Series Preview: Shuffling Cards | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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

Taking the bad with the good, the Brewers offense generally hammered out runs and won at least one seesaw battle with the Pittsburgh Pirates at Miller Park. Unfortunately, that magic from Tuesday night wore off on Wednesday, and the offense could not produce one last rally after John Axford‘s blown hold.

Taking the good with the bad, Ron Roenicke failed to remove Axford from the ballgame after surrendering a game-tying home run. Axford promptly surrendered the losing runs, too, which raises some question about Roenicke’s bullpen usage. For this reason, Brewers fans, I suggest a form of therapy that will sooth your nerves, as it has surely soothed my nerves over years of bullpen management:

(1) Every Bullpen Move is Always the Necessary Bullpen Move. This seems like a ridiculous assumption to make — obviously, we can scrutinize each and every strategical move made by a manager. Yet, bullpen moves feel different — managers need to balance (a) game situations against (b) who needs work, and (c) who has thrown a specific number of pitches while warming up and working in games. At the same time, managers need to work in their relievers while maintaining the psyches and personalities of their bunch — this, inevitably, is going to result in a lot of head-scratching decisions. Yet, these decisions will look better if you:

(a) Assume that bullpen management will never fit suitable bullpen roles. We have seen this, specifically, with the opposition to “closer by committee” schemes over the years, or the idea of having a “Relief Ace” that works in the highest leverage situation, rather than closing the game. Almost any use of roles in an MLB bullpen by a manager will result in some conflicting or bizarre decisions.

(b) Assume that bullpen management will always be peculiar. Have you ever noticed the willingness of managers to remove a reliever that has faced the single batter in their strategy — even if that reliever is pitching well and produced an out? One batter strategy by the manager, one out by reliever, hit the showers! But, on the other hand, managers are typically slower to remove a reliever that they had penciled in for an entire inning; one inning strategy, no outs recorded and several hits and runs later, STAY ON THE MOUND! Even worse, there seems to be a managerial code whereby closers and set-up men get to pitch through blown leads, only to be removed after go-ahead runs are scored by the other team.

One of the problems with analyzing bullpen moves is that analysis typically assumes logical foundations and logical strategies. But, baseball bullpens are much closer to damage control or triage units than they are strategical entities. For this reason, I propose that baseball fans use a specific type of therapy, or anti-logic, in analyzing bullpens. The basic fact is, (a) baseball managers are going to try and get every last ounce out of their prospective closers and top relievers, (b) baseball managers will need to simply kill time with a bunch of their reliever selections, and (c) baseball managers need to consider multiple circumstances outside of strategy while putting together bullpen moves.

That said, one interesting area to review in Roenicke’s bullpen strategy is his number of relievers used on consecutive days. In 2012, Roenicke used relievers on consecutive days 149 times, which dominated the NL — Bruce Bochy was next, with 136 relievers used on consecutive days, and Ozzie Guillen and Bud Black were behind Bochy (James 407). This might be the type of legitimate strategy that the organization can work on changing, for they can specifically analyze how their pitchers work on their second consecutive day of relief outings.

One final thought on Roenicke, strategy, and personnel moves. If you’re like me, you’re absolutely thrilled with this club’s start. Roenicke inherited a roster full of injury replacements and upstart pitchers, and his club currently boasts a winning record after their first month with this hardscrabble roster. There is no doubt in my mind that every baseball manager will make questionable strategical decisions, and Roenicke is no different. However, we can look at Roenicke’s personality and demeanor with players, as well as his general trends as a players manager. Undoubtedly, he uses a long hand in removing relievers (like Axford) sometimes, but one needs to ask about the underlying trait there: Roenicke is very forthcoming about the idea that he wants his guys to play, and that his guys will make mistakes. While it’s difficult to watch this type of attitude play out with relief strategy, one has to ask (a) whether other managers will use their relievers differently in those tough outings, and (b) whether other managers’ demeanor will allow their ballplayers to simply play. Perhaps the fact that Roenicke isn’t overbearing with his relievers, that he does have a long, slow hook with his pitchers, shows traits connected with his ability to allow his players to run wild and play their brand of baseball. Perhaps this makes Roenicke a bit easy going, in certain ways, or a “pushover” to his players, but on the other hand, his general success in getting his players to play well cannot be pushed aside.

The basic point is, if you’re mourning Roenicke’s bullpen strategies, think about the general way that he gets his players to produce. Granted, game outcomes will fall on the shoulders of players’ talent more often than not, but as noted by Ryan and Steve, a manager’s most important contribution will occur outside the lines. Perhaps some of Roenicke’s personal tendencies bleed through the lines in certain areas of the game, but we cannot praise the Brewers for succeeding with their replacement roster without asking the manager’s role in that success. Obviously, Roenicke is not swinging the bat for Yuniesky Betancourt, but maybe his attitude with prospect Jean Segura to veteran Rickie Weeks presents a template for carrying oneself with confidence on the diamond. That Roenicke has seemingly unending confidence in his roster will result in some bad strategical decisions, but the overwhelming results thus far show the potential fruits of that confidence.

