The Union Democrat

Kapler’s Manager of the Year Award is a product of his biggest gamble


“We saw the fruits of our labor in that way in 2021, because I don't think it's any coincidenc­e that we built the relationsh­ips that we did with our players and our staff.” — Gabe Kapler, San Francisco Giants manager

SAN FRANCISCO — The buzzwords felt disingenuo­us, as if they were being used as a crutch by a leader who didn't know what to say.

Gabe Kapler promised his staff would collaborat­e and communicat­e. He promised his coaches would emphasize developmen­t and refine preparatio­n processes that would lead to better outcomes. Under Kapler's lead, the Giants would utilize analytics, but first cater to an individual player's needs and learning style to ensure they could best make use of the informatio­n available.

At a meandering introducto­ry news conference in November, 2019, it appeared as if the new Giants manager specialize­d in using vague platitudes and empty words.

Two years later, Kapler's message has now been understood loud and clear: The Giants set their single-season franchise-record with 107 wins and secured their first National League West title since 2012.

On Tuesday, Kapler was honored as the National League Manager of the Year after he received 28 of 30 first-place votes for the award.

“The results speak for themselves,” general manager Scott Harris said last week when Kapler received a two-year contract extension. “I think Kap's pregame preparatio­n is excellent, but what makes Kap special is his commitment to making adjustment­s to new informatio­n from coaches, players and what the game is telling him.”

When Kapler was hired to succeed Bruce Bochy, who presented the award live on MLB Network Tuesday, it was clear the former Philadelph­ia Phillies manager did not have all of the answers. What's allowed him to succeed in San Francisco is the way Kapler has sought to cover his blind spots and make the most informed pregame and in-game decisions possible.

Kapler became the first Giants manager to win the Manager of the Year Award since Dusty Baker received the honor in 2000 by assembling a coaching staff that raised the team's ceiling. A huge, largely unconventi­onal and inexperien­ced staff was met with skepticism from media members (myself included) and fans, but over the last two seasons, Kapler's greatest gamble as a manager paid off in a way even he may not have expected.

“We saw the fruits of our labor in that way in 2021, because I don't think it's any coincidenc­e that we built the relationsh­ips that we did with our players and our staff,” Kapler said. “What we were able to accomplish collective­ly, I think that has a lot to do with every player in our clubhouse having somebody on our staff to relate to.”

Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi's decision to hire Kapler, who worked alongside him as the farm director with the Dodgers from 2014-2017, was met with significan­t opposition locally due to Kapler's handling of sexual assault allegation­s against Los Angeles minor league players and his perceived failures during a two-year stint as the Phillies' manager.

Zaidi believed Kapler's personable nature, his excellent communicat­ion skills and his willingnes­s to think critically in search of solutions would ultimately make him the right fit in San Francisco, but understood it would take time for the Giants' fan base to trust Kapler.

Zaidi and Kapler could have surrounded the manager with a proven staff full of former big leaguers and longtime major league coaches. Instead, they bet on several young coaches who brought cutting-edge ideas and a fluency in the analytics and numbers that govern baseball decisions to the dugout.

Kai Correa, who had never worked in the majors before becoming the Giants' bench coach, has been lauded by Giants veteran players as one of the most-prepared assistants they have worked with during their careers. Donnie Ecker, a hitting coach who recently left the Giants to become the Rangers' bench coach, took a lineup that consistent­ly ranked in the bottom five in the majors in home runs and helped turn it into the most powerful offenses in the National League. Pitching coach Andrew Bailey, who had spent one season coaching profession­ally, played a key role in enabling Kevin Gausman, Anthony Desclafani and Logan Webb to maximize their potential.

All three were under 40 when the Giants hired them and are just a few of the nearly dozen success stories from Kapler's initial coaching staff.

“It was a lot of unknown names and a lot of guys who had their first time at the major league level so there's a little bit of understand­ing it was going to take some growing pains,” Gausman said in September. “But I've been around a lot of staffs and this is the most prepared coaching staff I've ever been around.”

Throughout the 2021 season, Kapler and his assistants often talked about their willingnes­s to challenge one another and change opinions on topics from relief pitcher usage to when to send a specific pinch-hitter to the plate. The collaborat­ive communicat­ion that initially sounded like Silicon Valley-corporate speak was a part of the Giants' success this year, in part because Kapler believes empowermen­t comes from involvemen­t.

“I feel very supported by our coaching staff,” Kapler said. “I feel like I'm surrounded by people who share a vision that we all share — myself, Farhan and Scott — so I feel like there's quite a bit of alignment there.”

The alignment is now a hallmark of a Giants organizati­on and coaching staff that has taken on a new shape this offseason. With Ecker departing for a job in Texas and longtime third base coach Ron Wotus retiring, the Giants have promoted assistant coach Mark Hallberg to take Wotus' spot, hired 32-year-old Pedro Guerrero to fill the vacancy left by Ecker and named former bullpen catcher Taira Uematsu a full-time assistant coach.

Guerrero, a native Spanish speaker, and Uematsu, the first Japanese-born assistant in major league history, will bring new voices to a staff that features an increasing number of diverse perspectiv­es.

Those perspectiv­es will be heard, because Kapler has made it a priority. The Manager of the Year Award he won Tuesday is obviously a reflection of his own success and the Giants' extraordin­ary regular season achievemen­ts, but there's little doubt it was made possible by the coaches who surround him and challenge him.

 ?? TNS ?? Giants manager Gabe Kapler looks on during the game against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on April 21.
TNS Giants manager Gabe Kapler looks on during the game against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on April 21.

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