We are expecting this to be a busy Phillies offseason, with major free-agent and trade additions and subtractions that turn the team into a legitimate 2019 contender. We did not expect their first major move to be the one they made Wednesday.
The news came in the form of a late-morning tweet from The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal: Chris Young has been promoted from Phillies assistant pitching coach to head pitching coach, and Rick Kranitz, the 2018 pitching coach, is free to find work elsewhere. It was a move the Phillies believed they had to make, because other teams, including one from their own division, were interested in hiring Young as their pitching coach. Atlanta and Miami both have vacancies at the position, and Young finished his playing career in the Marlins' organization.
Sure, it's a good sign that Young's work has attracted the interest of other teams. A Stanford University graduate, Young spent six seasons pitching in the minor leagues and seven seasons in a scouting role with Houston and San Diego before moving into a coaching role for the first time last season. Of the Phillies' two pitching coaches, Young was the one with the more analytical view of things. He also was in charge of positioning the outfielders, and those decisions were based on statistical information.
One solution to what was a good problem would have been offering the 37-year-old Young a significant raise and the promise that he would one day be the Phillies' pitching coach. It would have kept the team of Young and Kranitz together, and that would have been a good thing. In fact, in a year when the Phillies' offensive production went backward, and defense seemed optional at times, pitching was the one department in which the Phillies showed significant improvement.
The overall team earned run average fell from 4.55 to 4.14, and the starting rotation ERA went from 4.80 to 4.12. If FIP (fielding independent pitching) is your thing – we know it is manager Gabe Kapler's preferred measuring stick – the improvement by the pitching staff was still significant. The team FIP fell from 4.56 to 3.83.
Add the fact that Aaron Nola, the most-prized member of the pitching staff, had his best season and finished third in the voting for the National League Cy Young Award, and it seemed logical to leave the pitching department alone, which is what the Phillies intended to do until Wednesday. In late September, during the team's final road trip, general manager Matt Klentak said Kapler and his entire coaching staff would remain in place.
That remained the intent through the postseason. And even after the team announced the news late Wednesday afternoon, the Phillies still felt strongly that Kranitz is a qualified pitching coach who did a terrific job. That sentiment rings hollow, however, when you hand a guy a pink slip.
Kranitz will get his full pay from the Phillies in 2019, and the team believes he will land a job elsewhere. Attempts to reach Kranitz, the only holdover from former manager Pete Mackanin's coaching staff, were unsuccessful. Even with the guaranteed paycheck for another season, it's difficult to imagine he was happy with Wednesday's news.
As time elapses after a season, fewer jobs are available at the big-league level. No matter what the Phillies say or think about Kranitz, only one conclusion can be drawn from their decision: Klentak and Kapler valued Young more than Kranitz, a 60-year-old veteran with 11 seasons as a big-league pitching coach under his belt.
Maybe they are right about that assessment. Maybe Young will be to the Phillies what Dave Duncan was to Tony LaRussa and the St. Louis Cardinals. Maybe Young, if he's lucky, will have as much success in Philadelphia as Rich Dubee. Again, it's encouraging that other teams wanted Young's services and, like Kranitz, he deserves credit for what happened in 2018.