A Simple Kind of Fan. How RRR can Help. – 9.13.11
Since the first botched double switch on Opening Day, I have been riding RRR hard week in and week out. His dogged persistence in some under-performing facets of the team continues to bewilder and surprise knowledgeable fans. There are some simple adjustments he could make heading into the postseason that may lead to a surprising difference in the results. I’d like to go over each of these no brainers and examine why he continues to choose the wrong option on these talking points. Indeed, Roenicke has done a nice job of holding the team together during this poor stretch of games. However, if he wants to be known as anything other than an unfulfilled disappointment, he will need to be flexible and make some overdue, critical adjustments moving forward.
STOP bunting early in games. I have discussed this many times in the last few weeks. RRR has an obsession with bunting early and often in games. I have contended all season that this strategy is counterproductive and eliminates any chance of a big inning. When was the last big inning the Brewers had early in a game? August 27th, against the Cubs, the Brewers scored three first inning runs, thanks to a Casey McGehee HR. Yet earlier in the inning RRR had Plush bunt after a lead off double from Hart. He tried, but was unsuccessful in stifling the big inning. Virtually nightly, when a batter gets a hit to lead off an inning, RRR immediately surrenders one of his three outs with a bunt. This is a terrible mistake, and I can’t see the logic in executing this strategy on a nightly basis. The math doesn’t seem to make any sense.
In fact, Jon Loomer has gone as far as to track each bunt this season for the Brewers and the results are predictable. The team has attempted 122 bunts (includes force outs, popouts, foul strikeouts, etc.) this season. I know, I know, it seems like it should be twice as high. Regardless, 30 times (24.6%) this season the bunt has led to at least one run. In fact, Tony Plush has 29 bunts which have led to 9 instances (31%) of the Brewers scoring a run. Do those sound like good odds to you?
In the playoffs, the team needs to win eleven games to become World Champions. Given the dominance of the bullpen and the poor infield defense, doesn’t it make sense to allow the hitters a chance to establish a big lead early in one of the games? Let’s face it, the team is going to need a hot offense to keep advancing. This scenario will not occur if RRR continues to bunt early in games.
Sit McGehee. I am a fan of Casey McGehee. I really am. I enjoy his bond to Milwaukee and his family’s openness in regards to his son’s medical problems. McGehee seems as if he is one of the good guys in baseball and I look forward to seeing if he can dedicate himself to getting in shape and holding off Taylor Green at the hot corner in 2012. That being said, it is the middle of September and the hot hand has got to start seeing some regular playing time at third base. To be effective in the playoffs, Prince must have some sort of protection after Weeks in the lineup. I’m positive RRR thinks that Casey will snap out of the funk. I know managers like gritty players and earlier this month, we got another reminder of what grit can also taste like!
Leave Yuni off of the postseason roster. Since March 1st I have been preaching that Yuni Betancourt is a detriment to the team. Unfortunately, he has not disappointed with the bat, or with the glove. Now the Weeks is healthy and will be playing nightly, it is time to see what Jerry Hairston can do at the position, yet it may not happen. Roenicke is just stubborn enough to spit in the face common sense and stick with Yuni as his starting shortstop. JP from BrewCrewBall does a great job explaining why that would be a poor idea. In addition, I simply do not believe that the team will win a playoff series filled with 2-1 and 3-2 scores with Yuni at shortstop. His defensive lapses could potentially cost the team multiple games this postseason. The San Francisco Giants did this same tactic to Barry Zito last season and it seemed to work out OK for them.
Shorten the rotation’s leash. The Brewers are going to find themselves down three or four runs early in a playoff game. If so, it might make sense to shorten that particular start. To keep a game from getting out of hand, I could see a scenario where Hawkins finishes the 4th inning and Saito pitches the 5th inning. This would leave KRod and Axford to close out the game with 2 innings apiece. This alignment could keep an opposing team close and allow the Brewers to come back later in the game. I bring this up because each of the starters has shown at least one start in the last few weeks that has been less than encouraging. We can all tell when a starter doesn’t ‘have it’, yet Roenicke has stuck with the starter in almost every instance this season, much to the detriment of winning 1 of 162 games. This is fine in the regular season when a manger must save a bullpen. I fear Roenicke will retain this philosophy in a best of 5 scenario and
be loyal to a fault. When one of these starts comes along this postseason, hopefully the team will have an off day the next day and RRR will use this alignment to come back and win the playoff game.
Stick to Defined bullpen roles. Lucky for everyone involved, Roenicke can’t possibly mess this up. The bullpen roles have been established and the game plan does NOT include running Kam Loe out nightly against Left handed hitters. But I wanted to mention this because you just know that if Doug Melvin didn’t tie his hands, that RRR would make a mockery out of this situation in the postseason, exactly like he did before the KRod trade.