Series Preview: St. Louis Cardinals @ Milwaukee Brewers
May 2: Jake Westbrook @ Wily Peralta
Westbrook Last 5: 1-1, 4 G, 27.7 IP, 4 R, 4 quality starts
Peralta Last 5: 2-1, 28.7 IP, 18 R, 3 quality starts

Jake Westbrook must be one of the best examples of the potential disjoint between pitch f/x classifications and scouting-based classifications (such as Brooks Baseball). Specifically, pitch f/x classifications note that Westbrook is throwing a splitter as his prominent secondary pitch in 2013, as well as a change, curve, and cutter. On the other hand, Brooks Baseball simply says that Westbrook throws a change up, rather than a change and a split. In the pitch f/x classification, both Westbrook’s change and split break in against righties, but the splitter (1) is notably faster, by 1.9 MPH (that’s a pretty big difference for an off-speed pitch), and (2) doesn’t drop as much as the change. It’s always fun to watch this sort of thing when pitchers approach the game; one wonders whether Westbrook is indeed throwing two different types of change, or if it’s an error of classification (for example, in 2012, pitch f/x says that Westbrook hardly selected a split whatsoever — 0.3% of his selections, in fact).

Wily Peralta poses an interesting threat to Westbrook. In Peralta’s last five starts, the Brewers have scored 26 runs of support for the righty, whereas Westbrook received 16 runs of support from his Cardinals. Interestingly enough, the Brewers bullpen allowed 9 runs over the same span of starts for Peralta. Although Peralta has pitched well in some starts, the bullpen is slightly more liberal with runs allowed during his starts than others.

May 3: Shelby Miller @ Kyle Lohse
Miller Last 5: 3-2, 30.7 IP, 9 R, 3 quality starts
Lohse Last 5: 1-2, 32 IP, 9 R, 4 quality starts

I have continually noted Kyle Lohse‘s lack of run support this season. However, I have not yet praised the bullpen for working four scoreless games behind Lohse. Granted, a couple of those outings were 1 IP or 2 IP affairs, rather than 3 or 4 IP affairs, but a scoreless outing by the bullpen should never be questioned. This is one of those funny things about baseball — while Lohse has received phenomenal bullpen support, he hasn’t received great run support. One wonders if this is simply the nature of consistently playing in close games; perhaps the same attitude that allows the bullpen to get amped up to support Lohse and keep the game close forces the bats to overswing or tense up.

May 4: Adam Wainwright @ Yovani Gallardo
Wainwright Last 5: 4-1, 38.3 IP, 7 R, 5 quality starts
Gallardo Last 5: 3-1, 31 IP, 16 R, 3 quality starts

This four game series allows us to analyze the potential truth or conventional usefulness of the 5-man rotation. Specifically, can we “number” spots throughout the season? For example, Lohse didn’t work in the Brewers’ rotation until the fourth game of the season, but through skipped starts, he’s kind of moved into a “top rotation” spot. Yet, this series doesn’t necessarily place the best Brewers starters against the best Cardinals starters. For example, Westbrook is currently pitching lights out, but he doesn’t face Lohse, the Brewers’ best performer thus far. Instead, youngsters Shelby Miller and Peralta are paired against two veteran, top performing pitchers for either club.

On the other hand, Adam Wainwright versus Yovani Gallardo is the type of one versus one match-up fans might have in mind during the course of the baseball season. Yet, is Wainwright a #1 starter? He did not pitch particularly well last year, while Gallardo was one of the stronger pitchers in the 2012 NL. This year, however, their fortunes are almost exactly reversed thus far.

Anyhow, over the course of the season, I don’t necessarily find the ideas of #1-#5 markers useful, because as this series shows: (a) the best pitchers from one year might be going through rough stretches the next year, and (b) different off-days, transactions, injuries, and scheduling quirks result in mismatched rotation spots throughout the year.

May 5: Jaime Garcia @ Marco Estrada
Garcia Last 5: 2-1, 30.3 IP, 13 R, 3 quality starts
Estrada Lake 5: 3-1, 30.3 IP, 15 R, 4 quality starts

Over their last handful of outings, Marco Estrada and Jaime Garcia have received completely different types of support. While the Brewers bats have scored 29 runs for Estrada during his last five outings, the Cardinals scored only 15 for Garcia. Similarly, while the Brewers bullpen has clamped down following Estrada, allowing only 6 runs, the Cardinals bullpen has allowed 15 runs following Garcia’s outing. It’s interesting, in both of these cases, how either starting pitcher is completely replaceable in these scenarios; for, when bats score nearly 6 runs per game, while bullpens allow 1 run per game, a starting pitcher has some considerable room for error; on the other hand, if the relievers allow the very same number of runs as the offense scores, the starting pitcher is not going to have any room for error whatsoever. In that regard, it’s almost like the way that Estrada and Garcia have pitched over the last five games isn’t all that important; their fates were seemingly predetermined by their support.

Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2013.
Brooks Baseball. vBulletin Solutions, 2008-2013.
James, Bill. The Bill James Handbook 2013. Chicago: Acta, 2012.
TexasLeaguers. Trip Somers, 2009-2013.


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