Shift change: Jake Arrieta’s criticism may impact the way Gabe Kapler positions Phillies’ defenders
Two days after his scathing criticism, Jake Arrieta cleared the air with several Phillies teammates, including Scott Kingery. But his comments might change the way the Phillies look at defensive positioning.
CHICAGO — Jake Arrieta spent a relaxing day off in his former home city by strolling through Millennium Park, seeing old friends and dining at Maple & Ash, his favorite North Side restaurant.
Then, on Tuesday, he cleared the air with his Phillies teammates.
Arrieta sought out rookie infielder Scott Kingery, specifically, and spoke "at length" about his comments after Sunday's loss in San Francisco. Within an overall rant about the Phillies' ineffective defensive shifts and startling lack of offense, Arrieta was critical of Kingery's decision to throw to first base rather than record a potentially easier out at second on a grounder that was scored an infield hit during a five-run sixth inning.
"I've talked to Kingery. I love this kid," Arrieta said. "This kid is our shortstop, tremendously talented and only going to get better. I've talked to pretty much everyone on the team, and we're on the same page. I'd do anything for these guys, and they know that it's coming from a good place. They know it's not a hostile position or disrespectful. Sometimes, certain things need to be said to make a statement."
Arrieta insisted he didn't intend to call out Kingery, who believed Arrieta's comments were made in the course of detailing what happened in the inning. Kingery also claimed he never took offense, though he appreciated the conversation with Arrieta.
But Arrieta stood by his statement that the Phillies must play better in all areas or risk falling out of the playoff race before summer officially dawns. In particular, Arrieta believes the Phillies' aggressive employment of defensive shifts has hurt his performance, given the fact that he's a pitch-to-count sinkerballer.
Most metrics support Arrieta's claim. The Phillies use a shift 28.1 percent of the time, according to Statcast, more than the league average of 17.3 percent. With Arrieta on the mound, they shift 29.1 percent of the time. And according to Sports Info Solutions, they rank last in the majors with a minus-11 rating in runs saved by the shift.
Manager Gabe Kapler said the Phillies have been aware of their shift-related problems since early in the season and have made adjustments accordingly, based on the comfort and skills of individual players. For instance, he cited changes in the positioning of second baseman Cesar Hernandez in the shift.
"Earlier in the season when we deployed a full shift, we had Cesar playing fairly deep, and what ended up happening is he was able to get to some balls, but wasn't able to make the throw, because by the time he got to the ball, the runner had gotten to the base or was close to the base," Kapler said. "We pulled Cesar in a little more shallow with the understanding that he might get to a few less balls over the course of a really, really long time, but the balls he does get to, we're going to have an opportunity to throw the runner out."
Kapler contends the Phillies have been better at shifting since April and will continue to tinker as necessary. Arrieta's criticism also likely will give the pitchers' more input on defensive positioning.
"If it's the pitcher's desire to position our players differently and they look back and they're positioned in a way that doesn't make them feel confident, what are we doing?" Kapler said. "A little bit more conversation with anybody that wants to have it, and then before we go out on that mound, everybody's on the same page."
Said Arrieta: "Certain guys need to be shifted differently. I think that's apparent, and I think that's just something that, moving forward, we're going to have more of an open discussion leading into each series. That's just the best thing to do, have as open a line of communication as you possibly can so that everybody's comfortable."
Shortstop J.P. Crawford (right forearm strain) was expected to play nine innings for triple-A Lehigh Valley, the last stop on his minor-league rehab assignment. It seems likely Crawford could rejoin the Phillies this week. … Arrieta received a standing ovation from a sellout crowd at Wrigley Field when the Cubs honored him with a between-innings highlight video. Arrieta was part of the Cubs' 2016 World Series championship team.