In case you couldn’t keep your eyes open past 10 pm last night, the Brewers bats made sure to send you off to sweet dreams during their explosive first inning. Playing in San Diego for their first west coast road trip of the year, the Brewers beat the Padres 7-1 on the foundation of power hitting and strong pitching. Even better news than the victory — perhaps — is that Kyle Lohse escaped severe injury on his finger, a sign that maybe, just maybe, injury fortunes have (at least briefly) reversed for the Brewers (knock on wood). And so the 2013 Brewers Replacements tour continues, with Ron Roenicke debuting a new batting order last night:
Jean Segura SS
Rickie Weeks 2B
Ryan Braun LF
Jonathan Lucroy C
Logan Schafer RF
Carlos Gomez CF
Yuniesky Betancourt 1B
Alex Gonzalez 3B
Kyle Lohse SP
Let’s be real for a minute, and use our eyeballs and baseball intuition (the stats will follow shortly). If some Ghost of Baseball Futures traveled back to us in January, and told us that 18 games into the season, the Brewers would be employing some combination of Martin Maldonado, Yuniesky Betancourt, and Alex Gonzalez at first base, while also having to cover for an injured Aramis Ramirez at third base, and that they would already be six starters deep in the rotation, and that they would already have used two different closers, we would not have guessed that their W-L record would be 10-8.
Runnin’ Ron Roenicke
That the Brewers have remained afloat — even thrived, some might argue — with this lovable gang of replacements is a testament to Roenicke’s approach with the team. While there were rumblings that the call to change closers came from above Roenicke’s head, for all the flack Roenicke receives for his bullpen management, roster management, and baserunning aggressiveness, his demeanor as a players’ manager gives him an advantage in tumultuous situations such as this opening month. While judging the ways that managers handle their clubs, in terms of strategy with relievers, starters, baserunning, intentional walks, etc., there are indeed some differences between skippers. However, the differences between different managers in terms of strategy cannot measure to the differences between personality management style. I have always carried the opinion that, to some degree, a baseball manager will only be as good as his roster, and in most cases, the strategical comparisons between managers might correspond to their personnel; beyond the roster, beyond talent, then, as a constellation of luck / circumstances, character, and abilities, the best baseball manager is one that maintains a specific personality that suits his roster.
This difference can be seen in the general demeanor between Ken Macha and Roenicke, for instance; Macha actually oversaw at least one above average baserunning season, and although other strategical areas were different (bunting jumps out, but Roenicke is also much more aggressive with pinch runners, while Macha was more more aggressive with the IBB), the main difference between the two managers appears to be the way the players respond to Roenicke. Macha noted that he always had an open door policy with his players, and to be fair, some of the coldness between players and Macha might be blamed on the players; it could have even been disappointment in losing, etc. However, when Roenicke was hired, he instantly touted aggressiveness, and made it known that his players were going to be able to use their traits as much as possible. I’ll never forget early Roenicke quotes that conceded that an aggressive team will make some mistakes, but that the whole point is to get runners into scoring position and force the game. I will openly admit that I was skeptical of this approach.
Anyway, there are obviously things that we fans will never know about our favorite team’s clubhouse. In terms of the general attitudes of players in the press, and the general attitude Roenicke takes toward defending his players, what leaks out of the clubhouse is some idea that the players respond to Roenicke. Look at Rickie Weeks‘s slump, for instance; Roenicke listens to his veteran and allows him to play, allowing his veteran to argue his case to play. It sure is easy for all of us to sit here and criticize Roenicke for that type of move, and although the statistical payoff appears to be negligible (thus far), the general idea is clear: Roenicke sticks with his players, and manages them in a way that encourages faith in their abilities. We could probably find this evident in 1,000 Roenicke quotes; it even jumped out after Jean Segura‘s once-in-a-lifetime baserunning mistake on Friday. Roenicke, once again, conceded that there will be mistakes, but the general benefit of allowing a player like Segura to use his abilities will outweigh the mistakes.
You can quantify an awful lot in baseball. For instance, according to the Bill James Handbooks, while Macha used a quick hook on his starters 35 times in 2009, and 42 times in 2010, Roenicke used a quick hook 36 times in both 2011 and 2012. Both managers lean towards longer hooks than shorter hooks, and both allow their pitchers to work long outings, in general. We could analyze Roenicke’s Brewers versus Macha’s Brewers all day long; perhaps any comparison is unfair, since we might note that Roenicke, in general, had better rosters to work with than Macha. Beyond those details stands team attitude, and general demeanor toward player abilities. Perhaps one of the reasons the Brewers were able to overcome early season replacement woes last year, and consistently win at the close of the season, and perhaps one of the reasons the Brewers have been able to succeed thus far with a deep squad of replacements, is that demeanor. The trademark of Roenicke’s teams is trust in players’ abilities, aggressiveness to force the game, and defense of players to the media; perhaps this trademark helps the Brewers to win despite their shortcomings.
Using the basic runs created stat, simply judging hits, walks, and total bases, the 2013 NL would be expected to score 1151 runs; currently, NL teams scored 1181 runs, nearly 3% more than the runs created estimate. The Brewers are one of the league’s biggest culprits for skewing run scored totals, as the .244/.306/.402 club has scored 78 runs — a sizable increase over their expected outcome of 67 runs. Of course, even though the club is not hitting or getting on base at an average level, the Brewers’ ability to slug is driving their scoring success.
