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August 23, 2019

Are Gabe Kapler's constant batting order changes helping or hurting the Phillies?

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Carroll - Philadelphia Phillies Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

The Philadelphia Phillies before the start of the season Home Opener, Thursday, March 28, 2019.

It's become routine to look at Twitter — or flip on the broadcast and see a brand new batting order prior to Phillies games this summer.

In fact, manager Gabe Kapler has trotted out 78 different batting orders this season (109 when you include pitchers). That may sound like a lot, but it's actually rather routine for MLB managers. The NL-leading Dodgers have had much more movement, using 106 lineups (127 with pitchers) this season.

However it seems as though Kapler has made more changes of late.

To start, we'll define a major lineup change as one that puts a completely new player in the leadoff, third or cleanup spot from the previous batting order. If that lineup repeats later in the season it is no longer new, and we won't include it for the purposes of this exercise.

Through the first 100 games of the regular season, Kapler made 11 of these major changes. In the 26 games since, he's made 12. Some of these moves are unavoidable and are made due to injury. Some are done just for the sake of giving the Phillies a new look. We counted 23 major line up swaps this season and the Phillies are 12-11 in the games that saw a new line up debut.

DateLead off3-holeClean upResult
Opening dayMcCutchenHarperHoskinswin
April 16McCutchenHarperRealmuto win
May 8HernandezHarperRealmuto win
May 16McCutchen SeguraHoskinsloss
June 4HernandezSeguraHoskinswin
June 12HernandezBruceHoskinsloss
June 14SeguraRealmutoHoskinsloss
June 16SeguraKingeryHoskinsloss
June 20HarperBruceRealmutoloss
June 23HarperKingeryBruceloss
June 24KingeryHarperHoskinswin*
July 16HernandezHarperHoskinswin**
July 23KingeryHarperRealmutowin
July 24HernandezHoskinsRealmutowin
July 31HernandezHoskinsHarperloss
August 4DickersonHarperRealmutoloss
August 8QuinnHarperSeguraloss
August 9HarperDickersonSeguraloss
August 11HarperSeguraRealmutoloss
August 13HarperRealmutoSegurawin
August 14HoskinsRealmutoSegurawin
August 15HoskinsRealmutoDickersonwin
August 16QuinnRealmutoDickersonwin
August 18HoskinsHarperSeguraloss

*Kapler reverted to this line up on July 18 and the Phillies won 4 of their next five, and on July 26, for two losses
**This line up won on August 3

Injuries and slumps are the biggest explanation for all the tinkering. 

The Phillies have had eight different players lead off. The NL East-leading Braves have used four. That's because tailor-made leadoff men Andrew McCutchen and Roman Quinn have been injured and Cesar Hernandez has hit just .236 in the leadoff spot.

The Phillies coaching staff is trying. They know they have the offensive talent to make a playoff run — but they seem to be putting a lot of faith in the idea that a batting order change is a magic bullet. 

In the cleanup spot, Rhys Hoskins' major slump inspired Kapler to toss him higher in the batting order, presumably to get him going. It hasn't worked. The first baseman hit .252 in the four-hole, but has hit .158, .174 and .222 in spots 1-2-and-3, respectively. He has just one home run out of the cleanup role.

Here's how Kapler explained the Hoskins leadoff decision (h/t

“...Right now we need somebody to lead the game off. Quite frankly, I don’t really care how this is interpreted, he’s good in that spot. He sees pitches. You lead off the game one time during the game, and in that time, he is well-suited to work a pitcher, to grind a pitcher and to see pitches so that all of his teammates are watching and see which pitches the opposing starting pitcher has that day.”

In Kapler's defense, Hoskins HAS continued to walk at the same rate regardless of where he hits. However, he has hit just .217 in the first inning of games, and his OBP is the fourth best of any inning he's hit during.

Interestingly, on August 5th after winning against the Diamondback with a Hernandez-Hoskins-Harper-Realmuto top four, Kapler elected to go back to the previous day's line up — a loss — with Dickerson leading off and the team dropped three in a row on the road.

Below, we've created the optimal Phillies line up based solely on where they've played the best this season. Yes, we know there are advanced analytic reasons — and reasons beyond the control of a manager — for moving players around, but the conventional logic of having a speedy guy who can get on base lead off, two of your best hitters for average second and third and your power man fourth still seems apt.

Here is the best eight-man line up of players currently on the 25-man roster. The stats are those compiled this season when hitting in that specific spot in the batting order.

1. Dickerson, LF

5-for-16 (.313), 2 HR, 4 RBI in 4 games

2. Segura, SS

.294/.344/.434, 8 HR and 36 RBI in 80 games

3. Harper, RF

.261/.375/.513, 20 HR, 68 RBI in 96 games

4. Hoskins, 1B

.252/.386/.518, 23 HR, 66 RBI in 101 games

5. Realmuto, C

.290/.336/.461, 11 HR, 46 RBI in 82 games

6. Kingery, 3B

.304/.351/.478, 2 HR, 7 RBI in 18 games

7. Hernandez, 2B

.321/.378/.389, 1 HR, 17 RBI in 45 games

8. Haseley, CF

.281/.324/.484, 3 HR, 11 RBI in 19 games

This exact line up has never been used.

Philly has a must-win series this weekend in Miami as they look to close a small gap in the race for the second Wild Card. As it has been all season, it will be interesting to see how Kapler and company elect to allocate the spots in the batting order.

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