Proof Managing in the Bigs is (almost) a Crapshoot


Mar 14, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Milwaukee Brewers bench coach Jerry Narron (36) and manager Ron Roenicke (10) watch game action against the Arizona Diamondbacks at the start of the game at Maryvale Baseball Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Arm chair managing. We’ve all done it, and many of us participate in what is truly America’s pastime on a daily basis when taking in a Milwaukee Brewers game. Knowing that your insignificant decision would have technically panned out gives you satisfaction, even if that satisfaction comes at the expense of a blown save or a stunted rally.

The Brewers manager, dating back to the beginning of the 2011 season, is Ron Roenicke. Thankfully for Ron, he is not a Twitter user, because 95 percent of the time, he would not appreciate how people were using 140 characters to describe his ability to manage a ball club.

Actually, now wouldn’t be a bad time for Roenicke to hop on social media, because his Milwaukee Brewers are a league-best 18-6 and leading the NL Central by a comfortable margin. His decision to role with Francisco Rodriguez at closer has turned out to be brilliant, as K-Rod is a perfect 11-for-11 in save opportunities, setting a team record for saves in the month of April. Dropping Jean Segura in the lineup and subsequently moving up Scooter Gennett has paid dividends, and his overall management of the pitching staff has been nothing short of perfect.

Wait a minute, now. This couldn’t possibly be the same Roenicke who has at times infamously mismanaged his pitching staff, who led a team with the ability to contend for a postseason spot to just 74 wins last season, and who has an obsession with sacrifice bunting, suicide squeeze plays, and using pinch hitters to bunt. Could it?

It doesn’t end there. Think about pitching coach Rick Kranitz. How could that guy possibly still have a job, right? More often than not, teams for which Kranitz has been the pitching guru have finished in the bottom half of the league in earned run average. And that includes two of the full three seasons he’s coached in Milwaukee under Roenicke.

But sure enough, the Brewers rank No. 2 in all of baseball in team ERA through 24 games.

Many believed both men were still riding off that magical 2011 season in which Milwaukee could have very well wound up in the World Series. They benefited from having a loaded roster, but, whether it be fair or unfair, they received plenty of credit for the Brewers’ franchise record 96-win season and run to the NLCS.

What if I told you it was neither fair nor unfair, and that managing was, for the most part, a shot in the dark?

Sure, something can be made of shaking up a team and providing a spark by making a change at manager. Just look at the 2008 season when Dale Sveum took over for Ned Yost in mid-September. One could argue that was the biggest reason the Brewers were able to hold on for dear life and reach the postseason for the first time in 26 years.

Or maybe it just, you know, happened.

When you compare Milwaukee’s 2013 and 2014 seasons, not all that much has changed, really. The signing of Matt Garza would certainly be the most noticeable addition, and you can also look at the revamped bullpen – this tends to happen from year to year, anyway – and the overhaul at first base, a position that had nowhere to go but up following its disastrous run a year ago.

General manager Doug Melvin’s shuffling of the deck out in the ‘pen has made him out to be a genius, at least up to this point, and while Garza is just 1-2 with a 4.09 ERA through five starts, his presence has seemingly boosted the performance of everyone else in the rotation. And between Lyle Overbay and Mark Reynolds at first base, the offense has improved minimally. The defense? Substantially.

How much can a manager truly control this? Surely, it’s Roenicke who decides when to pull the plug on a starting pitcher or play matchups late in games. He also puts out the starting nine day-in and day-out, and Kranitz can also chip in his two cents when a pitcher finds itself in a jam or needs to work out some kinks.

Beyond that? There isn’t much to it, at least when you take away what goes on behind the scenes. Even then, you have to wonder how often Roenicke truly interacts with his ball club, and what his role is when it comes to settling any in-house issues.

It’s Melvin who made the personnel moves this winter, nearly all of which have worked out well. While it’s up to Roenicke on how to use this personnel, it’s not exactly what you would call rocket science, at least to those familiar with the day-to-day happenings of the Brewers.

This isn’t a knock on Roenicke. The fourth-year skipper has made some excellent decisions this season, and he has cut back a bit on some of his usual tendencies. But the poor baserunning remains, as does his extreme misuse of bunting and a bit of an obsession with matchups.

But all in all, when you’ve managed your club to an 18-6 start, these are apples and oranges. Just about everything is going right for the Brewers, and while some players have missed time and dealt with injury in the early going, injury and how a team responds to it will typically be what makes or breaks a season, especially for teams with the ability to contend.

The Brewers clearly have that ability and are more than navigating what was supposed to be a difficult April schedule. Folks would have been content with a .500 showing in the season’s opening month, but Milwaukee has lost just two of its eight series and completed three sweeps along the way.

Winning solves everything and silences the doubters. But truth be told, players are the ones that make plays, managers can only do so much and it’s a long, long season. There will be ups and downs to come, and you better believe the hate will be thrown Roenicke’s way far more often than the praise regardless of how this season continues to play out.

Again, this isn’t fair, nor is it unfair. When it comes down to it, the 2014 Milwaukee Brewers have proved one thing – managing is a crapshoot.