One of the reasons the Brewers are maximizing their runs scored (against their opportunities to score runs) is the multi-run homer. In the 2013 NL, 57% of home runs have occurred with the bases empty, and in all the majors, 558 homers have netted 857 runs (1.55 R/HR). Against this environment, 10 of 20 Brewers homers have produced multiple runs, and Milwaukee long balls have produced 35 runs overall (1.75 R/HR).
April 2: Ryan Braun (2 RBI)
April 14: Ryan Braun (2 RBI)
April 16: Yuniesky Betancourt (4 RBI)
April 18: Jonathan Lucroy (2 RBI)
April 18: Yovani Gallardo (2 RBI)
April 18: Ryan Braun (2 RBI)
April 19: Ryan Braun (3 RBI)
April 21: Ryan Braun (3 RBI)
April 22: Ryan Braun (2 RBI)
April 22: Yuniesky Betancourt (3 RBI)
10 of 20 HR produced 25 runs; 35 runs total on 20 HR
One of the themes of an eight game winning streak is timing. It’s improbable that a team that manages an extended winning streak does so without some bounces going their way. In this case, the Brewers’ “bounces” are more aptly called “longballs” going their way, as the club has found several multi-run homers just when they need it. As clutch as Ryan Braun‘s game-winning home run against the Cubs was on Sunday, his game-winning home run against the Padres was just as important. His home run last night set the tone for the ballgame, and produced some runs after Rickie Weeks hit into a fielder’s choice. Capitalizing on such an opportunity immediately broke the game open; Yuniesky Betancourt followed suit with some welcome insurance runs.
An average NL club playing at Miller Park in 2013 — thus far — might be expected to score 4.41 R/G, while allowing 4.33 R/G. Thanks to a strong Senior Circuit record in interleague play — 12-9 thus far — the average NL club is expected to score more runs than they allow. This is a welcome contrast to past years, where the heirs to Ban Johnson‘s younger, morally upright league frequently whipped the National League. In this environment, the Brewers run differential of 78 RS / 83 RA leaves notable room for improvement; yet, despite scoring fewer runs than allowed, the Brewers have managed to win two more games than expected thus far.
Specifically, the Brewers boast a winning record thanks to a 4-1 mark in one-run contests. The benefit of winning close games cannot be understated as a skill for a ballclub; while the ability to consistently win close games will require some luck, it will also require teams to capitalize on favorable circumstances, and take games that are within reach. In this regard, the Brewers’ performance in close games is much better than early series, in which the bullpen blew open a few tie games and one-run deficits, or the offense was unable to overcome an early deficit. This shift in luck is especially evident during the winning streak, where three wins occurred during one-run games (4-3, 4-3, 5-4) and another win occurred with only 4 runs scored (4-2 against the Cubs). Since their 22 RS / 39 RA opening homestand against Colorado and Arizona, the Brewers are 56 RS / 44 RA (.607 expected winning percentage). Even with such an excellent run differential, the Brewers’ expected record over 12 games would be 7-5, which shows the benefit of those close game victories (three one-run, two two-run victories).
While I stated above that the Brewers’ overall run differential shows notable room for improvement, the club’s pitching has turned around since the opening homestand. First and foremost, there is an extent to which the Brewers’ runs allowed are inflated by Miller Park; while their overall runs allowed total is below average even adjusting to that inflation, we might note that the club’s early series severely skews the Brewers’ runs allowed total in that area. Overall, the 2013 NL Fielding Independent Pitching ratio suggests that fewer runs might be expected, given the teams’ ratio between K / BB / HR:
NL FIPRatio: 0.68 (0.72 in 2012)
NL FIPConstant: 3.52 (3.59 in 2012)
NL Runs Average: 4.20 (4.31 in 2012)
Notably, National League fielders are more efficient in 2013 than 2012. Thus far, defensive efficiency in 2013 is .697, whereas the 2012 NL converted balls in play into outs at a rate of .689 (in this area, the Brewers defensive efficiency rate of .673 looks even worse).
Overall, the Brewers K / BB / HR suggests a below average pitching staff. With an average defense, the Brewers might be expected to allow 80 runs, so their total of 83 runs allowed shows the defensive inefficiency over the first 18 games.
Brewers FIPRatio: 0.87
Brewers FIPConstant: 3.71
Brewers Runs Average: 4.58
However, over the last 12 games, the Brewers pitching improved notably, thanks in part to an 84 K / 25 BB / 9 HR ratio of fielding independent outcomes:
Brewers FIPRatio: 0.23
Brewers FIPConstant: 3.51
Brewers Runs Average: 3.74
Not surprisingly, the improvement from the mound corresponds with a general correction in the field, resulting in a strong recipe for success. Given Miller Park’s typical ability to encourage HR, as well as BB and K, we might not expect Brewers arms to produce such a strong FIP, and we might not expect the defense to consistently produce average outcomes (although, having a middle infielder playing each infield position might not be such a bad thing, in that regard). The simple point is, against their overall season performance, the Brewers’ actual pitching trends are much better than first glance. This club has strong strike out potential, and while they will allow home runs, their ability (or refusal?) to walk batters helps them limit the damage.
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC. 2000-2013.
James, Bill. The Bill James Handbook. Chicago: Acta Sports (2011 and 2013 consulted)
IMAGE (AP): http://bigstory.ap.org/tags/ron-roenicke