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Ex-Phillies Utley, Kratz laud analytical approach

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler wants to use data-driven tactics to lead club to postseason
MLB.com @ToddZolecki

MILWAUKEE -- There is a familiarity to this National League Championship Series, isn't there?

Brewers manager Craig Counsell is using his bullpen in a way that might make Gabe Kapler blush. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts pinch-hit Max Muncy for No. 3 hitter David Freese in the second inning in Game 4. Counsell pulled Brewers left-hander Wade Miley after one batter in Game 5. Roberts sacrificed defense and started Muncy at second base at Game 5, a position Muncy played only 13 times in the regular season. Counsell started struggling Jonathan Schoop against Rich Hill in Game 4, despite terrible numbers against him, because he liked how his swing profiled against Hill's pitches.

MILWAUKEE -- There is a familiarity to this National League Championship Series, isn't there?

Brewers manager Craig Counsell is using his bullpen in a way that might make Gabe Kapler blush. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts pinch-hit Max Muncy for No. 3 hitter David Freese in the second inning in Game 4. Counsell pulled Brewers left-hander Wade Miley after one batter in Game 5. Roberts sacrificed defense and started Muncy at second base at Game 5, a position Muncy played only 13 times in the regular season. Counsell started struggling Jonathan Schoop against Rich Hill in Game 4, despite terrible numbers against him, because he liked how his swing profiled against Hill's pitches.

Some of these moves might sound familiar to Phillies fans. Some of these moves might have bothered Phillies fans.

Chase Utley and Erik Kratz are former Phillies playing in the NLCS for the Dodgers and Brewers, respectively. They have the unique perspective of understanding Phillies fans and grasping what analytically minded teams like the Dodgers and Brewers are trying to do.

"The Dodgers have really taken analytics to the next level," Utley said this week at Dodger Stadium. "I think there are a lot of benefits to it. I think the most important thing though, from an organizational standpoint, is actually having the players buy in to the fact that it's helpful. I think at times it might be the hardest part. If you have a complete buy-in by the players, I think on a day-to-day basis there's a lot of advantages to using it."

The buy in is the Phillies' greatest challenge. Players grumbled at times about Kapler's moves, but comments came mostly early in the season, when the Phillies had an awful first week, and later, when they suffered a historic collapse. But for much of the season, as the Phillies were winning and moved into first place in the National League East, things seemed calm.

"As you know, when you win everything is great," Utley said. "When you lose people tend to point fingers. It's a difficult game as it is. Even the most successful teams and players aren't successful every single night. The fact that there's a lot of information being gathered to put players in the right positions as far as defense, players in the right positions in the batter's box, I think there's a lot to be said about the advantages that can create.

"Now, again, it's a game and it's not always going to work out every single time. But over the course of the year, if you stick with it I believe it will be beneficial."

Kratz put it this way: "It doesn't work when you lose. It is the best when you win. Fans want wins. They don't want to come to the game to cheer on a good effort. The best way I can explain analytics to people who don't like them is, like, talk to an old-school guy that hates analytics. He'll say, 'I've seen 1,700 games in my career. I don't need numbers to tell me anything.' OK, what if you had seen 10,000 games? That's what analytics is. It puts everything into perspective of what you have seen and not just the feeling of what you've seen.

"Analytics are an advanced scouting report. It's like Chooch [former Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz] to the nth degree. Chooch knew what was going on in the game because he had seen so many games. And the way he could call a game -- what did he catch, four no-hitters? -- analytics is just extra. It's not unnecessary. If you go back to the old-school way you're going to lose games."

Utley and Kratz cautioned that there must be a feel for the game, too. Is the team's ace shoving through five innings? Let him pitch.

Finding that balance is a challenge.

"Communication is probably the biggest part," Utley said. "Communicating why we're doing whatever it is and the advantage it can create. Having that dialogue with individual players I think will help them understand there is a reason behind the madness."

Kratz said complaints can be excuses.

"Baseball players [complain]," he said. "'It's so sunny in LA. It's so cloudy in Milwaukee. The roof bothers me.' What are you really [complaining] about? You have to be bought into winning. I think with analytics, if you're not bought into winning as a player, you're not going to like it."

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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