CM – Kapler’s Manager of the Year Award is a product of his biggest gamble with SF Giants

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SAN FRANCISCO – The catchphrases felt insincere, like being used as a crutch by a guide who didn’t know what to say.

Gabe Kapler promised that his employees would work together and communicate. He promised his coaches that he would emphasize the development and refine preparatory processes that would lead to better results. Led by Kapler, the Giants would use analytics but address each player’s needs and learning style first to ensure they get the most out of the information available.

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

Two years later, Kapler’s message was now loud and clear: The Giants set their franchise single season record with 107 victories and secured their first title in the National League West since 2012.

On Tuesday Kapler named National League Manager of the Year after receiving 28 of 30 first-place finishers for the award.
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« The results speak for themselves, » said General Manager Scott Harris last week when Kapler received a two-year contract extension. « I think Kap’s pre-game preparation is great, but what makes Kap special is his dedication to adapting new information from coaches, players and what the game tells him. »
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – OCTOBER 14: San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler, right, speaks to his San Francisco Giants ??? players Brandon Crawford (35), reliever Camilo Doval (75) and catcher Buster Posey (28) after removing pitcher Tyler Rogers (71) in the eighth inning of game 5 of the National League Divisional Series at Oracle Park in San Francisco, California on Thursday, October 14, 2021. (Ray Chavez / Bay Area News Group)

When Kapler was hired to replace Bruce Bochy, who presented the award live on Tuesday on the MLB Network, it was clear that the former manager of the Philadelphia Phillies didn’t have all the answers. What made his success in San Francisco possible is the way Kapler tried to hide his blind spots and make the best decisions both before and in the game.

Kapler became the first Giants manager to win the Manager of the Year award since Dusty Baker received the honor in 2000 for assembling a coaching staff that raised the team’s cap. A huge, largely unconventional and inexperienced staff was greeted with skepticism by media outlets (including myself) and fans, but over the past two seasons Kapler’s greatest venture as a manager has paid off in ways he may not have expected.

« We saw the fruits of our labor in 2021 because I think it is no coincidence that we built the relationships we built with our players and our staff, » said Kapler. « In my opinion, what we were able to achieve together has a lot to do with the fact that every player in our clubhouse has someone on our team with whom they can identify. »

The decision of Giants President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi to hire Kapler, who served as farm director for the Dodgers from 2014 to 2017, met with significant local opposition as Kapler raised allegations of sexual assault against Los Minor League players Angeles and its perceived failures during a two year stint as manager of the Phillies.
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 13: San Francisco Giants Manager Gabe Kapler is on the field during the team’s practice session at Oracle Park in preparation for tomorrow’s crucial Game 5 of the National League Division Series at Oracle Park in San Francisco, California see Wednesday, October 13, 2021. (Jane Tyska / Bay Area News Group)

Zaidi believed that Kapler’s personable nature, excellent communication skills, and willingness to think critically in search of solutions ultimately led him to San Francisco but understood that 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 league players and longtime major league coaches. Instead, they relied on several young coaches who brought innovative ideas and a fluent analysis and figures that govern baseball decisions to the dugout.

Kai Correa, who had never worked in the majors before becoming the Giants’ bank coach, has been hailed by Giants veterans as one of the most prepared assistants they have worked with throughout their careers. Donnie Ecker, a hitting coach who recently quit the Giants to become the Rangers’ bank coach, took a line-up that consistently ranks among the top five of the majors on home runs and helped them become the strongest offensives in the National League do. Pitching coach Andrew Bailey, who trained professionally for a season, played a key role in helping Kevin Gausman, Anthony DeSclafani and Logan Webb reach their full potential.
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – OCTOBER 6: San Francisco Giants Manager Gabe Kapler (19) speaks to the media prior to a team training session at Oracle Park in San Francisco, Calif. On October 6, 2021. (Anda Chu / Bay Area News Group) / p> All three were under 40 when the Giants hired them and are just a few of the nearly dozen success stories of Kapler’s early coaching staff.

« There were a lot of unknown names and a lot of guys making their first major league games so it’s a bit clear that it will take some growing struggle, » Gausman said in September. « But I’ve been with a lot of coaches and this is the best prepared coaching staff I’ve ever seen. »

Throughout the 2021 season, Kapler and his assistants often talked about their willingness to challenge each other and change their minds on topics, from using a discharge mug to getting a particular pinch club sent to the plate should be. The collaborative communication, which at first sounded like Silicon Valley corporate speak, was part of the Giants’ success this year, also because Kapler believes empowerment comes from engagement.

« I feel very supported by our coaching staff, » said Kapler. « I feel like I’m surrounded by people who share a vision that we all share – me, Farhan, and Scott – so I feel like there’s quite a bit of consensus. »
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – OCTOBER 6: San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler (19) catches a ball at first base during a team training session at Oracle Park in San Francisco, Calif., October 6, 2021. (Anda Chu / Bay Area News Group)

The alignment is now a hallmark of a Giants organization and coaching staff that has taken on a new shape this off-season. With Ecker getting a job in Texas and long-time third base coach Ron Wotus retiring, the Giants have promoted assistant coach Mark Hallberg to take Wotus’ place, hiring 32-year-old Pedro Guerrero to do the von Ecker to fill the vacancy left behind, and the name of former bullpen catcher Taira Uematsu is a full-time assistant trainer.

Guerrero, a native Spanish speaker, and Uematsu, the first Japanese-born assistant in Major League history, will bring new voices to a team with increasingly diverse perspectives.

These perspectives are heard because Kapler made them a priority. The Manager of the Year award he won on Tuesday obviously reflects his own success and the Giants’ exceptional performance in the regular season, but there is no doubt that this was made possible by the coaches who surround him and challenge him.

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