Ruminations On Strategy And Identity
The unthinkable has happened. The Brewers’ offense could only muster 7 runs against a mediocre-at-best trio of Royals pitchers and the bullpen imploded in three consecutive games with the damage credited to Milwaukee’s top two relievers, resulting in a Kansas City sweep. Each game was lost by exactly one run.
I will repeat, one run. This is why to me, the blame must be sent straight to the top and placed on Ron Roenicke. Take this situation from yesterday’s game: scoreless in the top of the fourth with no outs, Nyjer Morgan at the plate and Norichika Aoki at first, RRR elects to employ the hit and run as he often does, one way to take the runner off first and eliminate the double-play possibility. Some may argue this is a better strategy than bunting, and the statistics may agree. What resulted in this situation was a strike’em-out-throw’em-out double play, which is in my opinion an extreme momentum-shifting play towards the pitching team. Roenicke’s strategy clearly backfired, and he is now faced with the exact two out, no baserunner situation he sought to avoid, all without contact being made. If that wasn’t bad enough, Ryan Braun hits his 16th home run of the year on the very next at-bat, and an inning that could have had a crooked number in the box score for Milwaukee yielded just one run.
One run. In his 1984 book Weaver on Strategy, Hall of Fame Orioles manager Earl Weaver wrote that “if you play for one run, that’s all you’ll get” when explaining why he deplores traditional offensive strategies like sacrifices, stolen bases, and the hit-and-run, all major weapons in Roenicke’s arsenal. For someone who does not seem to fit the archetype of a traditional manager based the importance he places on his relationships with players, Roenicke sure uses archaic methods to score runs. One run was the difference in each game of the Royals series, and has been the difference in 22 of Milwaukee’s 63 games so far in 2012. They are on pace to have about as many one-run games (48) as they did in 2011, a season in which they won an improbable 62.5% of such games. This is both an unsustainable record and one not worth trying to duplicate, so there is no sense in playing to these tendencies, particularly given the state of the lineup and bullpen.
So with these obvious deficiencies, what can be done to position this team for short- and long-term success? Doug Melvin and Mark Attanasio seem to have the same goal in mind as I do for the organization: sustained success and hopefully championships. For a small market team, this is not as difficult a task as some make it out to be in today’s MLB economic climate. But as Rays or Cardinals management will tell you, it involves very calculated risk taking and a special attention to producing home-grown talent. The Brewers have generally succeeded in both respects since Attanasio bought the team, making two playoff appearances and developing a marketable, talented core of players. To avoid a return to the dark ages of the 90′s and early 2000′s, these are trends that must continue.
Two draft classes have restocked a minor league system left void of prospects after the 2010-11 offseason. Pitching was prioritized last June, and hitting this year. At best, these two crops of players could result in a few legitimate major leaguers, in Milwaukee or elsewhere. If Melvin holds to plan, he will continue to replenish the stream of talent coming up through the lower levels, and this season could provide him with a chance to do so. The trade deadline is in a month and a half, and writers are already predicting the Brewers will be a major player in trades with a seller identity. Count me among supporters of a Greinke extension, but for Melvin to not shop him and fellow free-agent-to-be Shaun Marcum would be foolish.
So close to free agency however, the team is not likely to receive favorable returns for either, despite their fine seasons and ability to help contenders. Then Melvin and Attanasio will be faced with a decision similar to one they made after the 2010 season. Prince Fielder had one year left in Milwaukee and the team was not offered good enough prospects in a potential trade. Attanasio then gave the green light to go “all-in” and trade away prospects for impact pitching, a decision which paid off perfectly. Melvin and Attanasio must approach this season the same way: would a return for Marcum and/or Greinke improve the team’s future? If yes, sell. If not, then buy.
Kevan Feyzi blogs on the Brewers for PocketDoppler.com. He enjoys oregano, argyle socks, and Earl Weaver. He can be followed on Twitter @fevankeyzi.