It’s a bit of a slow news week, because let’s face it: there really isn’t much going on in Brewers camp this year. All of the starters at each position are set; there’s a bit of drama with Hart’s knee surgery, but it’ll probably only mean that either Caleb Gindl or Logan Schafer get to spend an extra couple weeks on the Major League roster that they wouldn’t otherwise. There is very little going on that will seriously affects the team’s chances during the regular season, and that’s a good thing, because it reflects how the team has solid plans with competent players for every role that needs to be filled. Of course, it’s a bad thing for writers, because it’s hard to write much about a team where things are going well. So, I’m going to use this space to write about a few assorted thoughts, none of which are enough to justify a blog post on their own.
The Best Part about Spring Training
One of the many things I truly love about baseball is the way that clubs take on their own cultures reflective of the cities in which they play. It has been said that in the free agency era, to root for a specific team is to root for laundry, but I don’t entirely agree with that. When I root for the Brewers, I feel like I’m rooting for more than the uniform. I’m rooting for sausage races, and serving bratwurst, and singing the Beer Barrel Polka during the seventh inning stretch, and tailgating in the parking lot. I’m rooting for Milwaukee baseball culture, and I love that each one of those aspects of the culture can be found at Maryvale during spring training. Even more, I love that the same can be said for the other 14 Cactus League teams and their camps in the weird, wonderful baseball EPCOT that is spring training in Arizona. It gives you the chance to wake up every morning ready to immerse yourself in a new team’s baseball world. Of all the reasons to go to spring training, and there are many (cheap tickets! relaxed atmosphere! prospects!), this one is by far my favorite.
Ron Roenicke and Judging Managers
Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk was in Brewers’ camp yesterday, and wrote a very positive piece about his impression of Ron Roenicke. As fans, we tend to judge managers by the in-game moves they make, such as bunting, stealing bases, etc., because this is all we really observe. Based on this criteria, “Runnin’ Ron” Roenicke has come under criticism from some aspects of the Brewers’ fanbase for his aggression on the basepaths, allowing Carlos Gomez to bat second, playing Mark Kotsay for completely inexplicable reasons, etc. While Roenicke makes plenty of moves I disagree with, I think that to focus on that misses the point. A manager’s number one job should be knowing how to motivate his players to put out the best performance they possibly can. In theory, a good manager will regularly see his players outperform their expected level of play. How much influence a manager can have on this is up to debate, but there is evidence suggesting an effect. In his book Evaluating Baseball’s Managers, Hardball Times columnist Chris Jaffe analyzed every manager in Major League history looking for exactly this effect: he projected how their players were expected to perform, and then saw how they actually did perform, and credited the manager with over or under performance. Clearly, a manager cannot take credit for all of this effect, but Jaffe did find evidence that some managers have consistently been able to get their teams to overperform. Is Roenicke one of these managers? It’s far too soon to tell, but he did coax some excellent performances from his players last season, including the best of Ryan Braun’s career. Based on the way the players clearly seem to like playing for him, and the praise he receives from seemingly everyone who interacts with him, I think it’s quite possible that Roenicke has this effect. As such, I’m willing to put up with his occasional strategic blunders, as I think he’s still able to make the team better in the end. That said, I am very glad that Mark Kotsay is no longer on the roster.
The Best Essential Characters in Baseball?
If there’s any team that’s better to root for than a winning team, it’s a winning team with great characters on the roster. It’s an excellent time to be a Brewers fan, as they’ve got at least three outsized personalities who are not only on the roster, but playing key roles. Nyjer Morgan, of course, could count for all three of these personalities himself, as his shtick earned him the appelation “the most glorious weirdo in Major League Baseball” from Deadspin. Zack Greinke’s personality may better be described as “undersized”, as he tends to keep a low profile, but be it his thoughts on guacamole prices or his incipient scouting career, what does get out about him tends to turn heads. And of course, let’s not forget about John Axford. While there’s nothing unique about a crazy closer (see Papelbon, Jonathan), Axford doesn’t fit the mold of the typical wild flamethrower. Indeed, it would be more accurate to call him interesting than crazy. In the past five years, he’s gone from bartender and cell phone salesman with a film degree to National League saves leader…with a film degree. Baseball-reference ought to include a column indicating his Oscar picks percentage next to his save percentage (thankfully, the latter has been higher the last two years). Unfortunately, we don’t keep good stats on weirdness, so I’m going to commit a cardinal sin here and write about something based on my gut. That said, my gut tells me that the ballplayers known for their personalities are known for them precisely because their baseball skills aren’t worth knowing much about. They tend to be bench jockeys, which is why I find it cool that the Brewers have three personality guys who are all essential contributors to the team. Can any other team in baseball make that claim?