Too many different batting orders. Too many pitching changes. No specific roles in the bullpen. Too many players out of position. Too much reliance on analytics. Pinch-hitting in the second inning! What?
There was much criticism of the way the Phillies went about their business on the field in 2018.
But general manager Matt Klentak believes the team, from the front office to manager Gabe Kapler, operated the right way and is better now than it was a year ago.
“Without question,” he said during an end-of-season news conference at Citizens Bank Park on Monday. “We won 14 more games than we did the year before.
“This team just rolled out in a conventional style would not have made the playoffs. In fact, it would have been worse than this year's team. The fact that we outperformed our run-differential (minus-51) as much as we did speaks to the fact that we probably did pretty well in the area of putting our players in the best positions to succeed. As the roster evolves and we have more quote-unquote regular players, I think you'll see that less and less. But the roster this year dictated that that's the way we behave and we will adjust that behavior moving forward as necessary.”
The Phillies finished 80-82. They exceeded most early-season expectations. But the expectations changed at midseason when the team was in first place in the NL East heading for 15 games over .500 in early August. The Phillies flopped down the stretch, lost 33 of their final 49 and finished in third place.
The Phils have not had a winning season since 2011, the end of the team’s great run that featured Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Cole Hamels.
Those teams had big talent, Klentak reasoned, and would not have required unorthodox managing, positioning and lineup construction.
“Those teams that were favored to win from the beginning and coasted through the season,” Klentak said. “There’s not a huge incentive to try new things there because you have an incredibly talented core of players who are better than the opponents and are going to win.
“To remind everyone, we (the 2018 Phillies) were projected to win 74, 76, maybe 78 games. That team isn’t going to go to the playoffs if you just run the players out there and play traditional baseball absent of some incredible good fortune. That’s why I say that when those are your expectations, that’s a good year to try things.
“I’m not going to apologize for the way we conducted business this year. For organizations to move forward, they need to push the envelope. Look at the Eagles and the Sixers. These are not teams that have done things in traditional or conventional way for the last few years. In one case, they are the Super Bowl champions and in the other case they might be the most exciting, promising young team in the NBA and it’s not because they did everything traditionally.”
When the Phillies become more talented, Klentak explained, they may go about their on-field business more traditionally.
That might happen as soon as next year.
“I would expect with the combination of an improved roster next year and also an adjustable manager will mean we don’t push the envelope quite as much,” he said.