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Phillies players were not happy with last year's coaching staff - Quotes, quotes, and more quotes from the players themselves
by Scott Butler 3/1/20

Gabe Kapler

I still can’t over Baseball Prospectus somehow projecting the Phillies will win four fewer games than last season. Absurd, right?

Baseball Prospectus describes its PECOTA (Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm) projection system as follows:

PECOTA is a system that takes a player’s past performance and tries to project the most likely outcome for the following season. It looks at all of the numbers, and all the numbers that make up the numbers, to see which players are more likely to repeat their success and which ones benefited from good fortune.

In other words it’s 100% analytics, which is 100% fine for a system that is designed to take subjectivity out of the equation. But to ignore the upgrades at manager, pitching coach, and hitting coach is to ignore perhaps the Phillies' most important offseason upgrade.

How big were those upgrades? Big. Like, really big.

But don't take my word for it. Phillies players, along with a couple other guys you know, paint a clear portrait of discontent. Not a single player directly criticized Gabe Kapler or Chris Young - the Phillies PR staff clearly trained them well - but oh boy did they want to put their thoughts out there.

Here is a nice sampling of quotes about Gabe Kapler, Chris Young, more Chris Young, and a little more Chris Young. Some of what you will read requires some connecting of dots, but Phillies fans are plenty smart enough to pick up what the players are putting down.

On Gabe Kapler:

Scott Kingery (on the toll of playing multiple positions):

“I’d be gassed by the time the game was played. It was a mental battle to try to figure out my routine and what I needed to do to get my mind and my body ready to play multiple positions.”

“This is the way I look at it: If I need to take days off of ground balls and I’m at one position, I know I can take that day. I’m doing that work most every day. I’m solidifying my move and my technique. But if I’m switching...it’s a different throw from third base. If I’m moving back and forth, then I feel like I can’t take a day off. Maybe I was in center field. OK, well now I have to go remind myself of the technique and the throw from third base.”

“The more your body gets worn down, the more you start recruiting muscles that you don’t want to be recruiting in your swing. I would lose the whole technique of my swing that I wanted because my body was tired. I was trying to power through it.”

It wasn't just a feel thing, either. Kingery can actually find evidence in video. “I need to put something extra into it. I end up swinging harder and muscling up, which throws off my path to the ball. I can see it.”

Joe Girardi agrees. “There are days where you can tell a player, ‘Don’t take so many ground balls, just take some BP,’" Girardi said. "But playing short one day and second one day and third one day and center one day, you have to work on your defense all the time."

Jean Segura (on a nightmare season and changes he made for 2020):

"I have to enjoy what I do. I think last year, I didn't do it too much because there was a lot of stress — Cutch went down, you know, a lot of situation going on with the lineup, you know, I'm hitting four, I never hit four in my life. So, there were a lot of things going on in the season that sometimes affect players."

"You can put 14 pounds on your shoulder and go running and you'll feel how heavy it is when you get tired." That happens sometimes when you're overweight and you play short and you stress a lot."

“It affected me mentally because one of my teammates went down because I didn’t run down the line," Segura said. "I thought about it a lot through the season. My body, my energy level went down. I was frustrated because at that time he was hot, he was leading off. I was hitting second. It was like a one-two punch right away.”

"But at the end of the day it affected my mentality because one of my teammates went down because I didn't run down the line. I thought about it a lot through the season. My body, my energy level went down."

“I think that’s the big change to quit alcohol. My body is still pretty good. I’m healthy, eating-wise. Now I go to bed early. Now I feel pretty good. I feel excited and ready to go.”

On Chris Young:

Jake Arrieta:

"There's an emphasis on [throwing down-and-away fastballs]. It's refreshing to hear it promoted. It's been good in this game forever and it will continue to be good as long as the game of baseball is played."

"As smart as a lot of these analytical teams are, they miss some of the most obvious signs of not needing to do that as often. Guys that don't have mid- to upper-90s fastballs, guys that don't have a 12-6 or an above-average curveball. Taking guys that throw sinkers and transitioning them to a guy that throws four-seamers up. It's happened all around baseball and it's foolish."

"I'm so sick of seeing guys go fastball up 0-0, fastball up 1-0, 0-1, 2-1. I'm (bleeping) sick of seeing it. And it doesn't work as well as people think it does. It just flat-out doesn't. 

"There's a ton of damage up if you can't locate it."

"The message has been sent [from Bryan Price] that we're all going to be good at down and away. It's the hardest pitch to hit in the game and it always will be. I don't care what new guru comes along and tries to say that the evidence shows the cutter is the only pitch you throw. I'm not going to listen or believe any of it. Down and away is and will always be good."

"Young guys want to be coachable. I've been in similar situations. You believe that everybody has your best interests in mind but sometimes those things aren't meant for you. So, you have to be able to filter the information you are given, be realistic with yourself and self-evaluate."

