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An anonymous scout still has it out for Gabe Kapler

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A little more than a month ago, new Phillies manager Gabe Kapler was dealing with a litany of criticism for the Phillies’ slow start. The club got off to a 1-4 start which included some questionable bullpen management. Everyone was jumping on Kapler for adhering too stringently to newer, untested methods of running a baseball team — fans, writers, even an anonymous Phillies player. That anonymous Phillie said, “We’ll be OK … We just need the manager to get out of the way,” Jon Heyman reported for FanRag Sports.

Since then, things have gone much better for the Phillies. They’re now 24-16, just one game behind the first-place Braves in the NL East. The club has one of the best pitching staffs in baseball with an aggregate 3.40 ERA, fourth-best across MLB. That includes a 3.46 ERA from the starting rotation (sixth of 30) and a 3.30 ERA (seventh) from the much-maligned bullpen. Even the offense has picked things up, as their aggregate .320 weighted on-base average (wOBA) ranks 11th of 30 teams. Criticism of Kapler has almost entirely gone away and, in fact, he’s even won some people over by being willing to listen to criticism and make adjustments. He’s managing much better now than he did last month.

But not everyone has been converted yet. Heyman has another report today for FanRag Sports, this time citing an anonymous scout. Here’s Heyman’s full blurb on Kapler:

This rumor could be going around because Gabe Kapler is unpopular among scouts around the game, but word is that bench coach Rob Thomson has gained influence after a few early mistakes by Kapler. Thomson is well-respected around the league and has long experience as Joe Girardi’s right-hand man with the Yankees, and he should be a managing candidate somewhere, but in this day and age where more famous guys with bigger playing pedigrees seem to be favored, he has yet to have that opportunity. Anyway, one rival scout said he heard this: “Thomson literally has taken over game decisions. He just tells Kapler what to do and he does it – like a puppet.” (FWIW, we think that has to be an exaggeration, at the very least.)

Note the wording: “One rival scout said he heard this.” This is “Whisper Down the Lane” at best. Heyman provides the necessary caveats, but reporting this is really unfair to Kapler. Heyman also published an article last November with unflattering anecdotes about Kapler, including one anonymous source who called Kapler “more persona than person.” As Heyman was also the source behind the anonymous Phillie’s quote regarding Kapler, one wonders if Heyman’s source(s) just have it out for Kapler and are trying to smear him for whatever reason.

Kapler is a polarizing figure. He’s extremely dedicated to the use of analytics, which has led to unorthodox bullpen usage — even excluding the Hoby Milner screw-up — that rubs people the wrong way. He also uses defensive shifts that, in the rare moments they have backfired, have gotten some people’s goats. Kapler has some interesting health beliefs. He doesn’t fit many people’s idea of what a manager should look like, as he’s relatively young, in incredible shape, and generally good looking. There was also a whole thing with Nick Francona, a war veteran, that seems to have gone away, but may not have sat well with some people. That Kapler has some people out there who not only want him to fail, but want to see him crash and burn in a spectacle, is not much of a stretch.

Recently, Mets rookie manager Mickey Callaway cost his team a scoring opportunity with an egregious mistake — he didn’t notice his players batting out of order. Callaway doesn’t have the same new-age stigma that Kapler has, so the mistake was laughed about in the moment and then forgotten about not more than a couple hours later. No one suggested he’s on the hot seat now, like many did when Kapler mistakenly brought Milner into the game without warming up. No one suggested that newer ways of thinking about baseball have been discredited because of his mistake (Callaway is a proponent of analytics). The disparity in treatment between Kapler and Callaway, and other rookie managers like Alex Cora and Dave Martinez (who have also screwed up without being tarred and feathered for it), is part of why I take the aforementioned anonymous scout’s quote — and anything Heyman reports about Kapler, honestly — with a huge grain of salt, and you should too.

Major League Baseball needs to make an example out of José Ureña

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We’re about an hour and a half separated from the first pitch of Wednesday night’s Marlins/Braves game that featured Marlins starter José Ureña hitting Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña on the elbow with a first-pitch, 97.5 MPH fastball. The benches emptied, Ureña was ejected, and the game went on. Acuña left the game not long after to tend to his injured elbow.

After the game, when the Marlins speak to the media, they will almost certainly deny any ill intent towards Acuña, who had hit leadoff home runs in three consecutive games against them. When they do so, they will be lying. Watch how catcher J.T. Realmuto sets up on the first pitch.

ESPN Stats & Info notes that Ureña’s 97.5 MPH fastball was in the 99th percentile in terms of velocity of the 2,125 pitches he has thrown this season. It was also the fastest pitch Ureña has ever thrown to begin a game. Ureña put a little extra mustard on this pitch, for some reason.

Ureña has a 6.8 percent walk rate, which ranks 37th out of 95 starters with at least 100 innings of work this season. The major league average is eight percent. Control isn’t typically something with which he struggles.

Furthermore, Acuña isn’t the only player who has drawn Ureña’s ire:

Ureña wanted nothing to do with Hoskins — even though Hoskins has yet to get a hit off of him — in his August 4 start at home against the Phillies, walking him twice which included a few up-and-in pitches.

Ureña will almost certainly be fined and suspended for his actions on Wednesday night against Acuña. But will his punishment be enough to deter him and others from wielding a baseball as a weapon? Probably not. On June 19, when Marlins starter Dan Straily intentionally threw at Buster Posey, he received a five-game suspension and manager Don Mattingly was suspended one game. If you look at Straily’s game logs, you can’t even tell he was suspended. He started six days later on June 25 against the Diamondbacks and again on July 1 and 6. Because starters only pitch once every five days, it was like he wasn’t even suspended at all.

Major League Baseball needs to levy harsher punishments on players who attempt to injure other players. A 15-game suspension, for example, would force Ureña to miss at least two starts and it would inconvenience the Marlins enough to more seriously weigh the pros and cons of exacting revenge. The Marlins couldn’t work around it the way they did Straily by pushing back his scheduled start one day.

Major League Baseball also needs to make a legitimate effort to do away with this culture of revenge against players who are just a little bit too happy. Batters get thrown at when they flip their bats, when they yell at themselves in frustration, and even when they’re just hitting well. Baseball’s stagnating audience is very old, very white, and very male. It is not going to bring in fans from diverse backgrounds by keeping this antiquated culture that prevents baseball players from showing their personalities and being emotive. In the event Acuña needs to go on the disabled list for a couple weeks, that’s two weeks that Acuña isn’t on SportsCenter’s top-10, isn’t on the front page of MLB.com, and isn’t in articles like this. The culture of revenge is actively harming MLB’s ability to market its bright, young stars. If ending this culture of revenge doesn’t hit MLB from a moral angle, it should absolutely hit home from a business angle.