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Kapler's grand plan involves player meetings

Phillies manager wants to focus on strengths, ways to improve
MLB.com @ToddZolecki

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Phillies manager Gabe Kapler believes in the powers of communication and information, and he has combined those core beliefs this spring into meetings with his players that promote self-confidence and self-awareness about data that could help them excel on the field.

That is the concept, anyway.

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CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Phillies manager Gabe Kapler believes in the powers of communication and information, and he has combined those core beliefs this spring into meetings with his players that promote self-confidence and self-awareness about data that could help them excel on the field.

That is the concept, anyway.

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Phillies' Spring Training information

Kapler calls them player plan meetings. He said they are nothing new, but they certainly are new here. They generally involve three or four players, Kapler, at least one member of the coaching staff and members of the front office, including somebody from the research and development department. They walk players through their strengths, typically accompanied with projections of heat maps and other statistical analysis. They discuss areas to improve. Those areas of improvement are never called weaknesses. Kapler said they are simply "something that we might want to focus on that we might tick their game up a little bit."

Then the players offer their thoughts on what they just heard.

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"We give them a good look at who's thinking about them all the time," Kapler said of the personnel in the room. "That's the first thing we say. We've been thinking about you and paying attention to all of the details of your performance and your career, and here are the things that you [excel] at and maybe some things that you can focus on."

Players seem to have responded well.

"It basically just highlights everything you do really well," left-hander Adam Morgan said. "It's where you find success. I don't really look into the numbers when things are going good or bad, but it's good to see how good they really are. So when things go bad, you're not going to forget about that pitch. Maybe it's just a bad day or something."

In Morgan's case, it might be the use of his fastball and slider. He might typically throw his fastball inside to lefties and away to righties, unaware that he has struck out a handful of batters with the pitch up in the zone.

Or it could illustrate how effective his slider is in certain locations.

"It just kind of boosts you up, builds you up," left-hander Zac Curtis said. "Everybody is very supportive. They're telling you how they're behind you. They talked about what I already knew, but they emphasized it a little bit more. It made me trust it a little bit more, it made me believe in it a little bit more.

"But they want you to talk, too. They want you to speak about what you think your strengths are, and what you think you can build on."

Kapler said some of the information occasionally surprises players. The Phillies might tell a player how effective a pitch is, showing them where that pitch stands compared to other pitchers that throw it.

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It could be something like Aaron Nola's curveball, which has more horizontal movement than any other curveball thrown by any starter in baseball. His curveball's .258 slugging percentage against ranked 10th in baseball, just behind teammate Jerad Eickhoff. Batters whiffed at the pitch 40.3 percent of the time, putting him between Mariners lefty James Paxton and Nationals righty Stephen Strasburg.

Maybe it reinforces to Nola that the pitch is a legitimate weapon. Perhaps he throws it more.

"It's different. I like it," Morgan said. "One of the things I told them is that I love the numbers, but I just want you to be honest with me. They said, 'These are honest numbers. They're not just numbers that we fabricated.' I was like, 'OK, thank you.' I didn't even know what wOBA [Weighted On-base Average] is. I didn't even know there was something called whiff percentage. I was like, that's pretty sweet. I didn't even know that these things existed."

Now, everybody will.

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

Philadelphia Phillies, Jerad Eickhoff, Aaron Nola