Noon Hour Rounds: Tuesday, May 22 | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

Last night the Brewers lost a tough 14-inning contest with the San Francisco Giants. Although the game seemed over from the start, as Brewers starter Randy Wolf allowed 3 runs in the top of the first inning, the Brewers hung tough and Wolf capped the damage at 3 runs allowed. The Brewers inched back in the 6th inning, as Aramis Ramirez plated Ryan Braun for the 5th time this season (with two outs, no less!), a fine glance at how the Brewers’ 3/4 combination can work. In the 8th, the Brewers once again saw 2 outs against their batters when Norichika Aoki and Ryan Braun spurred the Brewers’ second scoring spree.

The Milwaukee nine forced extra innings, and although their gang of relievers held things close, the Brewers scattered five baserunners between the 9th and 14th innings without scoring a run. Juan Perez encountered another tough outing, collecting his first loss of the season while entering in yet another close-game situation. Hector Sanchez continued Perez’s trial-by-fire, homering off of the Brewers reliever in the first plate appearance of the 14th.

-Perhaps the biggest story this month is the Brewers’ lack of balance between the pitchers and batters. No one seems to be firing on the right cylinders whatsoever. J.P. Breen touched on this point a few days ago, and right on schedule, the Brewers delivered 3-11, 4-5, 16-4, and 3-4 performances.

As I mentioned almost 3 weeks ago, the 2011 Brewers won 40 of 61 games when scoring between 3-and-5 runs, with 27 of those victories coming when the Milwaukee nine managed only 3 or 4 runs scored. In May alone, the Brewers are 0-5 when they score between 3 and 5 runs, including three extra innings affairs (!!!). As bad as the team seems at times, and as unbalanced as the team seems at times, the Brewers are also simply losing out on some opportunities to win close games with 4 or 5 runs scored. As a result, the Brewers are finding themselves on the wrong side of one-run affairs, and they are simply relying on what one might call “obvious” scoring output for their victories: 6, 8, 8, 8, 8, and 16 runs scored in May victories.

If the Brewers cannot steal some close victories, and win at least some games when they score between 3-and-5 runs (basically keeping the team within one run of the 2012 NL league average for runs/game), they are not going to find themselves in the winner’s circle very frequently. It’s great when a ballclub can undoubtedly win when they score 6 or more runs (the Brewers are 13-1 in those games this year), but relying on huge offensive outbursts alone is an unreliable way to produce a sustainable winning record.

And so, the obvious outcomes continue:

13-1 with 6+ RS
3-12 with 3-5 RS (2 wins between 3-4 RS)*
1-12 with 0-2 RS
*believe it or not, this pace places the Brewers on track to score between 3-and-5 runs only four times less than in 2011.

Obviously, you can’t tell a ballclub to hold-up scoring in big games, or “save some runs for tomorrow,” and you certainly can’t expect a club to score a consistent number or average number of runs each game. But, if the Brewers are unable to balance things out when they’re sitting in that 1-run range within the league run environment, they won’t be able to repeat last year’s magical season.

-Last night, I was just about doing somersaults across the living room, between Rickie Weeks‘s contact game and the latest episode of Mad Men (finally, some plot!). Not only was I slapping the couch when Weeks reached via error, I practically jumped across the room when he singled (opposite field!).

Weeks’s plate discipline remains mind-blowing. He saw 19 pitches last night, with approximately 5 of those pitches outside of the strike zone. He swung 9 times, missing 2 sliders, fouling 2 sinkers and a slider, batting into play 2 sliders, 1 sinker, and 1 fastball. Anyway, it was good to see Weeks knock 4 balls in play, all hyperbole aside, and it was good to see him do so while only swinging at pitches in the zone.

Come on, Rickie! Keep going, that slump will end!

-I was prepared this morning to write a big segment on the Brewers’ prolific slumps, but I was pleasantly surprised to find more bats than I suspected batting well. Of course, it’s also interesting to see a batter such as Corey Hart going through strike out troubles somewhat similar to those of Weeks; connect on just a couple of long balls during such a slump, of course, and people might miss those struggles a bit.

For the month of May, you can see that the Brewers are rather divided:

Braun: 79 PA, 26 H, 14 R / 13 RBI, 3 2B, 5 HR, 11 K/8 BB; .382/.468/.647
Ramirez: 79 PA, 11 R / 12 RBI, 6 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 9 K/10 BB; .224/.329/.388
Lucroy: 70 PA, 8 R/19 RBI, 5 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR, 5 K/3 BB; .388/.414/.612
Aoki: 49 PA, 3 R / 3 RBI, 2 2B, 1 3B, 4 K/3 BB; .273/.333/.364
Ishikawa: 46 PA, 5 R/8 RBI, 4 2B, 2 HR, 9 K/6 BB; .297/.395/.568

Hart: 87 PA, 12 R / 7 RBI, 6 2B, 3 HR, 27 K / 4 BB; .247/.282/.432
Weeks: 72 PA, 4 R / 1 RBI, 1 2B, 1 HR, 26 K/8 BB; .113/.236/.177
Izturis: 63 PA, 3 R/2 RBI, 1 HR, 5 K/3 BB; .200/.238/.250
Morgan: 51 PA, 11 R/0 RBI, 1 2B, 7 K/5 BB; .250/.353/.273
Green: 31 PA, 0 R / 3 RBI, 2 2B, 7 K/1 BB; .231/.290/.308
Kottaras: 23 PA, 1 R / 0 RBI, 5 K/7 BB; .125/.391/.125

I wasn’t quite sure what to do with Ramirez, as his .224/.329/.388 line appears ugly, but is actually not that far from the 2012 NL line for third basemen overall. So, we’ll be optimistic and see the glass half full. One might be tempted to do the same with Hart, but let’s not let that .432 SLG gloss over our eyes to his .282 OBP during May. Aoki and Jonathan Lucroy are putting together really fine months, as is the reigning NL MVP.

