Regardless of whether the Phillies retain manager Gabe Kapler, the team will have a different pitching coach next season.
Chris Young has been informed that he won’t be back to oversee the pitching staff, a source with knowledge of the situation said Friday. Young has been offered an opportunity to remain in the organization in another capacity, though it’s unclear if he will accept.
It seems nonsequential that the Phillies are deciding on coaches before rendering a verdict on Kapler. But just as general manager Matt Klentak is likely trying to persuade owner John Middleton to retain Kapler, a similar negotiation might be ongoing between Kapler and management over keeping certain staff members.
The Phillies already must hire a new hitting coach after John Mallee was fired in August and replaced on an interim basis by former manager Charlie Manuel. It’s not known whether bench coach Rob Thomson, third-base coach Dusty Wathan, first-base/outfield coach Paco Figueroa, infield coach Bobby Dickerson, assistant hitting coach Pedro Guerrero or catching coaches Craig Driver and Bob Stumpo will be retained.
Kapler, who has led the Phillies to a 161-163 record in two seasons, has one year left on his contract, prompting conjecture about his job status. But it wouldn’t be unprecedented for the Phillies to bring back a lame-duck manager and impose changes to his staff. After the 2006 season, they kept Manuel but replaced coaches Gary Varsho, Marc Bombard and Bill Dancy with Jimy Williams, Davey Lopes and Steve Smith, respectively.
Young, 38, was hired as the Phillies’ assistant pitching coach before the 2018 season, Kapler’s first year at the helm, despite lacking previous coaching experience. He leveraged interview requests from at least one other team last November to gain a promotion to lead the pitching staff at the expense of Rick Kranitz, who was let go and hired by the division-champion Atlanta Braves.
On Young's watch, the Phillies ranked 11th in the 15-team National League in earned-run average (4.53) and 13th in fielding independent pitching (4.88). In particular, the starting rotation struggled to a 4.64 ERA and 4.91 FIP, 11th and 14th in the NL, respectively.
The Phillies will seek a pitching coach who blends a traditional approach with an understanding of data and analytics. Longtime pitching coach Ray Searage was dismissed this week by the Pittsburgh Pirates but is a skeptic of analytics. Dave Eiland, who won a World Series as a pitching coach for the New York Yankees and Kansas City Royals, is also available.
Another name to keep in mind: Mickey Callaway, fired this week from his managerial post with the New York Mets, previously had success as the Cleveland Indians’ pitching coach.
Young, who had a seven-year minor-league career in the Colorado Rockies, Pittsburgh Pirates and Florida Marlins organizations, came to the Phillies with a scouting background. As a scouting supervisor with the Houston Astros, he was heavily influenced by that organization’s philosophy of elevating four-seam fastballs at the top of the strike zone. He was schooled in the Astros’ use of analytics and was viewed as an expert in breaking down pitch sequencing and other data to gain marginal advantages.
But while most Phillies pitchers didn’t benefit from Young’s on-field tutelage, several regressed. One notable example: Zach Eflin. The right-hander posted a 2.83 ERA in his first 14 starts, but found the emphasis on four-seamers to be physically taxing. He notched a 10.46 ERA through his next six starts, complaining of fatigue after a Fourth of July start in Atlanta and a “heavy body” after a July 20 start in Pittsburgh.
After being briefly removed from the rotation, Eflin was reinserted in August, resisted the four-seam for more sinkers, and amassed a 2.78 ERA in his last seven starts.
“At the end of the day, I just wanted to go out there comfortable, and that’s what I did these past six starts,” Eflin said after his final start of the season last Saturday night. “Whether that means fastballs up or sinkers down, really whatever is working in the bullpen is kind of what we’re going for in the game. Having a game plan to go off that is huge.”
The Phillies have not yet discussed a future role for Young, though it’s likely they will give him a chance to stay on as a pitching analyst who could funnel information to a more traditional pitching coach at the field level. Other teams employ such a position, including the Boston Red Sox with Brian Bannister.