Last week, Gabe Kapler proudly said the Phillies had discovered a troublesome trend among their pitchers that was leading to home runs allowed.
“We’re confident,” the manager declared, “there’s a specific adjustment that is going to help us get better.”
The next day, against Atlanta, they gave up three taters. The day after, they gave up five more.
It’s gotten ridiculous. At their current pace, the guys in red pinstripes will allow 276 dingers this season, obliterating the franchise record. That would also break the Major League mark — although the pathetic Orioles and Mariners appear likely to beat them there.
As we pause for the All-Star Game, it seems the local pitching staff is best suited to be serving up fodder for the Home Run Derby.
Granted, this is the year of the long ball throughout baseball. Blame it on juiced balls or tighter laces or hitters’ love of launch angles. Home runs are up everywhere.
But it goes deeper with this squad. Compared to last season, the Phillies are way up in ERA (4.66 from 4.14 in 2018), hits allowed per nine innings (9.3 from 8.5), and walks allowed per nine (3.3 from 3.1). And while the rest of baseball becomes a whiff-a-thon, their strikeouts are down from 9.3 to 8.5 per nine innings.
What’s happening here? From my perspective, there are several culprits. Start with the pitchers themselves, who are responsible for their own performance.
And blame injuries, particularly in the bullpen. In the case of Jake Arrieta, we can cite both his stubbornness and the bone spur in his pitching elbow, which was revealed on Sunday.
But it’s more than coincidence that ERAs are up for seven of the 10 Phillies who’ve pitched at least 18 innings in both 2018 and 2019. So I’ll point the next finger at first-year pitching coach, Chris Young.
I believe this staff’s shortcomings are more mindset than talent. Every pitcher — save Aaron Nola — appears obsessed with nibbling at the corners. I’ve come to recognize their patterns of throwing breaking balls, trying to fool the opposition. If I can see it, you know the opposition has spotted the flaws.
The 38-year-old rookie pitching coach is regarded as a bright mind who moved up because of his acumen in scouting and analytics. The Phils promoted him before this season when other teams inquired about hiring him away.
When Young was given a Major League uniform, Rick Kranitz, his predecessor, was pushed out after one season. Kranitz landed on his feet as Atlanta’s pitching coach. The Braves’ ERA is now 47 points better than the Phils’, and only figures to get better.
Kranitz, 60, is an old head who may not be as astute at crunching numbers. But he had strong relationships with his pitchers here, knowing many as they rose through the system. Obviously, he got better results than Young has out of essentially the same crew.
Certainly, this isn’t all Young’s fault. The Braves’ farm system shames the Phillies’. And while Phils GM Matt Klentak boasted in the spring of his “objectively excellent offseason,” many fans wondered how he had confidence sitting pat with a rotation of Nola, Arrieta, Nick Pivetta, Manny, Moe, and Jack.
And so here we are. Discussing the boom in homers allowed last week, Young told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “It’s not the baseball, it’s not the air, it’s not the hitters. It’s something that we, as a staff, have to address and get better at.”
Sounds right to me. Maybe try mixing in a damned fastball.