Gabe Kapler was not ready to answer the question. Asked if his team’s season could still be considered a success if the Phillies do not make the playoffs, the manager opted for the misdirection quote.

“My only concern is the step right in front of us,” Kapler said after Sunday’s loss to the Boston Red Sox. “That’s winning the game after the off day in Atlanta. I’m already past what happened in this Boston series. It’s going to sting; it’s going to stink. The plane ride is going to be difficult, and we’ll start game-planning for Atlanta. One game at a time, one step at a time."

That’s nice, but barring a miracle, the Phillies have 14 games left starting with Tuesday night’s series opener against the Braves. The Braves’ magic number to clinch their second straight NL East title is four, so they could have a champagne celebration with the Phillies in town. It should be the Phillies’ goal to prevent that.

A year ago, even though the Phillies folded down the stretch, they still won 14 games more than they had in 2017 and moved up two spots in the standings from fifth to third. Only Oakland, Atlanta and Boston had a greater win-total improvement from 2017 to 2018.

That allowed the Phillies to declare 2018 a step in the right direction. The 2019 Phillies have to go 4-10 to match last year’s record, 5-9 to finish .500, and 6-8 to have their first winning season since 2011. Get to 85 wins, which would require them to go 9-5 the rest of the way, and I’d be willing to say they made some progress this season because it will have meant they played well against teams competing for playoff spots down the stretch. Still, the season will be a disappointment with anything less than the miracle.

You’re signed up to get this newsletter in your inbox every weekday during the Phillies season. If you like what you’re reading, tell your friends it’s free to sign up here. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @brookob. Thank you for reading.

— Bob Brookover (extrainnings@inquirer.com)

The Phillies thought Vince Velasquez's FIP (fielding independent pitching) numbers last season had him on course for a better 2019, but he is 6-7 with a 4.95 ERA entering his Tuesday night start against Atlanta.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
The Phillies thought Vince Velasquez's FIP (fielding independent pitching) numbers last season had him on course for a better 2019, but he is 6-7 with a 4.95 ERA entering his Tuesday night start against Atlanta.

No fun with FIP for Phillies this season

As last season neared its conclusion, Kapler was lauding the predictive powers of FIP, the statistic known as fielding independent pitching.

“FIP,” the Phillies manager said in late September, “is more predictive of what will happen next year than ERA is and that’s why we look at FIP more than ERA. ERA tells the story of what happened including defense. FIP tells us what might happen going forward."

It made sense for the Phillies to focus on FIP. The numbers worked for their narrative. The Phillies’ 4.15 ERA ranked 18th in baseball last season, and their starting-rotation ERA of 4.12 was 16th. But the team’s 3.83 FIP ranked seventh and the Phillies’ 3.76 rotation FIP was sixth in baseball.

Kapler’s hope and belief, which was shared by pitching coach Chris Young and general manager Matt Klentak, was that Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta and Zach Eflin would improve in 2019 based on their 2018 FIP numbers. Velasquez’s 4.85 ERA ranked 75th among the 88 pitchers who completed 140 innings last season, but his 3.75 FIP in 146 2/3 innings was tied for 29th. Pivetta had a 4.77 ERA, but a 3.79 FIP in 164 innings and Eflin had a 4.36 ERA and 3.80 FIP in 128 innings.

“If a team doesn’t value a guy with a low FIP and a high ERA, they’re not paying attention," Kapler said. “Those guys get snatched up; they get asked for in trades. They’re in high demand because the expectation is that with an improved defense and a little bit of luck, you get a much better pitcher and maybe a superstar pitcher.”

Defense was also a talking point of Kapler’s late last season. In short, the Phillies’ defense was awful in 2018. FanGraphs’ rankings placed them 27th among 30 teams. This season, the Phillies’ defense is rated fourth by FanGraphs, but FIP’s predictive powers for the Phillies’ pitching badly missed the target.

