Some Takeaways From the Andy MacPhail Press Conference

Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Phillies President of Baseball Operations Andy MacPhail met with reporters this afternoon at Citizens Bank Park to give what I would term as a refreshingly honest assessment of his team and some clues about its direction moving forward ahead of a crucial offseason. I just finished up watching the presser in its entirety and rather do a traditional story here, I think it’s best to share some overall impressions and takeaways from the session.

1. For Starters

The Phillies lived and died by their starting pitching this season, a fact that MacPhail quickly alluded to when discussing his team’s struggles down the stretch. He noted that Phillies starters turned in Major League Baseball’s second-highest quality start percentage through August 18 (58%), but when their performance regressed, “that’s when the spiral started.” MacPhail, in lamenting the difficulty of assessing the team’s progress this season, said, “We are the most inconsistent team I have ever been associated with.” Specifically, he mentioned the unsustained summer surges of Zach Eflin and Vince Velasquez. It’s also worth noting that MacPhail said about his team’s pitching, “I wish we’d get a little more left-handed.”

My takeaway?

I think MacPhail knows that players like Velasquez, Eflin, and Nick Pivetta have considerable upside, but to return all three would be too great a risk, one that could ultimately sink the team in 2019. I expect this rotation to have different look in at least one or two spots next season.

2. “Dicey” Decisions

Later during the press conference, MacPhail also cited the inconsistency of third baseman Maikel Franco. I found his assessment to be revealing. “Franco hit .330 in July and then backed it up with .240 in August,” he said. “I mean, the other team, you know, maybe they’ll find the key, or maybe it is a function of just experience and learning yourself and what you have to do to stay focused and energetic the entire season.”

Now read that quote again and tell me if it sounds like Franco will be back next season?

MacPhail also named Odubel Herrera and Hector Neris as inconsistent performers. Those observations, paired with his comments about Eflin and Velasquez, really get to the crux of the Phillies’ dilemma this offseason. I think most observers of this team agree that several changes are coming both via free agency and the trade market. The Phillies must adeptly gauge what such inconsistency and performance variance from several of their players means in 2019 and beyond. Which of these players just are not good enough to sustain quality play and which are still evolving and moving in an upward trajectory toward their projected ceilings? This front office has several very interesting and difficult decisions awaiting them in the coming weeks and months.

3. Downplaying Analytics

It was absolutely no surprise that WIP’s Howard Eskin was the one to ask MacPhail about the team’s usage of analytics. Eskin spent most of the summer decrying (I thought rightfully so, at times) what he felt was the team’s over-reliance on data. MacPhail seemed to be aware of his critiques by saying, “I fault myself because I haven’t, particularly with you, done a good enough trying to make you understand analytics.” I don’t if he meant that as a shot at Eskin. It didn’t seem like it as I watched, but it reads that way.

MacPhail went on to say, “It’s replacing the subjective with the objective.” He then provided a basic example about how a coach 10 years ago might urge a pitcher to throw a fastball up in the zone because a hitter struggles with such pitches, but now such a suggestion can be backed up with numbers. I thought he tried to downplay the organization’s recent prioritization of analytics by saying, “There is a narrative about our team that we are analytically driven. Yeah, we have a much bigger analytic department than we did three years ago because, essentially, we went from zero to what is now probably industry standard.”

He supported his assertion by noting the organization added a minor league team, coaches, and both international and domestic scouts.  While that’s true, the recent departure of former director of player development Joe Jordan and multiple minor league hitting instructors suggests a shift towards more data-driven evaluations and coaching methods. And, frankly, just watch the games. MacPhail can say it’s simply about transmitting data down to the field, but there wasn’t much traditional about the 2018 Phillies. In fact, if Gabe Kapler’s in-game decisions weren’t so heavily driven by analytics, I would think the team would have gone to great lengths throughout the season to squash such a narrative.

4. Speaking of Gabe Kapler

MacPhail sounded generally pleased with Kapler, but I appreciated his candidness about the manager’s tendency to paint every picture with sunshine and rainbows:

“He will get probably an all-expense paid dinner where he’s going to have to listen to me drone on for two hours. I watched this happen to Dusty Baker. If you’re just overly positive, overly positive, you lose credibility with the fans after awhile. You have to find a way to craft a message that is not critical of your players or negative, but acknowledge that there’s some areas, like the rest of us, we have to make some improvements.”

While there was much media and fan speculation regarding Kapler’s job security amid the team’s disastrous September, MacPhail didn’t sound like a guy who seriously considered moving on from the first-year manager:

“I’m a New Yorker, I don’t think anybody can be that positive. I’m like, what’s up? I’ve come to know him a little bit. He’s all in. He is what he is. He’s communicative. If you know anything about Gabe, he makes adjustments. He just went through his rookie year. Here’s a guy that was a 57th round draft choice. He will be the only 57th round draft choice in the history of Major League Baseball that not just got to the Major Leagues, he spent 12 years there. He knows how to make adjustments. He’s gonna have to make some adjustments going forward, just like the rest of us. He’s going to have to stay open-minded.”

