A Simple Kind of Fan. Not Winnin’ Nothin’ Without no Rickie– 8.30.11
When the Brewers left San Francisco on July 24th, the team was fresh off a meager 5-6 road trip. As losers of two straight, there was still a good deal of optimism remaining for fans. The theory was that the schedule would become much easier and this would allow the team the chance to string together a few victories. Obviously no one could foresee what happened next. The team promptly won 27 of 32 and has run away with the Central Division in very, very impressive fashion. Despite an inconsistent offense, the starting pitching has limited teams and the bullpen has successfully held on to a lead nightly. I feel as if the team is good, but could be even better.
The return of Carlos Gomez will allow for a defensive alternative late in games when protecting a slim lead. While his return is nice, it doesn’t allow Ron Roenicke the flexibility to do anything other than use him in a platoon situation, and as a defensive replacement late in games. I feel as if the Gomez return makes the Brewers a better team, but doesn’t necessarily add an impact player to the team.
The return of Rickie Weeks will have many different impacts. First, it will allow Roenicke to either return Rickie to the leadoff spot, or to the fifth spot he was occupying before the injury occurred. Each spot has some benefits. If he hits lead off, this will allow a red hot Corey Hart to slide down in the lineup. Of course, Hart had previously complained about hitting behind Prince, which is what caused the lineup shuffle in the first place. Personally, I feel as if Rickie is the third best hitter on the team. The most logical place for him in the lineup is directly after two players who each have on base percentages of over .400. Rickie needs to be hammering the ball all over the field and driving in the best hitters on the team.
Secondly, the return of Rickie Weeks stabilizes second base. There will be no more platoons and player shuffling once Rickie returns. I am sure having Weeks back to depend on nightly will be a stress reliever for Roenicke. Of course, stabilizing second base also has a sort of cascading effect throughout the team.
As a result of stabilizing second base, Roenicke now has the freedom to use Jerry Hairston in other capacities. In my opinion, Hairston is still the better option over Gomez to start versus lefthanders in center field because of his offensive consistency and productive approach. While Gomez is a superior defender, his true value for a playoff team lies strictly in being an awesome defensive replacement once a lead has been handed over to the trusty bullpen. Additionally, Hairston could also help provide a legitimate option at shortstop. At the very least, it wouldn’t hurt to see what Hairston could do down the stretch at short, just in case he is needed as a late inning replacement option in the 14th inning of a playoff game. At that very moment, trust me, Roenicke is going to wish he had given Hairston a mop up inning or two during a late season blowout.
Fourth, having Rickie return from the disabled list will allow Craig Counsell to play third base and shortstop exclusively moving forward. I am still convinced that as the season wears down, Counsell will begin to play more frequently and, like it or not, he will be an important part of this playoff team.
Finally, it can’t be overstated how much inserting a premium offensive player into a predominantly defensive position can impact a team. In fact, these types of players are called impact players. Rickie has been gone since July 27th and yet he still is an offensive force at the second base position in the National League. When taking a minimum of 300 at bats, Rickie has ranks in the following stats among NL second basemen:
Considering how much time Rickie has missed, I would say he is exactly what cures an ailing offense. While the team has been on a tear, Rickie has been rehabbing like a man possessed. I am sure there is someone that would like to make a connection between the Brewers winning and Weeks being injured. That person would be incorrect. While true that Milwaukee has been winning, it certainly hasn’t been because of the offense. In fact, despite a struggling offense the team continues to win because of terrific pitching. Getting Rickie back will inject life into the offense, stabilize second base, allow Hairston to help the team at other defensive positions, give Counsell an opportunity to help the left side of the infield, and enable the team to add an impact player down the stretch. The addition of Weeks, and to a lesser extent Gomez, sets up the Milwaukee Brewers to be a formidable opponent for any team in the National League in October.
Random Excerpts from the Book of Unwritten Rules
“Don’t take the bat out of your best hitter’s hands by sacrificing in front of him.”
This unwritten rule is a counter to small ball enthusiasts everywhere. In the playoffs, all teams will have situations in critical games where they will need to bunt a runner over in order to have a chance to drive in a run. RRR has a penchant for using this tactic in the first inning, or the tenth inning. The core of this theory tends to suggests that in crunch time situations, a successful sacrifice bunt is often followed by an intentional walk. Hence, if you sacrifice in front of your best hitter and open up a base, there is no incentive given to the opposing team to pitch to your best hitter. As with any rule there are exceptions. One good exception would be if the lead runner is the go ahead or winning run in the late innings. My point is that if your team has one big superstar and a group of roll players on offense, a sacrifice bunt can hurt your team in some situations.
