn’t disappoint in the field, either, posting a 10.4 UZR/150.

Kapler latched on with the upstart Tampa Bay Rays for the final two years of his career, slashing an unattractive .228/.314/.383 over 158 games. He still held his weight defensively in 2009, finishing with an 11.3 UZR/150 before completely falling apart in 2010, posting a -11.3 UZR/150.

Kapler received a minor league contract from the Dodgers in 2011, but failed to make the team out of Spring Training. Instead of reporting to the minors, Kapler opted to retire, officially ending his big league playing career.

Team Israel

Kapler served as a player-coach for Team Israel in its attempt to qualify for the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Israel was on the losing side of an extra-innings affair with Spain in the Pool Finals, which led to their elimination from the WBC qualifiers.

FOX Sports

Following his time with Team Israel, Kapler was hired by FOX Sports to become a baseball analyst. He was a major part of FS1’s debut in the summer of 2013, appearing on both FOX Sports Live and MLB Whiparound multiple times over his two years with the station.

The 12-year MLB veteran became very well known for some of his reoccurring segments, such as Saberclips and In the Cage. Saberclips in particular became very popular, as Kapler found a way to explain sabermetrics (such as FIP, O-swing %, and PADE) in a way that even the casual fan could understand. With sabermetrics reaching more fans than ever before, Saberclips truly showcased Kapler’s willingness to adapt to a changing baseball landscape, something a number of analysts, broadcasters, and managers still have yet to do several years later.

Dodgers Front Office

After two years with FOX Sports, Kapler accepted a position with the Dodgers, becoming their Director of Player Development. Kapler is a big believer in nutrition as a major key to success, and one of his biggest changes during his time with LA was the removal of unhealthy food from the clubhouse. In the Dodgers attempt to become, “the healthiest team in pro sports,” Kapler hired a catering company to make organic meals for the players. Per an ESPN article written at the time:

“It’s probably fair to say baseball has been slow to get on the good-nutrition bandwagon. The Dodgers have been moving in that direction for a while. They hired a chef to prepare meals for players in the clubhouse last season. This season, they plan on buying organic. The program will extend from Los Angeles to every step on the minor-league chain.”

As previously alluded to, Kapler was a finalist to fill the Dodgers managerial opening just a year after his hiring, but lost out to former Red Sox teammate Dave Roberts. Instead of serving on Roberts’ staff, Kapler chose to remain in the front office.

Why You Should Be Ecstatic

The 42-year-old Kapler will quite possibly be one of the most progressive managers in baseball. A FOX Sports article written in 2014 by Kapler discussed finding ways to gain an edge over every other team in baseball. Gabe explained that there are still a number of managers who are hesitant to change the way they do things despite what the numbers say, and when combined with players that don’t have any intention to change, a non-ideal environment is created.

With Kapler at the helm, the Phillies front office won’t have to worry about a manger that is worried about upsetting the old habits of its players. He’s a strong believer in using all of the information he has at his disposal in order to put his team in the best possible decision to win:

“Proprietary information is becoming harder and harder to come by. While there are certainly frontiers of data not yet fully explored, I believe the next real advantage will come not from which team can acquire the most information, but from which team can best put that information into practice. How efficiently and successfully information is shared with managers, coaches and players will equal wins now and going forward.”

Better yet, Kapler provided an outstanding quote regarding change in a post on his own website, kaplifestyle.com, last January:

“Caring too much about what others think of you stifles your ability to take risks. That football coach has to decide between being popular and winning more games. If you want to be average, continue doing what everyone else does. Being better than the pack requires doing something different.”

To use a local example, Kapler reminds me a lot of Sam Hinkie in regards to their philosophies. You’ll remember that the Sixers, outside of a fluke playoff series victory in 2012 against a depleted Chicago Bulls squad, were an extremely mediocre franchise even before Iverson was traded away, stuck in (as my friend likes to call it) “basketball purgatory.” Hinkie came along in the spring of 2013, conducted a masterful tank job, and helped the Sixers acquire multiple young assets that will help the team win a title or three in the future. The national media scoffed at the Sixers, but Hinkie knew he’d have to do something different to save the Sixers from more average years.

Kapler will inevitably go against the grain with some of his in-game decisions at some point in 2018, but both the media and the fanbase need to be fully on-board with their young manager. Matt Klentak was searching for a analytics-driven skipper who would provide a much different voice in the clubhouse than his predecessors in Ryne Sandberg and Pete Mackanin. Kapler fits that description to a T, and then some, according to his former boss, Andrew Friedman:

“He’s incredibly bright, he’s a tremendous leader of people, and he’s an exceptional communicator. It’s so hard for players, who are so mired in it, to sometimes see the bigger picture or even look at it from a different perspective. Gabe is incredibly skilled at seeing things at different perspectives.”

Why You Should Be Concerned

The only “reason,” if you’d call it that, was an issue with the son of Terry Francona earlier this year. Nick Francona aruged that the Dodgers, “pushed him out of the organization after he went to a Boston-area organization to seek treatment for ‘invisible wounds of war.'” Terry went so far as to write a letter to the league office regarding what he felt was discrimination, focusing mainly on Kapler’s role in the ordeal. According to Bill Baer, though, the issue seems to have been forgotten.

Other than that, I don’t see any other negatives. People will say that he has almost no managerial experience, but honestly that’s an extremely lazy narrative to try and push.

Final Thoughts

Admittedly, Kapler wasn’t my first choice for the Phillies managerial opening. I was openly hoping for Mickey Callaway (formerly of the Cleveland Indians who went on to become the Mets new manager, naturally) or Wathan. Still, I’m beyond excited that Kapler is the new manager of the ball club. Just because his name value isn’t as high as, say, Joe Girardi or John Farrell, it doesn’t mean he won’t become a great manager. I don’t think the Phillies made the right choice–I know they did, and I’m extremely intrigued to see how well Kapler performs in his new role.

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