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Gabe Kapler and the human versus calculator equation
by Scott Butler 4/8/18

Gabe Kapler Phillies

Remember when Cole Hamels offered Bryce Harper his "Welcome to the big leagues" introduction a few years ago by nailing him with a pitch? Gabe Kapler received a similar greeting. If I remember correctly, Harper ended up stealing a bag and scoring a run in that inning. Hopefully Kapler can rebound the same way.

Kapler has already caused dissension among the men in the clubhouse of which he now reigns. Odubel was upset with an Opening Day benching, Milner was wrapped up in a weird soap opera, Nola was lifted way too early from an Opening Day masterpiece, and Nick Williams made his views on the situation quite clear. The anonymous player who declared that the manager needs to get out of the way provided a nice bookend to Kap's first week.

How Gabe Kapler responds to the distinct possibility that he is losing his clubhouse is a storyline that may determine the fate of the Phillies' season.

Equally important is how his focus on analytics plays out. Two of the Phillies first four losses can be directly attributed to the use of analytics. The Phils lost one game in part because they were unable to turn a double-play due to a shift that left second base unoccupied. The game winning hit on Wednesday came on a hit over Nick Williams' head, who was playing about 50 feet shallower than the average right fielder due to what the analytics told the team.

Those are just two instances where they were burnt by analytics, but Kapler feels that by Game 162, the numbers will work in the Phillies favor. That might be the case. Teams have continued using the standard shift for many years now, not because it's fun, because it must work. The Phillies hope the same is true of their other defensive shifts.

One thing the numbers do not account for is the human factor. If you are Amed Rosario, and you see Nick Williams standing practically next to Cesar Hernandez in shallow right field, your eyes must light up that a routine fly ball gives you two RBIs and puts you on third base. At the same time, Drew Hutchison of the Phillies might feel added pressure knowing that a lazy fly to right gives the Mets the lead. The result on Wednesday was exactly that.

Of course, the opposite could be true. Perhaps Rosario tries to force a fly ball to the opposite field and gets himself out. Or Hutchison has more confidence to pitch inside. It's impossible to know. The Phillies are trying something very different here, so we might not comprehend the results for quite some time.

There is also the other human factor here of how players respond to everything. We knew coming into this season that the Phillies's skipper, whether it be Kapler, Mackanin, or even Ryne Sandberg, was going to have an issue with playing time. The Phillies have 9 position players with a legitimate right to play every day and 7 positions with which to fill them.

Until an injury or a trade happens, it means players will sit much more than they want. Players who play all 162 games earn roughly 600 at-bats in a season, meaning roughly 4,200 at-bats to be shared at all 7 positions (excluding catcher and pitcher). If Kapler decided to split the time of all players equally (which we know will not happen), that works out to 467 at-bats per player. On average, that's 133 less at-bats than they would have if they played every day.

The hope is that most of those AB's they lose were those in which they weren't terribly likely to succeed in the first place. The hope is also that players feel more refreshed, and are able to make the most of the at-bats they do acquire.

Obviously Kapler did not create this situation - that's on Matt Klentak. But Kapler still makes his own mark here, too.

We can agree that most managers would have Santana and Hoskins playing pretty much every day, as Kapler has done. But most managers would probably put Williams and Altherr in a fairly strict platoon as much as they could, with occasional days off for Herrera. But Kapler decided to sit Odubel Herrera, the first player the current front office signed to an extension, for two games. He also decided to bench Nick Williams in five of the seven games. He's basing those decisions on numbers, but Nick Williams doesn't care about that. He wants to play.

Kapler also has created a situation in which players, especially pitchers, feel like numbers on a key pad. Aaron Nola should aim to pitch a complete game every time out there, but how can he when he knows he's getting the hook once he nears 100 pitches or faces a lineup for the third time? Is Victor Arano going to feel proud that his manager chose him to pitch in a pressure situation because he had faith in him? How can he when he knows it's simply what the numbers told Gabe?

I'm not here to give answer to any of these questions, because I really don't know. What I do know is that Kapler can't manage a team relying solely on a calculator. Like any good player, he must adjust to the reality in front of him. His numbers are worthless if his players have no faith in him. Hopefully the numbers will work out over 162.

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