"Absolutely," Arrieta said when asked if he advised Eflin to return to his previous pitching style. "Absolutely."

"When they send you to Triple A, no one is going with you."

He recognized Eflin's discomfort in pitching up in the zone "from Day 1."

"It was a period of time that was frustrating not only for him last year but for all of us watching it happen. Watching him go from a sinker-slider-cutter guy, occasional curveball-changeup, to up with a curveball underneath. Look, say you're a center in the NBA and they want you to be a point guard. It's probably not going to work out. It's not who you are. 'I can't (bleeping) dribble, I can't shoot three-pointers.' It's not going to work."

"It's not an easy situation to deal with when you're being pulled in a couple of different directions and you're unsure what to do, but he's in a better place now. He's got beautiful mechanics. He's got really good command and action on everything. It's real stuff."

Arrieta made sure to point out that Chris Young "did a lot of good here and there was a lot of great information that he gave the guys and it definitely wasn't just him."

Zack Eflin:

“When you’re trying to be someone you’re not, it’s not the best way to go about it.”

“A couple of them [pitching coaches] are kind of the same person, communicate the same way, but I think more what everybody is focused on right now is being themselves and realizing what got us to the big leagues and taking advantage of doing what you’re good at so I think that’s a huge step for everybody.”

Vince Velasquez:

“I think that’s what falls under predictability. I was living at the top of the zone 95% of the time. My strikeout ratio would have been higher. But again, every game plan was always at the top of the zone, so again you’ve got to learn how to change speeds and live up and down and in and out.”

Hector Neris:

“[Joe Girardi] understands he needs the bullpen healthy for the whole season and not just one game,” Neris said. “I saw how he used guys and the team he had before, how much stronger they were in September and October and in playoffs. When you see that, you see how he understands how to use guys there.”

Aaron Nola:

“[Bryan Price] knows how to run things and he’s not going to change how the game is played.”

"Kranny is one of the best pitching coaches I've ever had because he simplified things," Nola said of former Phillies pitching coach Rick Kranitz. "Bob McClure [another former pitching coach] simplified things to the best because he's old-school. That was your plan, especially in bullpens. We had a bad game, you'd get back to basics and go from there. I don't see too much of a difference with Bryan in that aspect."

“It’s so important because not everybody’s the same. Not everybody can throw fastballs up and blow it by guys. I can [do it] maybe once, but if I do it again, [the hitter] will time it up. The whole point is to change eye levels, change speeds."

“Ground balls still work. Balls down in the zone still work. I don’t think that’s ever going to get away from the game. As kids we all learned, ‘Throw the ball down, throw the ball at the knees, get ground balls early in the count. Don’t try to strike the guy out at the beginning of the at-bat when it’s an 0-0 count.’ That’s what Bryan stresses.”

"Pitching ain’t simple, but to simplify it is what we need to do, to not overthink things, to not get in that big of a head-slump. He’s not going to change how pitching’s always been throughout however long baseball’s been baseball.”

Pat Gillick:

“A successful coach must gain a player’s trust and get their confidence for them to say, ‘This guy knows what he’s doing, what he’s talking about.’ Bryan is very good mechanically and fundamentally and from a mental standpoint he’s very good at getting close to guys. His approach is not to change a guy but to add on to what he has."

“It seems like whether it’s a hitting coach or a pitching coach, the minute you suggest something to a player they stiffen up and think you’re trying to change them. They call their wife or agent and say, ‘They want to change me.’ That’s not the way Bryan operates. He gains confidence then says, ‘Let’s look at this,’ or ‘Why not try this?’ It’s the old story: The player got there for a reason — because he has ability. Let’s work with that ability.”

Larry Bowa (on Price’s philosophy of pitching to strength):

“In my opinion, that’s why we didn’t have success last year,” Bowa said. “We pitched to how the analytics said we should pitch instead of pitching to our strengths. It was all about game plan. I love game plans, but if you can’t get a pitch over that day, you need to adjust the game plan. There’s no universal way to pitch.”

On the coaching in general:

J.T. Realmuto:

How about a quote from Gabe Kapler himself?

Here is Gabe recently as he spoke to the San Francisco media about Nick Williams: “I wanted to say, ‘No, you’re just not very good at baseball.’’’

And finally, new Phillies skipper Joe Girardi

Let's end this on a happier note.

“I’m so happy to get on this bus right now,” Joe Girardi said this week after electing to ride the team bus from Fort Myers to Clearwater and handing the keys to his SUV to Neil Walker. “I told them ‘Just leave the keys on my desk. Don’t take them home with you.’ I can sit on the bus and if I fall asleep, it won’t matter.”

This feels a little like kicking guys while they are down, but it's important to emphasize the huge shift in coaching philosophies. Does a manager and his staff win or lose five or more games as some people believe or is it closer to one or two games? The 2020 Phillies season makes for a fascinating case study.

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