Being a Major League manager has to suck. Even more so when you find yourself in the position that Ron Roenicke does.
Two months ago, it was very hard to find people who would outwardly defend the second-year skipper, and very easy to find people calling for his job. Of course back then, the team was double-digits behind .500 and just trying to keep above elimination from the playoffs.
Now, a very different tune is being sung as the Brew Crew continues its month-long rally and finds itself only three games behind the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Wild Card Race and in line for a most improbable return to the post-season.
I’m not here to suggest that Ron Roenicke is the sole impetus behind this amazing run the Brewers have had – I just want to ask the question: where does Ron Roenicke stand now?
The manager of any baseball team can only do so much. They pore over stats and match-up numbers. They review ballpark factors. They change lineups, they call in pitchers, they designate fielding positions. Obviously, they can’t hit, field or pitch themselves. This makes it difficult to discern – if you want to be rational – what exactly falls under the manager’s cost/benefit analysis.
The early season injuries obviously put RR in a hole – we all knew there was very little depth going into this year on all sides of the field, and the baseball gods exploited it. This, and the early (and often) struggles of the Brewers bats required an ungodly amount of line-up changes for the Crew early on. While it’s easy to assume that this had a negative effect on the offensive output of the team, it also allowed Roenicke to find comfortable roles for his players. The best example would be Corey Hart at first base – where he has played well for most of the season. It also allowed Norichika Aoki to get comfortable with the American game and become the very dependable hitter he has been for most of the season.
Now you can’t necessarily ‘credit’ RR with the injuries (and why would you want to?) but his reaction to and strategy for them has, for the most part, been very effective. Obviously the gaping hole at shortstop was filled with veteran gloves at various levels of success, but did its job about as well as could be hoped. The decision to play Jean Segura is one that still needs time to flesh out, but there’s nary a fan who doesn’t look fondly into the future in that position.
Ron Roenicke’s insistence – almost to a fault – on having confidence that the players can work
themselves out of a slump has proven to be a remarkable exercise in this team turning it around. Look no further than Rickie Weeks and Corey Hart for exhibits A and B. There are many of us – myself obviously included – that still don’t feel comfortable with them being here on the long-term, but their ability to reignite their play over the last few months have been astounding. One has to wonder what would have happened to their seasons if Roenicke had given up on them and taken them out of the lineup. Of course, the converse of that argument is that we could have won more games in the middle part of the season and not been as under pressure to continue winning now – but that’s a different article for a different time. For now, kudos to Roenicke for doing what many other managers – and even more fans – can’t seem to do: have patience and faith in your players.
That goes for the bullpen, too. Losing the bullpen coach in the middle of the season obviously lit a fire to some degree, but the results were not dramatic enough to credit the new bullpen coach or the fear of losing the old one into the equation. It’s difficult to assess ‘intangibles’ in any qualitative sense, but it’s clear that the bullpen’s turnaround is thanks (at least in part) to those very ideas. The loss of bullpen roles – as frustrating as those ninth innings seemed to be – were part and parcel of John Axford‘s turnaround as he nears 30 saves for the season and is currently riding a ten-game save streak. The bullpen is far from fixed, mind you, but Roenicke’s insistence on keeping the boys on their toes down there has seemed to refocus the group into a more coherent and effective bullpen than they had been near the All-Star Break.
Ron Roenicke’s campaign at the helm of the 2012 Milwaukee Brewers has been far from perfect. However, at this point in the season, it appears there is a method to his madness after all. In a season as long as this MLB season is, rhythm, enthusiasm, and motivation count as much as any number in the stat books. It took a long time to come to fruition, but the Brewers have those in spades in the midst of a playoff push.
Again, I am not here to posit that Ron Roenicke deserves Manager of the Year (I think Davey Johnson has that one locked up) but I am simply stating that if you were one of those fans calling for his head in July, you must be able now to give him credit for riding out the waves and bringing this ship back on the straight and narrow.
Mixed metaphors aside, I am now and will remain a staunch supporter of the work Ron Roenicke is doing. He may not be flashy or fiery or anything we really expect out of a manager – but the faith, patience, and foresight he has had in 2012 speaks volumes about the team’s future.