This year, the team ERA is 4.55, actually two spots better than a year ago, but the team FIP is 4.92, 24th in baseball. The rotation ERA of 4.57 is 15th in baseball, one spot better than a year ago, but the rotation FIP is 4.88, 24th in baseball.

It’s well documented that Velasquez and Pivetta have taken leaps in the wrong direction this season, and even though Eflin’s ERA is down, his FIP is up by nearly a run.

We have not heard much about the predictive powers of FIP this season, and the above numbers are probably why.

The rundown

All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto can be a free agent after next season, so signing him to an extension this offseason will likely be high on the Phillies’ to-do list. Our Scott Lauber looks at what it might take to get a deal done.

Let’s make this rundown all about Realmuto. Here’s an archived Lauber story about why the Phillies’ catcher is so good at throwing out runners foolishly attempting to steal against him.

Here’s another Lauber story about Realmuto from the Extra Innings archive.

Here’s another Realmuto story I did early in the season.

My favorite Realmuto story of the year was the one written by Matt Breen about the catcher’s days as a high school quarterback in Oklahoma City.

Important dates

Tonight: Vince Velasquez goes against trash-talking Dallas Keuchel, 7:20 p.m.

Tomorrow: Zach Eflin takes on Julio Teheran, 7:20 p.m.

Thursday: A matinee battle of aces in Atlanta, Aaron Nola vs. Mike Soroka, 12:10 p.m.

Friday: Drew Smyly opens series against wild-card-contending Indians in Cleveland, 7:10 p.m.

Monday: Phillies begin five-game series against Washington at Nationals Park, 7:05 p.m.

Long before former Phillies bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer was accused of stealing signs with binoculars from the bullpen, Morgan Murphy, a seldom-used backup catcher on the 1900 team, tipped off Phillies hitters what pitches were coming by using a telegraph.
Associated Press
Long before former Phillies bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer was accused of stealing signs with binoculars from the bullpen, Morgan Murphy, a seldom-used backup catcher on the 1900 team, tipped off Phillies hitters what pitches were coming by using a telegraph.

Stat of the day

It was on this date in 1900 that Cincinnati Reds shortstop Tommy Corcoran discovered a metal box a couple of inches below the third-base coaching box at Philadelphia Base Ball Park, later known as the Baker Bowl. Inside the box were electrical wires the Phillies were using to tip off their hitters what pitches were coming.

According to the book The Baseball Hall of Shame: The Best of Blooperstown, backup catcher Morgan Murphy, armed with a spy glass and telegraph set, looked through a peep hole from the home clubhouse and let third-base coach Pearce “What’s the Use” Chiles know what pitch was coming. One buzz from the telegraph was a fastball, two was a curveball, and three was a changeup.

The best part of the story was it appeared to work. The Phillies went 45-23 at home that season and averaged 6.4 runs. On the road, they were just 30-40 and averaged 5.4 runs. Phillies owner John I. Rogers thought the telegraph scheme was fair. The National League disagreed.

From the mailbag

Send questions by email or on Twitter @brookob.

Question: What’s (Odubel Herrera’s) status for next season? Others with similar issues (e.g. Brett Myers, albeit in a different social climate) never skipped a beat with the Phillies. Are they using this as a reason to cut him loose?

— Joe D., via email

Answer: Thanks for the question, Joe. You are right about Myers, and you are right to point out that times were much different in 2006 from how they are today. That, of course, is a good thing.

The Phillies have said nothing about Herrera since he was suspended for the remainder of the season by Major League Baseball, and I expect them to try to trade him this offseason. Failing that, he might end up in spring training with them, but I believe only as a showcase to try to trade him.

With Bryce Harper in right field, Andrew McCutchen in left field and Scott Kingery and Adam Haseley able to play center field, I very much doubt that Herrera will ever play a regular-season game for the Phillies again. That said, I still think he can be a productive major-league player somewhere, especially if he can get his personal life in order and improve his focus on the field.