Ron Roenicke: A Debate

Today, we have for you an exercise in futility.  Ron Roenicke has been the topic du jour today after a very poorly managed game yesterday.  Being a big Roenicke fan still (though I've been afraid to pop my head in over the last 20 hours) I approached the leader of the torches and pitchforks brigade, Rubie Q, to engage in a little friendly conversation.  i.e. both of us attempting to convince the other of our personal viewpoints. 

Here is what transpired in our exchange, after I first approached him:

Rubie:

To start us off, I'll just say MARK KOTSAY.

Noah:

It's 11:52, and I just walked in the door from work, soaking wet from walking back in the rain, after working two hours later than I was scheduled.  And I see you don't think I can defend Kotsay?  Just how bad of a debater do you think I am? Granted I may not do it professionally like you lawyers, but you don't think I can defend Kotsay?
 
Well I can't, sort of. 
 
But here are the primary back up outfielders for every team currently above .500, along with their OPS:
 
I don't know who the Rays primary back up is, but any and all candidates have been hitting very well
Mark Kotsay, Brewers, .591
 
That list may look like it isn't in my favor at all, but listen.  Mark Kotsay is a very bad baseball player.  He's better than 99% of the world, but relative to other professionals, he is very bad.  Yet, he has still hit better than the backup for "the best team in baseball: and is reasonably close to a few other bench outfielders on contenders.  I'm not saying he's acceptable, and that list isn't meant to illustrate that viewpoint. Rather, it's meant to show that while Kotsay is an awful hitter, most other contenders aren't exactly batting Barry Bonds as a bench outfielder, either.

Besides, given the current back up outfielders, who would you rather see receive more at bats, Carlos Gomez or Mark Kotsay?  The answer, of course, is Brandon Boggs.  Craig Counsell and Josh Wilson haven't been hitting any better than Kotsay, either.  While, Wilson has, but we all know that won't last.  George Kottaras is perhaps the best hitter on the Brewers bench and at the very least, Ron Roenicke has shown a much greater willingness to use his back up catcher in a pinch hit situation than most managers in the game today, and certainly more than Ned Yost and Ken Macha did.  Every manager has their criticisms, Ron Roenicke is no different.  Mark Kotsay may be Roenicke's weakness.  But he also isn't in charge of who is on the roster, Doug Melvin is.  Melvin, for whatever reason, refuses to bring Boggs up to the MLB permanently.  Roenicke may have some input, but ultimately, the blame for Kotsay lies with Doug Melvin.
 
Ron Roenicke has the Brewers winning, and that's what is important.  Were it not for Greinke's freak spring training injury, the Brewers might very well have the second best record in the MLB.  Couple that with Gallardo not struggling to open up the season and the Brewers might have the best record in the MLB.  Even with those two events occurring, The Brewers have the seventh most wins in the MLB, and the third most in the NL--in both cases, being six wins behind the Phillies.  The Brewers are winning and I believe a large part of that is due to Ron Roenicke and how he interacts with his players.  To me, the most important thing a manager can do is keep up morale in the clubhouse through the long, tiring season.  Ron Roenicke does just that and, by all accounts, does it very well.

Rubie:

Ah, you fell for the Classic Lawyer Misdirection: you spent 500 words talking about Mark Kotsay and then ran out of gas when you got to the real topic: Ron Roenicke.

Lemme deflect a few of your glancing blows before I deliver the coup de grace:

Mark Kotsay may be Roenicke's weakness.  But he also isn't in charge of who is on the roster, Doug Melvin is.  Melvin, for whatever reason, refuses to bring Boggs up to the MLB permanently.

Riddle me this: why would you bring up a player when your manager refuses to play him?  In the abstract, I suppose, you're right that Doug Melvin has the final call on the roster, but you're kidding yourself if you think Roenicke doesn't have significant input on those decisions. Judging from Gord Ash's recent comments, for example, the ONLY reason Kotsay is still employed by the Brewers is because of Roenicke. That's pretty significant power, don't you think?

Ron Roenicke has the Brewers winning, and that's what is important.

No, he doesn't. Zack Greinke has the Brewers winning. Prince Fielder has the Brewers winning. Shaun Marcum and Randy Wolf have the Brewers winning. John Axford and Ryan Braun and Rickie Weeks have the Brewers winning. Roenicke's contribution to the endeavor is to put these people in the best position to succeed; most often, putting them in position to succeed = writing their names in the batting order and getting the **** out of their way, because they are very good baseball players who are very good at doing things that help you win baseball games.

All too often, Runnin' Ron has succumbed to the pressure to try to make things happen. Sometimes, it works out for the best -- like Jon Lucroy's walk-off squeeze (even though we can debate whether it was REALLY necessary to take that risk with your hottest hitter at the plate). Other times, it works out for the worst -- like yesterday, when he pinch hit for a position player for no reason other than: "Mark Kotsay bats left-handed."

