The Phillies announced the hiring of ex-MLB player and current Dodgers’ front office member Gabe Kapler as their new manager on Monday, in a move that attracted support from much of the sabermetric community. Across baseball, to sum it up, responses to the Phillies’ hiring of Kapler ranged from “bold” to a “great move.”
Kapler might transcend the managing game. He’s only 42, and an ex-player, giving him the opportunity to connect with the current players in the Phillies clubhouse on a personal level. He also is a fitness freak. Kapler runs his own website on how to stay healthy, KapLifestyle.com. He was featured on fitness magazines before even making the big leagues, and he was even the focus of an entire K-Swiss shoe campaign in 1999.
Perhaps more importantly, Kapler is known for being very saber-friendly. While working as a analyst for FOX Sports 1 in 2013, Kapler ran two segments: one, “Saberclips,” where he would explain advanced statistics used throughout the game; and two, “In the Cage,” where he would provide advice for young baseball players to improve their own swings at home.
Despite having little managerial experience, Kapler was destined to become a big league manager. He finished second in the Dodgers’ manager race to Dave Roberts before the 2016 season. But, on Monday, Kapler became the 54th manager in Philadelphia Phillies franchise history.
After doing some research on Kapler, it occurred to me that him being considered a “new wave” manager makes him very similar to another Philadelphia coaching hire from the recent past: the Eagles’ move for Chip Kelly.
First, we all know how that turned out. The Eagles had a couple of good seasons under Kelly before he demanded the ability to become the GM of the team, too, and they promptly fell apart. For example, he traded away running back LeSean McCoy and replaced him with DeMarco Murray, who was way worse in that system.
I’m not here to droll on about the Eagles — who are the best team in the NFL right now, by the way — but I do want you to know this. Although I am comparing Kapler and Kelly, by no means do I believe the results for the two coaching careers will follow a similar track. We don’t know how the “Kapler” style of managing works in the big leagues, making this all the more intriguing, exciting and nerve-wracking for the Phillies.
First, there’s the matter of nutrition.
As head coach of the Eagles, Kelly instituted a strict sport-science program. He killed all fast food at the Eagles’ facilities, and instead worked with a specifically trained sports scientist to create specialty shakes for each player. The idea behind this was that players would be able to perform at their highest levels if fed correctly. These players are already world-class at putting on muscle, but with better diets, Kelly believed that they could become even bigger, faster, stronger.
Kapler instituted a similar program as the Director of Player Development for the Dodgers. Beginning in 2015, the Dodgers’ clubhouse went entirely organic when Kapler worked with a catering company to bring in healthy food, according to ESPN. There, the Dodgers claimed that they were the “healthiest team in pro sports.” The Dodgers, obviously, have had plenty of success over the past three seasons, but it’s really not known whether an organic food program can take the credit.
I’d imagine the differences in the execution of these two organic programs to be fairly significant. Since Kelly was given full GM duties, he was able to quickly turn any player who wasn’t buying into his program into an ex-Eagle. Kapler, on the other hand, may have to learn how to deal with rebellious players, although since most of the Phillies’ team is fairly young, he might not have a tough time disrupting the players’ current habits. That remains to be seen.
Of course, a second similarity rests in the use of analytics.
This one isn’t as big, as many teams are moving to hire more analytically friendly managers. For Kelly, working in the NFL, that was a big deal. His college-style, fast-paced offense took the league by storm for a short time. I can’t imagine Kapler doing anything so far outside the box that it completely shifts league thinking. I do imagine his Phillies team will shift more, bullpens will be used differently and bunts will go down. But that’s all part of the 2017 baseball.
Lastly, they are both outsiders to coaching at the professional level. This one might be a bit of a stretch — I’ll admit — but there is something to this.
While Kelly had success for several years at Oregon, he never held a coaching position at any NFL level before becoming the Eagles’ head coach. Oftentimes, like in baseball, a team coordinator will become a head coach; this was not the case for Kelly.
Kapler is perhaps even more of an outsider. He, too, has never sat on a big league bench in any capacity. He managed the 2007 Class-A Greenville Drive between playing stints, and his team went 58-81. Outside of that, he has zero experience coaching at any professional level, giving him the top job of coaching right out of the gate.
Will Gabe Kapler be Chip Kelly II in Philadelphia? It’s nearly impossible to know, but it’s certainly something to think about.
Devan Fink is a Featured Writer at Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.