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It’s Phillies opening day, and Gabe Kapler already botched the batting order | Marcus Hayes

Overthinking by the Phillies will limit the lineup's potential.

Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco, left, and manager, Gabe Kapler, watching spring training workouts. Franco will bat eighth in the Phillies' opener against the Braves.
Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco, left, and manager, Gabe Kapler, watching spring training workouts. Franco will bat eighth in the Phillies' opener against the Braves.Read moreJOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer

Unlike most observers of Season One of the Gabe Kapler Experiment, I seldom disagreed with what he did. That’s already untrue for Season Two, having seen the opening-day batting order. In descending levels of outrage:

Maikel Franco is batting eighth.

Andrew McCutchen is leading off instead of All-Star leadoff hitter Jean Segura.

And what’s the point of playing Cesar Hernandez over Scott Kingery at second base if Hernandez isn’t leading off?

Kapler’s opening-day order against the Braves on Thursday runs McCutchen-Segura-Bryce Harper-Rhys Hoskins-J.T. Realmulto-Odubel Herrera-Cesar Hernandez-Franco-Aaron Nola, the pitcher.

Better: Segura-McCutchen-Harper-Hoskins-Realmuto-Franco-Herrera-Hernandez-Nola.

Best, long-term: Switch out Hernandez, a solid fielder, for Kingery, a scintillating second baseman. Think, Dustin Pedroia.

Kapler pulled some strange moves as a rookie manager, and most of them somehow worked. The team improved by 14 wins from 2017, hit the 80-win mark and remained relevant until the last two weeks of the season. In the past decade, baseball evolved into a numbers-driven world with less and less regard for a player’s psyche and team chemistry. It’s jarring, but so is all change.

If Kap wants to yank a struggling rookie before he gets an at-bat in a given game, he shouldn’t care about that guy’s feelings, or yours, snowflake. If Kap thinks he should use all of his relievers and bench players by the end of the seventh inning, that’s his funeral. If Kap wants to use position players to pitch all nine innings, super. They’re all athletes. Play ball.

But batting a power-hitting run-producer in front of the pitcher? On Tuesday, Kapler explained his reasoning for putting Franco in the basement:

“He’s had some success in the eighth hole in the lineup.”

Last season, Franco hit .359 with a 1.021 OPS hitting eighth. However,almost all of that success came during an eight-game stretch from July 3-10, when he collected 11 of his 14 hits, both of his home runs and one of his two doubles. He was 3-for-14 in the other nine games. In any case, it was not a large sample size.

“It makes our lineup really deep," Kapler added. "Here’s a guy who can hit 25 homers and has the capability of driving in 80-plus runs every year, batting before the pitcher.”

His production potential is the point, and the lineup won’t be any less deep if Franco moves up to No. 6. As a dangerous hitter, how many hittable fastballs will Franco see hitting in front of the pitcher? One per game? Two? In his three full major-league seasons, Franco averaged 24 home runs and 77 RBI, as one of the few feared hitters in anemic lineups. Protected by this lineup, those numbers could jump to 30 and 100.

They certainly won’t jump if he isn’t allowed to swing. Opposing teams intentionally walked Franco seven times last season -- four when he hit eighth.

“He’s had really good success against [Julio] Teheran in the past," Kapler said, referring to the Braves’ opening-day starter..

True. He’s 10-for-33, a .303 average. Herrera is 8-for-34 (.235); Hernandez is 6-for-35 (.171). So why minimize Franco’s plate appearances Thursday?

Hernandez has been so poor against Teheran that it makes more sense to start Kingery. Scotty Jetpax went 0-for-4 as a rookie against Teheran last season, but, from this seat, last season was wasted for Kingery. This season will be wasted, too, unless Kingery plays 140 games at second base. But he won’t. General manager Matt Klentak simply loves Hernandez. To each his own.

Kingery spent most of 2018 replacing injured shortstop J.P. Crawford. He was reliable -- when he got to balls. His 2.93 range factor was the worst among shortstops last season, 13 percent worse than the second-worst shortstop last season and and the second-worst since Bill James introduced the stat in 1975 (Pepe Frias settled at 2.55 in 1980 with the Rangers and Dodgers).

Kingery last season was slated to be the super-utility man, even after the Phillies signed him to a six-year, $24 million contract, despite his having never seen a big-league pitch. That was a bad idea last season, and it’s a bad idea this season. He was worse at the plate than he was in the field -- but did he ever really have a chance? Young players need to be comfortable and stable. He was the team’s top prospect as an everyday second baseman. He should be the team’s everyday second baseman.

Know who would be a great super-utility man and versatile bench player? Cesar Hernandez. He’s solid at second, but he also has played shortstop, third base and center field in the majors. Further, he’s a switch-hitter with good speed and modest power who, after four full seasons and two partial seasons, has a book on every pitcher in the league.

The one thing that recommends Hernandez over Kingery is that Hernandez can lead off. He has a .375 on-base percentage since he became the team’s leadoff hitter in the 100th game of 2016. But he isn’t leading off.

McCutchen is. The 32-year-old former center fielder led off a lot his first three seasons, then did it again last year with the Giants and Yankees, to the clip of a .414 on-base percentage. But there’s a reason McCutchen has been moved from center field to left.

From the other side of the issue, with a .309 average and a .801 OPS, Segura is 30 points and 92 points better, respectively, in the No. 1 hole than at No. 2. Segura just had an All-Star season leading off for the Mariners. Leave him on top of the order.

These aren’t the only issues with the team, but they’re the ones that seem most urgent.

Will they matter? Last season, Kapler used 138 batting orders in 162 games and used the most common one only five times.

Kapler said that won’t happen, now that he has established players.

“We have a lineup and we have personnel now that’s not going to require a whole lot of mixing and matching,” he said. “I think you’ll see a more consistent lineup. ... I reserve the right to change the lineup, but that’s the way it should play out at this point."

Too bad.

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