Ron Roenicke is getting in the way.


Follow the jump for the rest of our conversation

Noah:

Oh, I didn't run out of gas. 
 
I think if anyone higher up than Roenicke on the food chain truly realized Kotsay's ineffectiveness, he would be gone.  Doug Melvin has cut players like Jeff Suppan and Bill Hall before.  Mark Attanasio was the one to basically make the decision to get rid of Yost.  It's not just Roenicke keeping him on the roster at this point, not this late in the season.  Many of the same players on the roster were here in 2009 and 2010 (granted, Marcum and Greinke are pretty major players, though) but did they succeed then?  Not as much as they probably should have.  The Brewers looked bored, like they would rather be doing something else rather than playing baseball.  That's on Ken Macha.  He had the team looking as grumpy as he always did.  In 2009, they were a year removed from being in the playoffs.  They should have been fired up, ready to prove that they were legit, Sabathia or not.  That clearly didn't happen.  They went from ninety wins, to eighty, to seventy-six.  There were always rumblings of how many of the players were unhappy playing under Ken Macha's watch.
 
This year, it's completely the opposite.  The Brewers came out looking like baseball was fun again.  Again, I'll admit that the trades for Greinke and Marcum were certainly a shot in the arm, but Zack's injury could have been a major deterrent as well.  The players might have come out looking defeated until their savior returned with a healed rib, but they didn't.  They came out with a fire and, even with a slow start to the season, kept up that intensity. 
 
Roenicke has been praised for motivating players since he was with the Angels, and that hasn't changed with his move to the Brewers.  He's a rookie manager, so it can be expected that he can "try to make things happen" almost to a fault.  He's gaining his first experience in running a team, but he's also shown some great play calling like said suicide squeeze that demonstrates that he could be a great manager.  As it stands, he's already a great leader for a still-young Brewers team.  His decision making can, on occasion, be out of whack (Wednesday might be the worst game he'll ever manage) but, again, I think his reliance on a veteran player like Kotsay is a result of being a rookie manager.  Really, I love having Ron Roenicke as a manager.  The only problem I see with him right now is inexperience.  For that reason, what I truly wish the Brewers had done was to bring in an even more experienced and knowledgable bench coach rather than Jerry Narron, despite his handwriting skills.  Bringing back Ted Simmons to fill that vacancy would have been a great fit, in my opinion. 
 
I think Roenicke is a great leader and can be a great strategic manager, but is suffering some from lack of experience in the role.  Were the Brewers to have someone who could better check him and help him along, we wouldn't even be having this conversation.

Rubie:

I don't like to FJM one of my own, but you've put yourself in the line of fire here. I wish I didn't have to do this:

Many of the same players on the roster were here in 2009 and 2010 (granted, Marcum and Greinke are pretty major players, though) but did they succeed then?


Yes. Yes, they did. You're making this much too complicated: the reason we weren't very good the last two years was because our starting pitching sucked. Search your feelings. You know this to be true.

This year, it's completely the opposite.  The Brewers came out looking like baseball was fun again.


The Milwaukee Brewers started 0-4. After the first month of the year, they sat at 13-14.

Zack's injury could have been a major deterrent as well.  The players might have come out looking defeated until their savior returned with a healed rib, but they didn't.


When Zack returned to the rotation, the Brewers were 13-16. They had been swept by the Nationals, had lost five of six to the Reds, and were in the midst of getting swept in a four-game set by the Braves. In the days after Greinke's return, the team dropped to 14-20.

Maybe they didn't look defeated, but they were certainly being defeated.

The only problem I see with [Roenicke] right now is inexperience.


Which is kind of a curious problem to inflict on a team that's going for it this year, no?

But here's the bigger issue: Roenicke isn't learning.  Those mistakes that you cite from yesterday's game -- the "worst game he'll ever manage" -- came in game SEVENTY-FREAKING-SIX. It's not the first week of the year. It's not seeing, early on, if we caught lightning in a very old bottle with Kotsay like we did with Jim Edmonds. He knows (or should know) what Kotsay is at this point. He knows (or should know) that Corey Hart shouldn't be trying to steal bases in front of Braun and Fielder, agggggressssive-ness be damned. He should know better by now.

Noah:

No, you're right, the starting pitching was horrible.  Still, though, the team looked like zombies on the field and in the dugout.
 
And I didn't say the Brewers came out winning.  On the contrary, I said "They came out with a fire and, even with a slow start to the season, kept up that intensity."
 
