The Internets were agog last week after the introductory press conference for new Brewer skipper Ron Roenicke, who made a splash with his designs to eschew the type of station-to-station baseball favored by deposed Brewer manager Ken Macha:
"At times, you're going to say why are you running so much? That's the style I like to play. I've seen it win a lot of games over the years. At times we're going to get thrown out. But over the course of the season we're going to score more runs by being aggressive."
At the risk of bludgeoning a horse that's long-since buried, I'd like to explore this issue in greater detail, and hopefully, fairly, avoiding convenient and meaningless buzzwords like "aggressive" and "old school" and "Eckstein." After the jump: the case for keeping the same style on offense in 2010, and the case for changing things up.
THE CASE FOR KEEPING THINGS THE SAME
By now, you've no doubt seen the team's cumulative stats on offense: 750 runs scored (good for fourth in the National League); team OBP of .335 (fourth in the NL); team slugging of .424 (third in the NL, just a sliver behind Colorado's .425); team wOBA of .334 (good for second in the NL, behind the Reds' .339).
I could end the argument there -- and maybe I should -- but let's examine the individual stats to see how those team totals came to be.
We start, as always, with a chart. On the left: the NL average, by position, for OBP, SLG, and OPS. On the right: those same slash stats for the Brewer who played the most games at that position.
|Position (NL Avg)||OBP||SLG||OPS||Brewer||OBP||SLG||OPS|
|First baseman||.354||.459||.813||Prince Fielder||.401||.471||.871|
|Second baseman||.333||.387||.720||Rickie Weeks||.366||.464||.830|
|Third baseman||.331||.421||.752||Casey McGehee||.337||.464||.801|
|Left fielder||.337||.434||.771||Ryan Braun||.365||.501||.866|
|Center fielder||.330||.407||.736||Carlos Gomez||.298||.357||.655|
|Right fielder||.335||.443||.778||Corey Hart||.340||.525||.865|
Note, if you would: with below-average production from three positions (C, SS, and CF*), and a sub-par year from their best hitter (Prince Fielder's career average OPS, including this year: .919), and without being overly-aggressive on the bases, the Brewers still managed to score the fourth-most runs in the National League.
* To be fair: you can nudge up the CF numbers based on the production from Jim Edmonds (.350 / .493 / .843 in 73 games) and Lorenzo Cain (.348 / .415 / .763 in 43 games).
More importantly, for the purposes of this discussion: while the OBP numbers vs. league average are pretty good on the whole (and excellent for Fielder, and very good for Braun and Weeks), the slugging numbers are eyepopping. We've got a bevy of players with great power, which leads to two points: (1) why would you want to take the bat out of (fill in anyone but Jon Luc, Al, or Gomez)'s hands; and (2) why would you want to take the risk of making an out on the basepaths when (fill in anyone but Jon Luc, Al, or Gomez) can plate a run (or more) with one swing?
It might not be the prettiest offense, but if the objective of the offense is to score runs (and, last I checked, that was still the case), this style has been pretty effective.
THE CASE FOR SMALL BALLIN'
I'm going to do my level best not to construct a strawman here, but if my efforts don't succeed (or if I grossly misstate the merits of this argument), by all means: call me out. Please.
As I see it, there are a few facets to this argument, some of which are difficult to quantify and some of which are impossible to quantity. Let's address them in reverse order.
(1) Small ball -- that is, base stealing, hit-'n-runs, and aggressive baserunning -- is more aesthetically pleasing than the bar-league softball-style discussed above. Staunch proponent of station-to-station baseball that I am, I can't really argue against this point. M'self, I like homers and doubles. Y'self, you like watching Carlos Gomez go first to third on a liner between the first and second basemen. Diff'rent strokes for diff'rent folks, and all.
(2) A team that's looking to steal bases, go first to third at every opportunity, etc, puts greater pressure on the pitcher and the defense, (hopefully) causing mistakes -- a grooved fastball, an overthrow from the outfield -- that can lead to more runs. Said another way: a mind with divided attention is more prone to committing a critical error. I don't know if there's a way to quantify this, but, logically, it makes sense -- and if it leads to more fat fastballs for Prince Fielder, I'm all for it.
(3) "Productive outs" doesn't necessarily mean "bunt every time we get a runner on." This is easiest to illustrate with a hypothetical: Suppose Rickie Weeks leads off the game with a double. If your argument is that Corey Hart should be looking to bunt Rickie over to third on a 1-0 count with nobody out in the first inning, I'm afraid I can't help you very much. Aside from satisfying some old-timey, Cardinalian desire to "play the game the right way," I don't see how that helps you maximize your offensive output. Sorry.
If, on the other hand, your argument is that, in that same situation, Corey Hart should try to hit the ball to the right side of the infield when he's facing a 1-2 count, I might see where you're coming from. You might point out that Corey Hart hit .175 with two strikes, and argue: he's probably going to make an out anyway, so he might as well make it a productive one.** In theory, anyway, I see what you mean.
** I might respond with a long-winded retort about how we just fixed Hart's swing last year, and asking him to modify that swing with two strikes might be too much for his Unfrozen Caveman brain to handle, but that's a different debate for a different time.
(4) The Brewers have the horses to make an aggressive baserunning approach work. Hitting homers is all well and good, you say, and of course we shouldn't discourage Rickie and Braun and Fielder and KC and Corey from swinging away. That said, you continue, many of those same players are also very fast -- so, in the instances when they only manage a single or a walk instead of a two-bagger, who not take advantage of that additional skill set?
Again: in theory, I see your point, but I'd offer this brief counterargument: being fast and being a good baserunner are two wildly different things. As such, while Braun and Hart, in particular, are very fast, I don't know that I'd call either one of them a good baserunner; they both made some downright boneheaded decisions on the basepaths last year.
So, throbbing braintrust: what say you? Would you like to see a more aggressive, small ball-style approach in 2011? Would you like to see things remain the same? Or do you think this is all a lot of fuss over nothing?