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Roenicke Needs to Shoulder Some Blame

by Tim Muma                                                           4/8/2013

I'm not sure Roenicke has a feel for this club and
that's a major concern in my book
As a brief preface to this article, let me emphasize that I am not blaming Ron Roenicke completely for the Milwaukee Brewers 1-5 start as I believe players make most of the difference, but he does need to take a fair amount of criticism in the early going.

There's no doubt the injuries to the Brewers 3-4-5 hitters are terribly harmful, the starting pitching was disappointing the first time through, and John Axford and Mike Gonzalez have had serious issues to start the 2013 campaign.

However, with all of that said, a manager shows his true worth when the chips are down and tough decisions have to be made. Just about any baseball fan can write out a lineup and manage the pitchers when everything is going right (e.g. most of 2011), but what a manager can do during turbulent times separates below-average from good and good from great.

There have been a number of decisions and areas of management that Ron Roenicke has simply executed poorly.

Bullpen Management

I suppose we can cut Roenicke a touch of slack with the news that Chris Narveson is unable to pitch due to a finger injury, but that doesn't excuse what happened on Sunday afternoon.

You have a struggling pitcher in John Axford who pitches a clean (though not "perfect") inning and then he sends Ax back out for a 2nd frame. Instead of giving your closer some confidence by finishing an outing on a strikeout without allowing a baserunner, Roenicke rolls the dice and he predictably gives up a 2-run bomb in the 11th inning.

Brandon Kintzler, whose value is in throwing
multiple innings, has only 3IP in 3 appearances

Now the questions will continue and Axford gets to sit on another devastating performance.

In the postgame presser, Roenicke then says he had to do it because of a beat up bullpen. What?  Sure the starters haven't gone deep in games, but you're carrying 8 arms in the 'pen (teams typically have 7) which includes a long man in Narveson (just recently hurt), Tom Gorzelanny with experience starting, and a couple of other relievers who are able to pitch 2 innings per outing.

The bullpen has thrown 24.2 inning this season, which would average out to about 3 IP per relief pitcher. There is no way, with a handful of pitchers able to effectively throw multiple innings, that they should be "beat up" or "worn down." Let's not forget, they even had an off-day on Thursday. If Roenicke was properly double-switching and allowing guys to toss 2 frames at a time, they wouldn't have been "forced" to pitch Axford a 2nd inning on Sunday.

Understanding Players' Strengths/Weaknesses

Yes, this is his usual attempt - bat
head down - awful form
On Sunday, down a run in the 9th with Norichika Aoki on 2nd with 0 outs, Roenicke had Carlos Gomez attempt a bunt - twice. Never mind that Brewers announcers Brian Anderson and Bill Schroeder continue to spew forth the nonsense that "Gomez is a great bunter," because the truth is, he is awful at bunting - especially in a sacrifice situation.

Yes, he's super fast, but that doesn't make him a good bunter. Sure, they'll point to his 30 career sacrifice bunts. That's great, but what's his success rate? And how many of those happened when he was bunting for a hit and was thrown out, but they give him the sacrifice instead. Either way, Gomez is a poor bunter and he isn't committed to doing it, which is essential to success.

The manager - expect in extreme cases - should not be asking a player to do something he is not good at or is incapable of executing well. Axford, again, is another case. For whatever reason, he struggles mightily in non-save situations. It shouldn't matter, but his numbers say it might, so keep him away from those spots whenever possible.

Roenicke just needs to understand that each player is an individual with specific strengths and weaknesses. Don't ask Ryan Braun to bunt and don't ask Martin Maldanado to play centerfield. Those are ridiculous thoughts, but it applies to other minor aspects as well.

The Lineup

Now I know most Sabermatrician types will say the lineup makes little difference, but I beg to differ on a number of levels. While the season is long, each game should matter to a club and constructing the best possible lineup - injuries and all - should be a point of emphasis. Also, with the injuries the Brewers have suffered (Braun, Ramirez, Hart), it's all the more vital to figure out a way to push across some runs.
It makes no sense to ever bat Gonzalez 4th. He's a
bottom of the order guy with some pop - that's it

How in the world can a Major League manager bat Alex Gonzalez cleanup?  Even with Ramirez and Braun out, there is no excuse for that.

There are numerous theories as to the importance of certain spots in the lineup, but 4th is almost always considered the 1st or 2nd most important. Both Jonathan Lucroy and Gomez would have been far better options - as well as Rickie Weeks - but we'll get to him in a moment. Instead it's a career sub-.400 slugging percentage hitter.

Also, back to Weeks. As I've said before, these are human beings and some guys are mentally weaker than others. Thus, knowing Weeks has issues with moving in the lineup or hitting in certain spots, why would Roenicke move him out of the 2nd spot in the order into 3rd and then 4th? He was comfortable and locked in hitting in that spot in the lineup - don't mess with it. Predictable slump occurs...

1st 3 games (all batting 2nd):  6-for-11, 2 BB, 1 K, 1 HR, 5 runs, .643 OBP, 1.552 OPS
Games 4-7  (batting 3rd/4th):  2-for-18, 1 BB, 7 K, 0 HR, 1 run, .111 OBP, .222 OPS

Again...just not understanding personnel. You've had Weeks and Axford the last 2 seasons, so this shouldn't be a mystery.

Anyway, as I mentioned at the top, Roenicke is not the sole or main reason for the struggles, but he needs to work a little harder and use his imagination a bit when it comes to managing. Getting Braun back helps and Ramirez will hopefully be fully recovered in 2 weeks.

I still have plenty of faith in the talent on this team - including the pitching staff - so I'm not freaking out after less than 5% of the season is complete. The Brewers just have to tread water for a while, avoid any more serious injuries, and maybe make their own "luck" with better managerial decisions.


  1. I agree with alot of what you said. I respect some of the things Roenicke has done with the team in the past. And everyone feels like they would make smarter decisions, be a better armchair quarterback. Yet, some things he has been doing make me scratch my head. Why if you three big hitters are out, do you not adjust your gameplan to play a little more small ball? You can't continue to just hope someone on your team hits a long fly. Manufacturing runs is okay, I'll accept watching a team claw and fight for runs. Secondly, I know the point of emphasis this offseason was to improve upon last year's bullpen. And they nearly overhauled the entire group, yet we are seeing similiar results. Is it mis-management or lack of premier talent? I'm hoping that we can turn it around, because we will be in for a long season if it doesn't.

  2. Thanks for the thoughts.

    You bring up a good point about the continued bullpen struggles considering the overhaul. It's still very early, but the issues remain the same. We'll see how the decision to go with Henderson to close will work out - as well as how Axford responds.

    He wriggled out of a tight one today...but again, why didn't Roenicke let Gorzelanny throw a 2nd inning after a perfect 8th and a 7-2 lead? Ends up burning Kintzler and Henderson might not be available Tuesday.


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