Roenicke is learning.  I've been working at my current job for over nine months.  I certainly don't know everything there, and tend to screw up every now and then.  I'm sure you don't win every court case you may be involved in, and I'm sure sometimes you might have some really bad days.  That doesn't mean that you're less knowledgable now then you were when you first left law school.  Again, what current bench option would you rather see getting more plate appearances over Kotsay?  Because Ron Roenicke has the same options.  The Brewers starting lineup is talented.  The Bench is not.  Give Roenicke credit, he switched Nyjer Morgan in for Carlos Gomez as a starter really early in the year after seeing that the latter was playing much, much better. 
 
Outside of Morgan/Gomez, though, there really are no moves that would be significantly beneficial to the Brewers short of any minor leaguers (Brandon Boggs) being called up which, again, I still think is very much due to Melvin and Attanasio not wanted to make that move as well, though I agree that Roenicke also may prefer Kotsay.
 
And I still don't mind the aggressive approach.  Hart was lauded as a very good base runner when he was called up to the major leagues and, with his long legs, is a fast runner.  The odds of Braun and Fielder both getting a hit in the same inning are much lower than the odds of just one of them getting a hit.  It shouldn't happen all the time, but Hart stealing ahead of the fearsome duo isn't a big issue to me.
 
Once more, Roenicke is still learning.  Tony La Russa will still make mistakes, and he's in game three million of his career.  Joe Torre still made mistakes.  Bobby Cox made mistakes.  Connie Mack made mistakes.  Ron Roenicke will make mistakes.  Saying that a poorly managed game in his 74th career game shows he isn't learning is kind of ridiculous.

Rubie:


Let's assume that Roenicke is learning, all evidence to the contrary. Is it happening fast enough?  You're right that Roenicke might not be making these mistakes in the 400th game he manages, but that's not our situation this year: we're going for it. We don't need somebody learning on the fly. We needed somebody who was ready to go right away.  Even assuming he's got a really fast learning curve (which may be the biggest assumption in the history of assumptions), that's not Roenicke.

My last thought, on the RUNNIN' RON portion of the debate and Corey Hart: Corey Hart is fast. Corey Hart is not a good baserunner. Corey Hart will probably never be a good baserunner. People act like Ken Macha threw the shackles on a gaggle of budding Rickey Hendersons with the station-to-station approach, but there was a reason why he didn't want Hart or McGehee or Lucroy running: they're not particularly good at it.

And, just so we're clear when we do this again: I have never lost a court case. I am Keanu Reeves in The Devil's Advocate.

Noah:

What options were available that you would have been happy with that were "ready to go right away"?  Bob Brenley?  Eric Wedge?  Keep Ken Macha around?  I was a fan of Bobby Valentine for the entertainment value, but I'm not so sure he would actually have been a good manage--and almost certainly wasn't a good choice for the Brewers, particularly when weighing in the potential contract. 
 
Again, this is why I wish the Brewers had gone after a more experience bench coach that would help in guiding Roenicke along.  I'd like to point out a comment from our very own Placidity in today's frosty mug (which is basically just a Roenicke hate fest).  Placidity sez:
 
So I realize there have been lots of jokes about "who's Jerry Narron and what does he do here" but it really did take me quite a while to figure out who JN was
 
It's not that a bench coach should share the spotlight with the manager, but it seems like anything we hear about Narron is about his handwriting.  I don't think I've seen one comment anywhere talking about how he's doing a bang-up job in helping to guide along a rookie manager. 
 
I thought hiring Roenicke was the right decision when the Brewers first announced the decision, and I still think it's the correct call.  In terms of managerial prospects, I think Roenickes a good one.  Of course, there's very little to quantify manager prospectdom.

Rubie:

I think Willie Randolph probably would have done fine, but they screwed that up right quick. Valentine would have been hilarious, but that's before I knew we were goin' for it. Hurdle was available, too, I guess, but he's doing some variation of this AGGGGRESSSIVE insanity in Pittsburgh -- though he did just bench Ronny Cedeno for trying to bunt, so maybe he's not completely beyond salvation. Hell, I don't know; I'm not in offseason, "who's available?" manager mode.  I just didn't want somebody who needs to learn the ropes.

The fact that you haven't seen a comment about Narron doesn't mean he's not doing anything. For all you know, he could've been pleading with Roenicke not to pinch hit with Kotsay yesterday, but Ron dismissed it. But more to the point: if you need a really, really good bench coach to guide your manager, shouldn't that give you some pause about the hire in the first place?

That's all I got. Enjoy Counting Crows; I know Mark Kotsay will.

Noah:

Fair enough, I can see we're doing nothing to convince the other and looking back at managerial candidates from last year will do nothing to help that.  Still, though, I think we would have at least seen more of a human-interest piece or even an off-hand comment that Narron has been helping Roenicke along were he doing a better job at it.  I think any rookie managers, in any situation, should have a good bench coach to guide them along.  I also don't think any "veteran" managers that were available would have been any better.  But again, no need to rehash those measures.  We'll just have to agree to disagree for now.
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