5. Money Talks

The headline-grabber will probably be MacPhail’s refusal to blatantly acknowledge the Phillies’ desire to spend this offseason. I saw some early Twitter takes after his comments deeming the Phillies as “cheap” and “a joke,” but I actually thought it was pretty obvious that the team will look to spend aggressively on the right players. MacPhail acknowledged the team’s willingness to reach the previous significant payrolls that were common earlier in the decade. I don’t think it was ever realistic to expect the Phillies to add both Manny Machado and Bryce Harper this offseason, but MacPhail did seem to throw some water on that possibility when he made reference to the quality of next offseason’s free agent class and stated the importance of remaining financially flexible in coming seasons. People may not want to hear that, but he’s not wrong for saying it. Ironically, one of my favorite parts of the session came when he cautioned liberal free agency spending. Essentially, he debunked Matt Klentak’s disingenuous brag from yesterday about the Phillies having the fourth-best free agent class a year ago:

“We spent $169 million on free agents from ’17 to ’18. I think Matt alluded to this yesterday. That’s the second most of anybody. If you calculate how good your free agent class, and used WAR as the measuring stick, we had the fourth-most productive class, but spent the second most. Not exactly the most efficient use of your dough.”

Again, maybe that’s not exactly what people want to hear, and I get it, but I still think they’re going to make a strong push to add game-changing talent this offseason.

6. Some Other Quick Notes

  • MacPhail characterized John Middleton as “crabby” after the Phillies’ brutal finish.
  • He was complimentary of Klentak, specifically noting that he’s “not afraid,” which is admirable. Still, I found it interesting that MacPhail refused to answer a question about Klentak’s contract status.
  • It’s both encouraging and telling that he said getting the defense right is a priority.
  • MacPhail seemed pleased with the team’s spike in attendance and the 26% increase in television ratings.
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12 Comments

  • Shirley from the dirty 30 October 2, 2018 at 8:38 pm

    Have to fire mcfail if they don’t land Harper or manny

    Reply
    • Bob October 2, 2018 at 11:19 pm

      That’s typical Philly

      Reply
  • Dirty Harry’s Free Agent Market October 2, 2018 at 9:10 pm

    Here’s a question you have to ask yourself, punk….would YOU want to play for Kapler?

    Reply
    • Bob October 2, 2018 at 11:24 pm

      What’s wrong with how he did as a rookie manager. They were projected in Vegas to win 74 games. Their -51 run differential is indicative of a 74=88 team. They went 80-82. That’s indicative of a manager that had a positive impact. The problem with Philly fans is we want to go from suck to the World Series in one year. The last seven weeks were horrible. I think they just don’t have enough talent. If you think it’s the number of lineup changes, check MLB stats and you’ll find they were in the middle of the pack with different lineups. The Yankees had more lineups than the Phillies.

      Reply
  • Mitch Cumsteen October 2, 2018 at 9:18 pm

    Fire that asshole 2

    Reply
  • amaury telemaco's welfare check October 2, 2018 at 9:40 pm

    The team stinks. It’s up to Klentak to improve this roster he’s got. People can cry about Kapler all they want, but he’s just a puppet for the GM, so they can dump him but they’re just going to hire another yes man whose main objective will be the mouthpiece for the people pulling his strings.

    Reply
  • Shart Shartveit October 2, 2018 at 9:50 pm

    Klentak took over 3 years ago with a question mark at every position. The Phillies go into next season with a question mark at every position.

    Nola and 24 roster spots available.

    Reply
    • Atonymous Hot Take October 2, 2018 at 10:09 pm

      When Klentak took over the team had been a train wreck for 3 years. It had a roster of ham + eggers like Galvis,hernandez, Beat Vets, and Bad prospects. Klentak kept that flea bag infested team together for 2 more years and you are right here it is 4 years later and this train wreck is still going on .

      We will look back at the macphail /Klentak era as one of the darkest in Phils history and that my friends is saying a mouthful.

      Reply
  • Atonymous Hot Take October 2, 2018 at 10:03 pm

    Macphail comes off to me as a small time woe is me defeatist..

    There is a reason he has been with 5 different organizations and has probably racked up more losses than any management type in MLB history

    Reply
  • Jeff Stone October 2, 2018 at 10:51 pm

    Klentak is a loser gm. No balls , a drunk & no baseball instincts . This team will be bad and boring for years to come . Couldn’t even draft an average player #1 overall

    Reply
  • Bob October 2, 2018 at 11:39 pm

    I find McPhail refreshingly candid. He gives it to you about as straight as he can. Look at what he said about Kapler. Look at what he said about the WAR from the last two years signings. That refutes Klentak. It actually makes me wonder if there is a difference of opinions in the front office.

    Reply
  • Eagleye5 October 3, 2018 at 8:31 am

    My issue with McPhail was/is that he hasnt won anything in close to 30 years, he was GM of the Twins for their 2 titles(87,91) and although the orioles and Cubs had some success while he was there, those clubs performed even better once he left. The minute McPhail was hired everyone knew Klentak would be the GM, that bothered me since the only reason he was the “guy” was his previous work relationship with AM. This is as important a year that we have had since 2011.

    Reply
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