The announcement brings to an end a lengthy 11-day evaluation from Phillies owner John Middleton, who took control of the decision-making process from GM Matt Klentak. Middleton reportedly flew to his players’ offseason homes to interview them about Kapler.
Kapler, 44, was hired by Klentak after the 2017 season to replace Pete Mackanin. His dedication to analytics and his unorthodox management style, both on and off the field, was supposed to herald a bright new era for the Phillies, who were just emerging from a five-year rebuild.
Instead, Kapler was fired after two seasons that started out promisingly but ended in disappointment and wasted potential. Both the 2018 and 2019 Phillies had strong starts, spent significant time in first place, and were poised to make the playoffs or the wild-card play-in game by at least August. Both teams then endured prolonged swoons which removed them from playoff contention and turned good seasons into forgettable ones. Kapler’s overall managerial record with the Phillies is 161-163.
While the failure of the upgraded 2019 squad is what likely led to his firing, it’s not all on Kapler. The Phillies dealt with a tremendous number of injuries: according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, 22 Phillies players landed on the injured list during the 2019 season, which came to over 1,600 games lost for those players (and for the Phillies). And while you can’t predict injuries, they revealed a startling lack of depth in the Phillies system. With the bench shallow and the bullpen hollow, Kapler wasn’t given a lot to work with to replace that production. The fault for that lies solely with Klentak, who is somehow keeping his job despite the failure of his handpicked manager and his own failure to give the Phillies injury depth.
Kapler may be getting the immediate blame for where the Phillies are, but it appears that it’s more of a group effort. Recent articles from Matt Gelb and Meghan Montemurro of The Athletic highlight how the Phillies have clumsily tried to make up for lost time with their analytics and pitching processes, which led to Kapler and pitching coach Chris Young (who is not returning in 2020) alienating key members of the pitching staff. Young, promoted from assistant before the 2019 season, had never been a coach before. At least one pitcher, Zach Eflin, adopted Young’s analytics-assisted recommendations only to throw them off during a long slump and find success following his own plan. In fact, the pitching staff as a whole took an enormous step backwards in 2019.
That’s not to say that Kapler didn’t have defenders. He was loved by many Phillies players for allowing them to police the clubhouse themselves. Bryce Harper and JT Realmuto, arguably the most important position players on the Phillies, talked about their love and respect for him following the final game of the season. Harper has 12 years left on his contract, and the Phillies are hoping to sign Realmuto to a contract extension this winter. Both are vital to the future of the team. But even with their words of support, Middleton decided that it was best for the entire team for Kapler to move on.
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