This afternoon, Cat Garcia of the Athletic reported on Craig Counsell’s plans for game 1.
Craig Counsell announces that tomorrow’s NLDS G1 will be a bullpen day. #Brewers
— Cat Garcia 🇲🇽 (@TheBaseballGirl) October 3, 2018
I love this move. It is without a doubt the correct move, but not every manager would make it.
It’s the right move because the Rockies, with right-handed mashers such as Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story, and D.J. LeMahieu, are simply much better against left-handed pitching. The Rockies have a team OPS of .738 and OPS+ of 102 against righties but an OPS of .799 and OPS+ of 121 against lefties. In other words, they’re great against lefties but merely average against righties.
What does this have to do with starting pitchers vs. relievers? Of the three currently dependable starting pitchers on the roster (Jhoulys Chacin, Gio Gonzalez, Wade Miley), the only two available to pitch tomorrow are the lefties Miley and Gonzalez. There’s no sense throwing one of them out there just because they’re the next starting pitcher available. “For our team, we’re trying to get away from what the terms starter and reliever means,” Counsell said at Wednesday’s presser. Subject-verb agreement error aside, this quote makes me feel wonderful things. This is the next step in the evolution of baseball, and the Brewers are at the forefront.
Let’s look at this with some hypotheticals. If the Rockies bat their great hitting center fielder Charlie Blackmon in the leadoff spot, Counsell could easily do what he did a few weeks ago and “start” LOOGY Dan Jennings (or a different lefty) for one hitter. Or, with a smaller postseason roster, he could choose to save that lefty for later, but instead make sure that Story and Arenado see righties. On these hitters, the Brewers can unleash a healthy dose of Junior Guerra, Freddy Peralta (Peralta will be the X-Factor in this series–calling my shot right now), Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, Joakim Soria, Corey Knebel, or Jeremy Jeffress. He can also guarantee Blackmon will always see a lefty from the fifth inning and on. By doing this, Counsell can give the best Rockies hitters a platoon disadvantage every time they come up to bat. This is a very big deal.
There are other things to like about this strategy as well. It’s proven that a hitter’s performance against a pitcher improves with each time seeing him throughout the game, with huge advantages to the hitter by the third time through the order. The Bullpen Game ™ eliminates that advantage for the hitter. In fact, it’s quite possible that no Rockies hitter will see the same pitcher twice tomorrow. That’s yet another big advantage for Milwaukee.
There’s one more bullpen thing I want to comment on.
Counsell: “There aren’t going to be hard and fast rules to how we use any of our pitchers.” Counsell even said that some of the rules we might be expecting based on the regular season won’t apply.
— The Brewer Nation (@BrewerNation) October 3, 2018
The “some of the rules won’t apply” part leads me to believe that the Brewers won’t have to be tied or winning in order to use Josh Hader, Jeffress, or Knebel. Saving those stud relievers for tie games or close leads is generally smart during the season, as it serves as a built-in way to limit their usage during the season. It is now a viable strategy, though, to scrap those rules in the postseason. The Brewers will have frequent days off for as long as they’re alive in the playoffs, and each of these games means a lot more than any individual regular season game.
Not to revisit something I talk about frequently, but this is something Ron Roenicke did not grasp during the Brewers’ last playoff run in 2011. He didn’t change his bullpen management to match the importance of the games. For example, you may remember Shaun Marcum starting Game 2 (if you haven’t blocked it from your memory). Marcum got shelled and left early, allowing five runs in four innings. With the Brewers trailing 4-2 in the fifth inning–only 4-2, Roenicke turned to Marco Estrada. Now, Estrada has since gone on to have a pretty solid big league career, but at the time, he was the last guy in the bullpen and a below average pitcher. This is simply not something that Counsell would do because he understands the importance of keeping the deficit from growing any larger.
Just over a year ago, I wrote that Craig Counsell is ready to manage in the playoffs. We’re about to see it in action, and I have a strong feeling we’re going to love what we see.