Tuesday, May 18, 2010

View From the Brewers Bandwagon, Vol 2: The Last Days of Ken Macha

I go to about 20 Brewers games a year, and watch nearly all the rest of them. Though I'm a casual fan, I do care enough about the team enough to write about them. I don't think I could be a full-time Brewer blogger -- I don't care that much -- but at the same time I think it would be fun to check in on them periodically and give my (mostly worthless) opinions.

So it seemed merely 9 days ago that the Brewers had finally turned the corner in this young -- but quickly aging – season. After being completely shut down by a good Padres team, the Crew finished the road trip strong by going 5-1 against the Dodgers and Diamondbacks. Spirits were high. And they did indeed turn the corner… right into a brick wall.

How does a team blessed with a seemingly indefatigable offense manage to have the worst home record in baseball?

Do I really even need to spell it out?

It had been said that last year’s pitching staff was comprised of a #1 and a bunch of #5’s, and this year is looking no different. Yovani Gallardo, obviously, is the #1 here but it is only by default. To be an ace you have to be able to get past the 5th inning in less than 100 pitches. Yo has rarely done that this season. I wouldn’t go so far to say that he sucks, and I have confidence in him to one day be a true ace, but he’s just not there yet. He’s the best the Brewers have, but it’s not quite good enough.

Randy Wolf has been not quite shitty at best so far. His numbers are okay (3-3 4.66 ERA 6IP per start) and just in watching him (I’m no sabermetrician) he looks merely average. Perhaps most alarming of his numbers is this: his BAA against lefties is .291 this season; for his career that number is .225. If a LHP can’t get left-handed batters out, there is a problem.

I don’t feel comfortable trashing a guy who was just diagnosed with a heart ailment, so I will leave Doug Davis alone. But his foibles are well-documented. He was hired to eat innings and at the very least keep the team in the game, and thus far he has not done that.

Dave Bush has been mildly disappointing. He’s only averaging 5.76 IP per start and has an ERA of 4.27. It seems as though he’s been lit up only once: 9 ER in 3 2/3 IP against the Cubs, a game I had the displeasure of attending. Still, while he has kept the team in the game most of the time, he hasn’t gone deep into those games. It’s an epidemic, if you couldn’t already tell.

Chris Narveson isn’t the answer, even though he’s been decent enough. I think Davey Nelson said on Saturday’s radio broadcast that Narveson just isn’t a guy that’s going to go deep into games. With a battered bullpen, that just isn’t going to work.

All of this leads me to the obvious question: Who takes the fall? Certainly you can’t fire the entire pitching staff. You could fire the guy who assembled the staff, Doug Melvin, but what difference would it make this season?

No, the sword will fall – as always – on the manager, Ken Macha.

Maybe Macha isn’t the right guy for this team. I will agree that, at this point, the team needs a fire lit under their collective ass. (Personally, I’m not high on loud, fiery managers. I think that stuff is mostly for show, anyway. If a player is only motivated because a manager goes out to argue calls a bunch of times, perhaps professional sports isn’t for you. ) That has never been Macha’s game, and perhaps the team is suffering because of it. He’s always been a hands-off kind of guy, which might be another reason the team is underperforming.

Others will point to the fact that he appears to be asleep during the games, as evidenced by boneheaded moved he’s made over the past 39 games. This is normally where I would defend a manager by saying he’s not the one out there throwing meatballs or swinging at sliders in the dirt. I think this still holds true as a whole – every decision a manager makes has a 50/50 chance of working whether or not the stats say it’s the “right” call – but over the past two games it’s as if Macha is begging to be fired.

On Monday night, with the game on the line tied 1-1, Todd Coffey was summoned from the bullpen. He immediately gave up a triple, single (run scored), single, single (out made on basepaths). Runners now at 2nd and 3rd. At this point you might discern that Coffey doesn’t have it tonight. Scott Rolen was up next to be followed by lefty Jay Bruce. At the very least, you’d think an intentional walk was coming up next to set up a double play – hopefully with a lefty to face Bruce.


No one up in the pen. Rolen hits sac fly to score another run. Bruce is intentionally walked ONE BATTER TOO LATE and then Gomes comes up, hits a homer, and the game is out of reach. Points to Coffey for drilling the next guy.

I’d love to say “it just didn’t work out,” but that entire sequence was just baffling.

Tuesday afternoon, the Crew plays well and the two-headed starter Parrestrada held the Reds to two runs in eight innings. Trevor Time! And by Trevor Time I mean give up a single, homer, double, walk, single and the ballgame. For some, Macha bringing in Hoffman at all was a mistake; for myself, the guy pitched a scoreless inning the last time out – meaningless, yes, but still scoreless – and was perhaps on the road to rebounding.

But Macha left him in for the whole thing. Maybe he thinks by getting fired in such a glorious, shitty fashion it’ll somehow trick the team into thinking they are better than what they have been because, “hey, our manager was a bonehead and that’s why we suck.”

I was never a guy frothing at the mouth for the firing of Ned Yost, nor am I for firing Ken Macha. I, like a lot of fans (I hope) realize that firing a manager mid-season is nothing more than a PR move. It is putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound. Talent will always overcome a “bad” manager. If you have marginal talent, you get a marginal team, even with a baseball genius for a skipper.

So, what now? If the Brewers are going to compete this season it's going to take some ballsy moves, some common sense, and quite a bit of hope.

Step 1: Cut Jeff Suppan. This is a no-brainer. They kept him for depth, but with pretty much everyone on the pitching staff under-performing, I think an infusion of new blood is required.

Step 2: Ask Trevor Hoffman very politely to retire. If he refuses -- and as an all-time great closer he has that right -- keep him as far away from the closer's role as possible for as long as possible. Also, make Todd Coffey the closer.

Step 3: Move Doug Davis into long relief. I think he hurts the team the least here, and lately it seems as if he's good for a few innings before falling apart.

Step 4: Leave both Parra and Estrada in the rotation. It's true you can't tell too much from one start, but at this point you might as well give it a shot. Parra has been an enigma thus far but he has the stuff to be a major league starter. Time for him to start showing it.

Step 5: Give Dave Bush some better run support. In his last 5 starts -- which the Crew lost -- he was given 2-0-3-3-2 runs, while giving up 3 in 4 of those 5 games. Granted, he also needs to go deeper so the bullpen can pick up where he left off... but still.

Step 6 - and this is a big one - The remaining pitchers need to pitch to their career norms and go deeper into games. I know, it's a lot to ask. But Yo and Wolf are pretty much there as is. Bush is close. This offense is equipped to carry the team, but they will not do that if the pitcher takes them out of the game.

My adjusted staff looks like this:

SP Wolf
SP Estrada
SP Narveson
SP Parra

Mopup (Hoffman?)

LRP Davis

MRP Vargas
MRP Stetter
MRP Axford

SU Villanueva

CL Coffey

I know what this team really needs is some power arms. This junkballing finesse shit isn't exactly working out. But Doug Melvin or any other GM isn't going to get those arms through FA because the money just isn't there. You're also not going to get that kind of talent by trading Prince Fielder. I don't think any team is going to fill a hole by blowing out a hole somewhere else. You will get prospects for him at best, and for the future that would be prudent. But I don't think the Brewers are done just yet. The offense is too fucking talented, and a pitching staff comprised of Cy Young, Nolan Ryan, Warren Spahn, Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson (I just picked five random all-time great awesome pitchers) isn't needed with this team.

Of course, much like Ken Macha's stint with the Brewers, time is running out and running out quickly.

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