-The Brewers were in the middle of a rather close battle with the Minnesota Twins on Friday night, trailing by two runs as the game entered the sixth inning. Marco Estrada did not have a particularly grand outing, but the game was close and the Brewers’ bullpen had their work cut out for them. What followed, of course, was a 7-run battering over the final 4 innings, spread between five Brewers relievers.

This got me to thinking: is there any benefit to realigning bullpen roles on a losing ballclub? That is, might a manager consider using his top relievers when he really needs to keep a game close during a stretch when his club is losing close games?

We get an ugly picture of the Brewers’ bullpen looking simply at runs allowed and innings pitched. What about Roenicke’s usage of the relievers? Which relievers does he favor in close games? How about with runners on? How many relievers does he use flexibly, scattered throughout different situations or innings?

Veras: 21 G, 3 IR / 0 IS (.000); .429 entered within 1 R; .571 entered in the 7th
Dillard: 20 G, 11 IR / 0 IS (.000); .150 entered within 1 R; .450 entered in the 8th
Rodriguez: 20 G, 2 IR / 0 IS (.000); .550 entered within 1 R; .900 entered in the 8th
Parra: 18 G; 5 IR / 3 IS (.600); .389 entered within 1 R; .333 entered in the 8th
Loe: 18 G; 11 IR / 6 IS (.545); .389 entered within 1 R; .500 entered in the 7th
Axford: 16 G; 2 IR / 2 IS (1.00); .563 entered within 1 R; .938 entered in the 9th
Chulk: 7 G, 0 IR/0 IS (—); .143 entered within 1 R; .286 entered in the 8 and 9
Estrada: 5 G; 3 IR / 1 IS (.333); .000 entered within 1 R; .200 entered in the 5 and 6
Perez: 3 G; 5 IR / 1 IS (.200); .667 entered within 1 R; .667 entered in the 7th
McClendon: 3 G; 3 IR / 3 IS (1.00); .667 entered within 1 R; .333 entered in the <-4, 6, and 8
Peralta: 1 G, 0 IR / 0 IS (—); .000 entered within 1 R; 1.00 entered in the 9th

General Observations:
(1) John Axford has had some rough outings in May, but overall he remains the Brewers’ best arm out of the pen. Unfortunately that means that he frequently sits until absolutely necessary, and is employed in inflexible ways (entering the game in the 9th inning in nearly 94% of his outings). The same might be said of Francisco Rodriguez.

(2) Tim Dillard‘s 19 IP / 10 R performance doesn’t look great, but his record with stranding runners is exceptional. He is also one of the most flexible relievers on the Brewers’ staff.
(3) Manny Parra is having one of the best seasons of Brewers relievers, but he’s doing so in relatively low impact situations. However, he serves as one of Roenicke’s flexible arms.

My overall impression is that Roenicke is extremely rigid with his very best relievers, and is much more flexible with his non-ace relievers. Given the Brewers’ current struggles, I wonder if this equation should be reversed. Some interesting speculations:
(a) John Axford could really help the club out when they are trailing by 1, tied, or leading by 1 in the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings. If the club has a game in reach, and Axford is rested, he should be used to face the best batters in the 7th, 8th, or 9th of close defecit / tie games. (This certainly seems better than waiting until the game is out of hand in the 9th, and then deciding that Axford could use some work anyway. There is no harm in being proactive to keep games close).
(b) There’s no reason Manny Parra couldn’t handle “easy saves” if Axford is needed for high leverage, close game situations early on. Also, it’s time to start using Parra’s flexibility in more close games. The Brewers’ 23 K / 8 BB / 22+ IP southpaw should not entering fewer than 40% 1-run games.
(c) I nominate Tim Dillard for the “Julio Santana Fireman / Firestarter” role. If Dillard is rested and the game is out of reach, there’s no trouble using him to start an inning. HOWEVER, if a game is close and there are runners on base, it might be prudent to see if Dillard can strand those runners by retiring one or two right-handed batters.

You might scoff, but Julio Santana served just such a role in 2005: sure, he wasn’t great overall, allowing 21 runs in 42 innings, but he entered 19 times with runners on base, allowing only 8 of 39 runners to score (meanwhile, he allowed 14 of his 21 runs in games without an inherited runner). It would be wildly interesting to survey middle-of-the-road relievers that have great seasons stranding runners: is it a sense of morality that drives them to strand other pitchers’ runners? Like, “who cares if my own runners score, but I’ll be damned if I let Kolby’s runners in….”

I gather that one of the basic jobs of a manager is to psychologically drive players to succeed (or, putting them in the best positions to succeed). If Tim Dillard is morally opposed to allowing inherited runners to score this year, Ron Roenicke should exploit that until the cow’s come home.

Basic rules:
(1) Use better relievers in more flexible roles to spur Brewers victories in close-defecit games.
(2) Find creative ways to test middle-of-the-road relievers, in order to find useful substitutions to limit the damage in difficult situations.


Strike zone image from TexasLeaguers, copyright Trip Somers, 2009-2012.

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