Phillies ace Jacob Arrieta criticized his team's defensive play Sunday in a manner that raised two questions:
1. Is there discontent in the Phils' clubhouse?
2. Does first-year manager Gabe Kapler need to re-evaluate the methodology behind his defensive shifts?
When asked about those issues, Kapler provided the following answer to MLB.com:
"I think I may have a different take on this than most. The last thing I want is for our clubhouse to be content. If we're content, it means we're not getting better. Our clubhouse should be passionate, driven [like Jake] and only satisfied when we are clicking on all cylinders.
"I don't think we have defensive shifts figured out. I don't think anyone has them nailed down. Jake's comments are true -- we didn't play well and we can be better. It's a good opportunity for us to sit down and discuss how we can improve our team.
"Personally, I don't mind Jake expressing how he feels about shifts or anything else. Ideally, he and I and our clubhouse leaders and staff should be constantly discussing ways to excel. Wherever the impetus for improvement comes from, what matters is that we do everything we can to maximize our chance to win every single night."
Arrieta's comments -- and Kapler's response -- were certain to be topics at Wrigley Field on Tuesday as Arrieta returns to his former home for the first time as a Phillie.
After being swept over the weekend in San Francisco, Arrieta said the Phillies "[needed] to have an accountability check," according to MLB.com's Todd Zolecki.
In reference to the team's defense, Arrieta said, "Well, we've had bad defensive shifts. We had a check swing. Scott Kingery should have gone to second on that play. Then they got three hits in a row. The home run, credit Andrew McCutchen for putting a good swing on it, but did not expect a ball like that to get out."
According to Statcast™, the Phils shift in 28.1 percent of all plate appearances, the third-highest rate of any team in the Majors.
The Phillies have been slightly more effective without the shift, allowing a .289 wOBA, as opposed to .304 wOBA when they employ shifts. It's also important to remember that teams typically employ the shift against better hitters, which can skew those numbers.
It also should be noted that Philadelphia's .304 wOBA allowed with the shift on ranks third best among National League clubs.
Arrieta is more reliant on the positioning of infielders than most pitchers because of his tendency to induce ground balls. He leads the Phils with a 56.3 percent ground-ball rate, which ranks seventh among 135 qualifying starters in MLB, according to Statcast™. Arrieta is more effective without the shift, by 32 points in wOBA.
After five consecutive losing seasons, the Phillies are on pace to finish with their best record since 2011, in which they won the last of their five straight NL East titles. At 31-26, they entered play Tuesday 1 1/2 games back of the second NL Wild Card spot.