Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise: the 2011 Milwaukee Brewers were one of the best teams in the league at manufacturing runs. That’s right — if you count the number of runs scored by the Brewers where the action was forced, where they were moving runners along by outs or speed or aggressive ball, the Brewers were one of the best in the 2011 NL.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Brewers manager Ron Roenicke told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that he plans to be more aggressive in 2012. Few Brewers fans (probably) realize that Roenicke is actually building from an area of strength.
Roenicke told Tom Haudricourt and Todd Rosiak, “I think even last year we could have done more; we could have manufactured more runs. If we can do it, we’re going to try to. Then we’ll see how it goes. If we’re running into too many outs and I don’t like what’s going on, then I’ll rein them back a little bit.”
Now, if you’re like me, you think the Brewers don’t have a great baserunning team (it’s true, they don’t). They also don’t have a great contact team, or a great productive outs team. What’s unique about the Brewers is that they combine their situational elements in a manner that is almost factorial: add moderate baserunning and moderate productive outs with strong sacrifice bunting and runners advancing, and you have a good opportunity to manufacture runs in a lot of ways. (By the way, all of this happened without Roenicke sending runners with the pitch at a frequent rate; according to Bill James’ 2012 Handbook, Roenicke was one of the most conservative year-long NL managers at moving runners to open a play).
If you’re scoffing about all of this, insisting that the Brewers are a poor situational ballclub, relax, there’s even better news. In 2012, the club’s middle order batting profile changes significantly. Sure, the Brewers won’t have Prince Fielder batting clean-up any longer. However, the club will have a strong contact/power bat in Aramis Ramirez that changes the team’s ability to bat balls in play.
Running in front of Prince Fielder is a bad idea. The guy slugs a home run, oh, 5% of the time, and he’s likely to draw a walk, oh, another 15% of his plate appearances. Prince Fielder is not a player that relies on batting the ball in play to be a successful hitter. As a result, it’s a good idea to keep runners stationary ahead of him. It’s not a good idea to risk outs ahead of someone that hits home runs at such a high rate, or relies on walking to such a high degree.
Ramirez is another story all together. The guy doesn’t hit home runs as much as Fielder, sure, but he also doesn’t strike out or walk as much, either. His power comes from a completely different approach. Furthermore, he will be stacked alongside fellow power/contact batter Ryan Braun. The Brewers’ middle order identity is completely different, and it will result in a lot more batted balls in play.
With Nyjer Morgan, Carlos Gomez, Rickie Weeks, and Corey Hart batting ahead of Braun and Ramirez in some combination throughout the season, Roenicke will have more opportunities to pair his strongest (or most aggressive) baserunners with more batted balls in play.
A lot of people have been writing about how the Brewers will replace Prince Fielder’s production, and this is where the discussion moves beyond OPS, WAR, or any other value metric. In terms of how the game is actually played, and the batting order parts interact with one another, the team has a chance to institute a completely different batting look with their most productive parts.
If you told me that Aramis Ramirez, Alex Gonzalez, and Mat Gamel were not going to be able to outproduce Prince Fielder, Casey McGehee, and Yuniesky Betancourt in terms of WAR, I’d probably agree. However, I think that the early batting order in 2012 will have new opportunities to make up for the sheer statistical loss of Prince Fielder (even if it’s not obvious).
Oddly enough, this might not mean more aggressive baserunning from 1st to 3rd on singles, or 1st to home on doubles. It might not even mean more aggressive baserunning on passed balls or other opportunities to advance. The Brewers’ core baserunners are basically the same as they were in 2011 — their aggressive baserunning core in 2012 will be the same strong baserunners from 2011.
In that regard, Ramirez, Gonzalez, and Gamel do not provide a strong advantage over Fielder, Betancourt, and McGehee (as hard as that is to believe. But, Brewers fans do not give Betancourt as much credit as he deserves for playing good situational ball. That doesn’t mean he’s a good ballplayer overall, but he was able to produce average SS run production thanks to his sacrifice fly and baserunning ability).
Rather, this whole operation in 2012 will be factorial — much like the 2011 club. You probably won’t feel like the Brewers have a great baserunning club overall; you probably won’t notice that they’re pretty good advancing runners; you probably won’t notice that they even make productive outs at a good clip. You might not even notice them sending runners.
Combining all those elements, and building from a sneaky good situational offense from 2011, Roenicke just might have all of the elements at his disposal to cook up the aggressive offense of his dreams.
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2012.
James, Bill. The Bill James Handbook 2012. Chicago: Acta.
Haudricourt, Tom and Todd Rosiak. “Roenicke Increases Plans to Manufacture Runs.” March 2, 2012. Journal Sentinel, Inc., 2012.