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Three Pieces of Advice for the 2013 Brewers

by Tim Muma                                                                                2/13/2013
(Twitter: @brewersblend)                                                             12:30am

Regardless of one's outlook for their favorite team, it always feels great to hear the popping of mitts in Arizona and Florida. Baseball clubs and the millions of followers feel a natural optimism, especially as Spring approaches and thaws the cold remnants of winter - particularly in a state like Wisconsin.

With that said, the Milwaukee Brewers have a number of questions coming into the 2013 season; of course, last year everything seemed set and chaos ensued - that's baseball for you.

So as the Crew begins their long journey toward October, I offer up a few bits of advice...which I'm sure will never happen.

1) Stop Using the Sacrifice Bunt So Much

I love the squeeze play, but
only at the absolute perfect time
I'm not some sabermetric worshipper and I do value the sacrifice bunt in some specific situations, so this isn't an all-out assault on the small ball tactic. However, 90% of the time it makes little to no sense for this particular club...
  • Milwaukee led the NL in home runs in 2012. Why would you intentionally make an out in front of a hitter with a legitimate long ball opportunity?

  • Miller Park is considered neutral overall, but is a home run friendly stadium. In fact, in terms of park factors (comparing road stats to home stats), Miller Park was the best home run ballpark in the majors in 2012.

  • The Brewers had the highest slugging percentage last year in the NL. Even if you don't want to rely on the homer, Milwaukee hitters produce tons of extra base hits. Thus, why sacrifice a runner to 2nd when one of the next couple of batters has a high-quality chance to rip a double that will score the runner anyway?

  • Milwaukee topped all of baseball in stolen bases, as well as two advanced statistics that show their effectiveness on the bases. One is weighted stolen base runs (wSB), which estimates the number of runs players contribute to a team by stealing bases. The second stat is their speed score (spd), a formula devised by Bill James that rates speed and baserunning ability. Again, this shows there's rarely a reason to bunt when the Brewers will be taking bases via the steal and with their overall aggressive, effective baserunning. Don't give up unnecessary outs!

2) Think Outside the Box with the Lineup

Yes, the Brewers led the NL in runs last season (3rd in MLB), but that doesn't mean you should stand pat - especially with Mat Gamel holding down 1st base for the injured Corey Hart. This, however, is one of those suggestions that has a 1% chance of occurring (if that), but hear me out.

1) Norichika Aoki (L)
More hugs between these two
should be trending in 2013
2) Ryan Braun (R)
3) Jonathan Lucroy (R)
4) Aramis Ramirez (R)
5) Rickie Weeks (R)
6) Mat Gamel (L)
7) Jean Segura (R)
8) Pitcher's Spot
9) Carlos Gomez (R)

Again, I'm sure manager Ron Roenicke would never go for this, and Ryan Braun would probably protest this as well, but I'm telling you this is ideal for a number of reasons
  • Historically, the number 3 hitter bats far more often with the bases empty than the 2nd hitter does. It seems counter intuitive, but the stats bear this out. Clearly, the more times a runner can be on base for Braun, the better. Also, his OBP and overall ability in the two-hole is far more deadly than in the three-spot.

  • Jonathan Lucroy handles the bat well and hits the ball to right field, absolutely perfect with Braun and Norichika Aoki on the basepaths. Yeah, you can worry about double plays, but Aramis Ramirez is going to be hitting 4th again and no one is concerned with his GIDP. Plus, if Lucroy can stay near his numbers from last season, you're still talking solid OBP and SLG.

  • Carlos Gomez will probably never have an OBP of .320 (last year's .305 was his first time over .300), but he does add some value with his power and speed. I'd put him 9th - yes, behind the pitcher - for 3 main reasons.

    • If he bats in front of the pitcher, he's going to get junk to hit and he has not proven the capability to lay off pitches out of the zone on a consistent basis - particularly high heat and breaking balls.

    • Hitting him before the pitcher limits his speed as Roenicke will be looking to have his pitcher bunt. It's better for Gomez to bat after the hurler to open up his options, both at the plate and especially on the bases.

    • Finally, with Braun moving to the 2nd spot, this gives Braun a better chance to have another runner on base, whereas with the pitcher batting 9th, that's much less likely to happen (MIL pitchers had a .152 OBP in 2012). Also, Gomez on 1st (or 2nd) with Aoki at-bat opens up the "playbook" for Roenicke and puts pressure on the defense.

3) Trust Matchups and Go with Pitchers' Strengths

Too many times in the past 2 seasons, Roenicke has failed to utilize his bullpen pitchers' strengths and opted to blindly throw them into situations or even just ride the "hot hand." Sure, last year was miserable for just about every hurler out there so he was limited, but Roenicke still ignored trends and career certainties.

Jim Henderson will be a key
factor - if he's used properly
For example, Kameron Loe has always struggled against lefties, but he was often left in a game or brought into a contest with left-handed bats due up - sometimes simply because he is a sinker ball pitcher with the ability to induce double plays. The problem is, lefties tend to hit fly balls off Loe - a recipe for disaster at Miller Park.

Also, fair or not, Francisco Rodriguez's stats in recent years suggest he's more effective pitching in the 8th inning, not the 9th. I understand John Axford was scuffling a bit, but "K-Rod" proved to be worse.
  • Career in the 8th: .202/.285/.321/.606
  • Career in the 9th: .214/.302/.333/.632
  • 2012 in the 8th: .237/.306/.409/.715
  • 2012 in the 9th: .353/.452/.471/.923
In August, Rodriguez strung together 8 straight outings without giving up a run - all in the 7th or 8th inning - and only gave up 1 hit over that span. Roenicke then decides to bring him in for the 9th in the next game and he proceeds to give up 3 runs on 4 hits to blow a 2-run lead versus the Cubs, handing Milwaukee a huge loss at the time.

The good news is that Manny
Parra (right) will not be summoned
Just trust that the stats for a player, especially over a longer period of time, exist for a reason. Matchups are truly important out of the 'pen and throwing a guy into a game where it works against his strengths will rarely end up well. That's not to say you don't occasionally trust your gut or let him face another hitter, but be somewhat boring and follow the numbers.

Those are my three main suggestions for now, but I'm not going to hold my breath on any of them actually coming true.

I'll take a more in-depth look at the starters in the near future to add my thoughts on them, but they definitely deserve their own article...and hopefully I can set an optimistic, yet realistic tone.


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