Man, might it really be a hot one?
Since a tumultuous 1-4 start to the 2018 season, the Phillies have gone 23-12 under rookie manager Gabe Kapler. As SportsRadio 94 WIP's Joe Giglio noted, Kapler went from being Vegas' early favorite for first manager to be fired to off the list entirely in just over half a month. But Kapler's critics remain around the league, perhaps more confident in themselves currently than one might think.
Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports spoke to an anonymous scout that says that since Kapler's early-season struggles, he's heard that bench coach Rob Thomson has essentially been the brains behind Kapler's in-game decisions:
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.)
There's a lot to sort through here. Heyman admits upfront that he believes this scout's account is an exaggeration, while also noting that scouts around the league generally aren't fans of Kapler. There's a few reasons for that: some of these scouts are altogether disdainful of sabermetrics, so they're rooting for Kapler, who doesn't manage in a traditional way, to fail. The other thing is that while Kapler has supporters around the league (he held a key front-office role for the Dodgers and now manages in one of the biggest markets in the league), there are those that just don't like him as a person. He - admittedly - is a unique character, one that has rubbed some former teammates, current players and just people around the sport the wrong way.
So what's the guess here on the quote? It's greatly exaggerated. Why do I think that? Because I've heard some of the same exaggerated opinions from people around the sport - 0ne baseball person who worked with Kapler in the past suggested to SportsTalkPhilly.com after his hiring that there were some people in the sport that didn't think Kapler would make it out of Spring Training. This was said half-joking, but only half.
That's not to say that Kapler probably didn't lean on Thomson heavily after being lambasted for the way that he manged the first week of the season. But that's one of the reasons that it made sense for the Phillies to pair Thomson - who had been on Joe Girardi's staff with the Yankees for a decade - with a rookie manager in Kapler. There's nothing Thomson hasn't seen in his time in the sport, and that kind of experience is valuable in a dugout led by someone who played in the league for 12 years, but had never coached at the major league level prior to this season.
But the idea that Kapler has been Thomson's puppet since early April? That doesn't check out.
Kapler, in all likelihood, leaned not only on Thomson, but on veterans in the clubhouse to keep things afloat in the early going. Bob Nightengale of USA Today penned a piece earlier this month where injured reliever Pat Neshek said that he had a frank conversation with Kapler early in the season about how there was frustration and confusion in the clubhouse, and that regular season games couldn't always be managed like ones in the postseason. Kapler, according to Nightengale, met with Neshek and other players and took into account what they said, a credit to the mentality of new-school managers.
The reality that the Phillies likely wrestled with when they hired Kapler was that there will always be a rather large group around the league waiting to swarm at any sign that he may be in over his head. At the moment, though, the Phillies are in one of the two National League Wild Card spots. Kapler, despite continuing to be more matchup-focused than traditional managers, has toned things back from record rate at which he was using relievers at the beginning of the season. And the Phillies - as the front-office believed they would when they chose to tab Kapler as the 54th manager in franchise history - are playing really good baseball, which works to quiet stories like this.