Gabe Kapler's managerial debut was, in a word, bizarre. It was also exactly the type of performance you can expect from a newbie.
With a series of unconventional substitutions, Kapler managed the Phillies from a probable Opening Day win to humiliating 8-5 loss to the Braves in Atlanta on Thursday. If you've come in search of a defense of those moves, you've come to the wrong place.
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Pulling Aaron Nola after just 68 pitches while pitching a shutout seems like a borderline fireable offense. The decision didn't get any better with age, either, as Kapler later revealed All-Star reliever Pat Neshek wasn't available. And if analytics were at work when Nola got the hook, where were the numbers when Hector Neris was serving up a walk-off home run to Nick Markakis - 7 for 14 against Neris all-time entering the at bat – with Peter Bourjos on deck?
Sending Rhys Hoskins to the bench in the eighth while clinging to a three-run lead had no impact on the outcome, but might have had Neris been able to send the game to extra innings. Withholding Odubel Herrera from the starting lineup altogether was an interesting choice as well.
Believe me, I'm no enemy of analytics. But I do find it hard to believe numbers are telling Kapler he can win while sitting arguably the top three players on the entire Phillies roster.
Then there's the emotional side of the game. Neither Nola nor Herrera sounded very pleased with the manager, which – though it might mean little now – could plant the seed for discord in the clubhouse. The Braves, meanwhile, were all too thrilled with Kapler's meddling.
"Once they took him out, it was kind of a jolt for us," said Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman, via Todd Zolecki for MLB.com. "You wanted to come back. Once they took out a guy like that, it gave us a bolt of energy."
Kapler's debut was about as disastrous as could be. And yet, if recent Philly sports history has taught us anything, it's to quit jumping to rash conclusions.
Remember when Charlie Manuel was on the hot seat for the Phillies after missing the playoffs his first two seasons at the helm? He eventually guided the team to a World Series championship and became the winningest manager in franchise history. Remember when Doug Pederson was dubbed "the least qualified coach in the NFL?" Now the city has its first Lombardi Trophy.
To be honest, I liked the Kapler hiring. In many ways, his philosophies seem to embody the direction professional sports seem to be taking, with so much additional focus placed on analytics, health and physical and mental fitness.
This was not a promising start. Kapler is already making observers wonder if he's going to be more Ryne Sandberg than Manuel, more Chip Kelly than Pederson.
There's only one way to find out. Kapler is the manager now, and he deserves the opportunity to endure and perhaps learn from some failures. The reality is the Phillies may not know what they have for a few years.
Unfortunately, if Opening Day was any indication, Kapler may have a lot of learning to do, even in areas that might be considered fairly straight-forward to a more seasoned manager.