Sunday, April 17, 2011

Is Ron Roenicke a Moron?

That's what Bob and F.P. would have us believe, the way they went on and on about Ron Roenicke's aggressive infield shifting against the Nationals Friday. (Though before I go on with this, lemme credit the MASN team for doing a good job showing us all the defensive shifting with every hitter. The camera work was great.)

I'm not sure whether Roenicke's approach is a good idea or not, but if it's a bad idea, it's not for the reason F.P. gave--that this isn't how it's been done for 100 years, ergo it must be wrong.

Here are a couple facts Bob and F.P. either don't know or ignored. First, the Brewers are second in the NL in ERA. That's with Zack Greinke on the DL and a back-end of the rotation that no one wil confuse with the Phillies. And as Bob himself noted, no team in baseball has improved their team ERA from last year to this year more than the Brewers have.

Now, it's too early in the season to read too much into those numbers, though it's more valid than Bob and F.P. junking the idea based on a 1 AB sample--Mike Morse's lucky hit against the shift in the second inning. But at the very least we can say that so far Roenicke's strategy hasn't killed his team yet.

Here's the more important thing to keep in mind. The Brewers have a horrible fielding infield, with career UZR/150s of -6.7 (Fielder), -8.3 (Betancourt), -7.7 (McGehee), and -6.4 (Weeks). I almost spit out my drink when F.P. claimed that Rickie Weeks has "fantastic range."

Knowing that this infield is going to have massive gaps regardless of where he positions his players, why not try to aggressively position players where the spray charts say batters are most likely to hit the ball?

I'm most skeptical of the shift when there are runners on base, which did in fact come into play in both the 2nd inning, when the shift cost the Brewers a possible inning-ending DP, and in the 10th, when Werth was able to score easily on an infield grounder because no one had been holding him on 3rd.

But I like to see managers challenging conventional wisdom and experimenting with different ways to hide their players' weaknesses. I'll be interested in seeing how the Brewers' fielding metrics stack up as the season moves along, and I hope Roenicke doesn't back off when he faces the inevitable hindsight criticism every time a seeing-eye grounder sneaks through.


Todd Boss said...

I opined on the same topic fri night, after watching these shifts completely lose the game for his team.

As you say, I think shifting the infield with nobody on base is fine (radical, progressive in fact). But that missed double play ball led directly to two runs, and the shifting allowing Werth to steal 3rd without a throw and run halfway to home plate on an infield-in situation was flat out ridiculous.

He HAS to adjust with runners on base. Otherwise (as they've done for 100-years) runners will take advantage, advance to the next base easily and cost you in a close game.

Elan said...

Almost spit out my drink (or ASPOMD) would be an excellent stat to keep to evaluate announcers. FP's killing it this year in ASPOMDs.

Hendo said...

Two indicators that support Roenicke's strategy (stats as of Sunday morning):

1. MIL was the second most defensively efficient team in the NL. That indicates that the balls are getting to the fielders.

2. MIL had committed the second-fewest errors in the NL. That indicates that the fielders are getting to the balls.

I don't think either of these is an accident. Sorry, FP.