Sep 28, 2014; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Brewers manager Ron Roenicke (10) talks to players in the dugout prior to the game against the Chicago Cubs at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
The Milwaukee Brewers epic September collapse has gotten a lot of Brewer fans, myself included, foaming at the mouth and calling for sacrificial heads to be mounted outside the stadium.
Number one on a lot of fans’ personal firing list is Brewers manager Ron Roenicke. For 150 days the Brewers were a first place team, and Roenicke, along with Marlins manager Mike Redmond were considered the front-runners for the Manager of the Year award in the National League.
Then the Brewers collapsed, the team’s flaws became glaring and unavoidable, and Ron Roenicke was offered up as the problem, or at least, part of the problem.
The Brewers bats when completely silent in September. The team stopped hitting. They stopped hitting home runs, they stopped hitting doubles, and they stopped hitting period. The pitching was good for the most part, but it couldn’t overcome an offense that scored 2-runs of fewer 13 times in 26 September games.
The in-game decisions of managers don’t affect a baseball game all that much. Some guys leave their starters in too long; some guys rely too heavily on one or two arms out of the bullpen; some guys never seem to send the right pinch hitter to the plate.
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But here’s the thing, every manager in baseball seems to have those faults. There are very few fan bases in the game that actually like their manager. Maybe we’re all just armchair jerks unwilling, or unable to let the slightest of transgressions pass.
That said Ron Roenicke could be a whole lot worse.
Outs are the prime currency in baseball. There is no clock or timer to keep things moving. Every half inning, you get three outs to make your case for success. There are some long-time baseball strategies that have been proven to be wasteful, both offensively and defensively in the quest to avoid, or make outs.
Intentional Bases on Balls are a great example. In general, as has been discussed many a time in the baseball world, an IBB increases the chances that the team at the plate is going to score.
In the American League, an IBB is generally used to avoid a tough hitter, in the National League it is generally used to bring the pitcher to the plate (which is one of the few instances when it might actually lower run expectancy).
The Brewers intentionally walked 20 batters this season. That puts them at 28th in the MLB in IBBs, ahead of only the Red Sox (19) and Ned Yost’s Royals (14). Ron Roenicke knows that an IBB creates problems by putting a runner on base without the possibility of an out.
Another issue that managers can be quite bad at is hitting batters. I’m sure we all remember when the Arizona Diamondbacks and their now-former manager Kirk Gibson had Ryan Braun plunked to load the bases for Jonathan Lucroy and Lucroy knocked a grand slam.
The Pirates, who whined through an entire week because Andrew McCutchen got hit twice in a game against Matt Garza, led baseball with 88 hit batters this season. That is 88 hitters who were given a free pass to first without the possibility of an out.
Sure, some of those were just mistake pitches by their pitchers, but more than a few were intentional, or retaliation. The Brewers, under Roenicke, hit 42 batters this year, tied with the Tigers for 27th in baseball. Only the Dodgers (41) and Braves (37) hit fewer batters this year.
To my mind, those are both big wins for Roenicke. An organizational philosophy to limit the free base runners of the other team far outweighs any perceived advantages that “protecting your hitters” may return. In short, bean-ball wars are stupid.
He’s not perfect however. The third area that I always like in a manager is not simply giving away outs to advance a base runner. Unfortunately, the Brewers were 3rd in baseball with 70 sacrifice hits (bunts). Only the Reds and Marlins had more.
However, 43 of those 70 sacrifices came from the pitching staff. Of the remaining 27, 10 belonged to Jean Segura who had a terrible year at the plate.
In-game, I’m a lot happier with Ron Roenicke than I am with most of the other managers in baseball. So the question comes down to this: Is Ron Roenicke’s lack of fire/enthusiasm the reason the Brewers couldn’t recover from their collapse?
I don’t think it is. Braun had a thumb and hand issue, an issue bad enough he’ll be having surgery on it this week to fix. Khris Davis had a forearm issue. Aramis Ramirez is old. Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay weren’t very good to begin with. Carlos Gomez missed a week with a wrist injury and came back with a different swing.
The only player in the lineup without an easily explainable reason for his lack of production in September was Scooter Gennett, who was awful in September, hitting just .224/.244/.289.
Would a different manager have turned those guys around? I sincerely doubt it. There are things Ron Roenicke could certainly do better: bunt less, stop locking into bullpen roles, reign in Carlos Gomez on the bases. But the alternative is almost certainly going to be a manager who does things significantly worse.