RRR has seen his starting pitching falter during September. This has exposed some of his blunders that have been concealed for most of the season. While I appreciate his loyalty to both his brand of baseball and to his veteran players, I feel like he is trying to make a round peg fit into a square hole. He doesn’t have a roster configuration of a small ball team, yet he continues to bunt early and often. He also doesn’t have the luxury any longer to continuously place McGehee and Yuni in the lineup fifth and sixth, as performance determines playing time in the playoffs. Finally, RRR also must shorten up the rotation’s leash in a close scoring affair, while maintaining the defined roles that has made for a harmonious bullpen in the second half of the season. If he actually makes some of these changes, I feel as if he can help make the team better. However, if he continues to be stubborn and does nothing, we will have almost all of October to bemoan and rehash how RRR singlehandedly ruined the entire season with his loyalty and stubbornness.
A Season You Have Probably Forgotten About by Now
Last week we discussed how Sparky Lyle won the 1977 Cy Young Award because of his superior teammates. This week we will discuss how the same thing happened in the 1976 MVP race. The awards process has become so convoluted that we now have to constantly read articles about what is the definition of most valuable. It’s disappointing that no one ever comes out and says, “Well, Player X had the best teammates.” Of course, that would sound silly and uninformed. Hence, the theory of having to be on a winner to be most valuable player was created. Last week I demonstrated how Jim Palmer and Nolan Ryan got screwed by a bias New York media. This week I shall do the same for George Brett.
The 1976 American League race came down to Kansas City and New York. Both division winning teams battled throughout the season and ultimately met in the playoffs. The Yankees won an epic postseason series and were then defeated by the Big Red Machine in the World Series. While George Brett played for a division winner, he was still frozen out of the American League Most Valuable player award. Why? In my opinion, it was because Thurman Munson has more home runs and more RBIs than George Brett.
Both Munson and Brett had terrific seasons as the #3 hitters in each team’s lineup and were important members of the offense. A side by side comparison from Baseball Reference shows a clear indication of how much better of an offensive season Brett had over Munson.
While clear that Munson had a significant edge in RBIs over Brett, it’s the only statistic that jumps out as dominating. If you’ve read this blog before, you know I consider the RBI to be a team stat, and not a measure of individual success. The ten home run edge loses a bit of luster when considering that Brett dominated in extra base hits and triples. In 1976, George Brett was not yet a power hitter but he still had a higher slugging percentage than Munson. The evidence clearly shows that George Brett had a superior offensive season.
Now that we have eliminated that offensive production was the key to Munson’s victory, let’s look at if defense was a contributing factor to the award. George Brett was second among AL third basemen in both 26 errors and 1398 innings played. Munson wasn’t much better qualifying fourth among AL catchers in both 12 errors and logging 1062 innings behind the plate. You must also consider than Munson made an additional two errors in the outfield during his MVP season for a total of 14. I understand that the catching position is the captain on the field and also is a grind that wears down an offensive orientated player. In fact, when considering that Brett logged nearly 300 more defensive innings than Munson, defense has to be at best a slight edge to Munson. However, a slight edge in defense is insignificant, especially considering that the award is rarely, if ever, based upon defensive acumen.
If Munson didn’t have a better offensive season than Brett, and only a marginally better defensive season, then perhaps writers looked at the ‘intangibles’. What are the pertinent intangibles? How about leadership, desire, and being clutch? Can anyone say for sure that he was a better leader than Brett? Can anyone say for sure than Munson wanted it more? Can anyone say for sure that the Yankee backstop was more clutch because of his higher RBI total? Well, here are two clutch situations Brett excelled over Munson:
Late in the game and close:
Brett: 134 plate appearance with a 1012 OPS
Munson: 128 Plate appearances with a .701 OPS
Brett: 247 Plate appearances with a .926 OPS
Munson: 224 Plate appearances with a .700 OPS
Despite not having as many RBIs as Munson, Brett excelled when his team needed him most, when the game was in doubt. One final factor that should be considered is that Brett helped lead the Royals to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. However, that didn’t matter in the eyes of sportswriters. Instead of using actual statistics to decide a winner, the baseball writers showed their vast knowledge of the game (and incredible bias) by using intangibles to decide a winner of the MVP in 1976. Because of this error in judgment, George Brett had a season you have forgotten about by now.
This will serve as a minor programming note. There will be no separate Yuni Wacth this week. As a result I can tell you that Yuni was 4 x 17, and now has a 4 game hitting streak. He also chipped in with one run and four RBIs. In fact, Yuni was a rare bright spot for RBIs in what was a run challenged week for the Milwaukee offense. Earlier in this blog I discussed benching Yuni and I linked JP’s piece on why the Brewers can no longer start Yuni. Frankly, there is no way I could have done a better job, so if you didn’t read it earlier, read it here. Hopefully the Yuni watch will be back on Wednesday next week.
Dates Appearing Closer on the Horizon
October 1, 2011. Game 1 of the National League Division Series.
Shameless Self Promotion
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Featured Image Credit: George Bridges / MCT