The Mets went on to win, 4-2, taking the lead for good after the Phillies lifted their own top starter, Aaron Nola, who had worked five innings and thrown 87 pitches. The teams combined to use eight relievers, and the Mets’ foursome — Robert Gsellman, Hansel Robles, AJ Ramos and Jeurys Familia — struck out eight in five scoreless innings.
This is baseball in 2018. The last two World Series have matched teams heavily influenced by analytics — the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians in 2016, the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Dodgers last season. The Moneyball revolution that began in the early 2000s is no longer revolutionary. It is everywhere.
Like Callaway, the former Cleveland pitching coach, the Phillies’ Gabe Kapler is a first-time major league manager who came from one of those recent pennant-winners. But while Callaway is now 4-1 as a manager, Kapler, the former Dodgers farm director, has lost four of his first five games, some with baffling decisions.
Philadelphia fans — at least those who could find Wednesday’s Facebook-only broadcast — cannot be happy. The Phillies will stage their home opener on Thursday, and even the presence of Doug Pederson, the coach of the Super Bowl-winning Eagles who will throw out the first pitch, may not save Kapler from an earful.
Credit Rich Schultz/Getty Images
“Look, my focus is on getting our team ready to play our first home series,” Kapler said. “This is not about me, this is about our players. Our players are very, very exciting. Our club is a good, deep, interesting club.”
So far, though, Kapler’s moves have been the most interesting thing about the Phillies, and not in a good way. He relies heavily on data, but several strategies have backfired, despite the research behind them.
After lifting his starter on Wednesday — “The thought process was, as it always is: keep Nola safe, healthy and strong,” he said — Kapler called for Drew Hutchison, a journeyman right-hander whose slider had impressed him all spring.
With two out and two on in the sixth, Kapler expected Hutchison’s slider to induce weak contact from the Mets’ No. 9 hitter, Amed Rosario. He put right fielder Nick Williams in an extremely shallow position to keep a hit from falling in front of him — but instead, Rosario drove the slider well over Williams’s head. It bounced to the wall for a two-run triple.
Kapler is convinced that, in time, his moves will start to work. For now, though, he is left to insist that data-driven baseball will eventually pay off.
“We have to be patient and trust that we’re trying to look at a very large sample size to evaluate if our strategies are working effectively,” Kapler said. “I can’t express enough confidence that our strategies will pay dividends, but I understand that in the short term, they haven’t — and that can be disappointing. I get it.”
The Phillies’ pitchers will probably improve their current 5.56 earned run average, especially once their injured or rusty free-agent signees — Jake Arrieta, Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek — join the roster. Likewise, the Mets’ pitchers will probably not continue to strike out 61 batters every five games, and their bullpen will not be this sharp every day.
The larger question is what these trends mean for baseball. Statistics can be fascinating and revealing, challenging long-held assumptions and leading to more rational decisions. But when teams ask less of their players, we seem less likely to witness true greatness.
Consider the fifth inning on Wednesday, when Nola faced Yoenis Cespedes with one out and the bases empty. It should not have been strange that he was allowed to do this. But now, with managers so nervous about letting pitchers face hitters three times in one game, it seemed almost quaint.
Cespedes had homered off Nola’s curveball in the first inning, but this time, Nola struck him out with that very same pitch. Two batters later he was done for the day, and it seemed disturbingly normal.