Why would I bring this up? The Milwaukee Brewers have one of the most top heavy offenses in all of baseball. Currently, after Prince in the order, it is a barren wasteland of productivity. I predict that this unwritten rule will reveal itself in the playoffs at least a couple of times. There have been numerous instances throughout the last month in which Hart singles (or doubles), Plush sacrifices, and then Braun and Fielder are left the task of driving in the run. Late in the game, you certainly would want things to set up just like this. Early in the game, however, I really would like to see the team go a different direction.
In the playoffs, Roenicke really reduces any upside the inning has created when he bunts. Unless Braun or Fielder hits a home run, the upside has been reduced to a single run, perhaps two if an extra base hit is involved. Surrendering Plush’s at bat seems fruitless in my opinion. Under RRR’s favorite scenario, if Braun makes an out (which statistics say will happen roughly 67% of the time) this leaves many teams no choice but to walk Prince and take their chance with a blindfolded McGehee swinging at the plate.
Of course, a 100% healthy Rickie Weeks can help with this batting order weakness that a team like the Atlanta Braves would certainly attempt to exploit. Giving teams a choice between Prince and Rickie is still not much of a choice. Accordingly, Weeks has a chance to carry the offense in close games if he maintains his fifth spot in the order. In summary, this unwritten rule illustrates how RRR could single handedly smother a big inning in the playoffs with ill advised small ball tactics.
A Season You Have Probably Forgotten About by Now
Sandy Kofax dominated the National League in 1965. He was 26-8 with 2.04 ERA (1.93 FIP) and struck out 382 batters in 335 innings. As a result of this outstanding season, he was awarded a Cy Young award unanimously for his efforts. In my opinion, there can be no credible argument against the award going to Kofax, because he was that good. Despite his dominance, Kofax’s year almost went down as the second best season by a pitcher in 1965.
Jim Maloney spent a decade with the Reds during the 1960s. Maloney was a hard throwing fireballer that managed to strike out over 200 hitters for four consecutive seasons. However, when you mention Jim Maloney, astute historians of the game may pause and slowly shake their head. You see, with any type of luck, Maloney would be as recognized as the only person to throw three no- hitters in a single season. A brief look at the 1965 season will reveal a year from Maloney that many have forgotten by now.
Maloney started out the ‘65 campaign by throwing a complete game one- hitter in the season opener. He managed to strike out eight and only walk three. It was a solid start and set a precedent for what was to come. On June 14th, he pitched ten no- hit innings only to lose the game 1-0 on an 11th inning home run. In this game he struck out 18 Mets with only one walk. Can you imagine the heartbreak of losing a no hitter and the game in the 11th inning? Finally, Maloney notched the trick in unusual fashion on August 19th. Maloney indeed pitched nine no hit innings while striking out 12 Cubs. However, Maloney also walked 10 hitters! Incredibly, his worst of the three starts is the one that actually accomplished the feat.
As a result of the modern no hitter rule changes, Maloney failed to join Johnny Vander Meer (’38), Allie Reynolds (‘51), Virgil Trucks (‘52), and Nolan Ryan (‘73) as the only other major leaguers to throw two no-hitters in the same regular season. I don’t believe it’s difficult to envision a different outcome that would have resulted in three no- hitters for Maloney in ‘65. This feat would have single handedly made Jim Maloney a household name. Instead, he had to settle for only one no- hitter and thus, he had a year in 1965 that will inevitably go down as a season you may have forgotten about by now.
Dates Appearing Closer on the Horizon
August 31, 2011. The real trade deadline.
September 8, 2011. The start of a 4 game home series against the Phillies should provide plenty of opportunity for folks to make this series the obligatory postseason preview. Many things can change in a month, so I’ll just say that it’s a good opportunity to let everyone in the National League know that it is going to be tough to squeak out a victory when visiting Miller Park in another month.
October 1, 2011. Game 1 of the National League Division Series.
Shameless Self Promotion
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Featured Image Credit: thebackwardsk.tumblr.com
Jim Maloney Image Credit: astrosdaily.com