Everyone panic about bullpen use! and a bit of news

By Nathan Petrashek

bullpenThe Brewers are currently on an 8-game win streak, and everyone has rightfully mentioned what a critical part the bullpen has played in that streak.  Will Smith, Brandon Kintzler, Francisco Rodriguez, and Jim Henderson are unscored upon, and Tyler Thornburg, who leads the ‘pen with 7.2 inning pitched, has allowed just one earned run (1.17 ERA).  Opposing hitters are batting just .155 and have struck out 42 times against the Brewers’ relief corps, with just 8 walks.  The bullpen bears a sparkling 0.83 ERA, easily the best in baseball.*

But have they been overused, as some seem to think?  Probably not.  The Brewers ‘pen has tallied 32.2 innings, the 10th most-used bullpen in the National League and 18th in all of baseball.  Relievers for five teams have pitched over 40 innings, and another five are pretty close.  The Brewers seem to be pretty middle-of-the-pack as far as bullpen usage goes, and they’ve certainly been much more effective than even many less-used bullpens.

What about individual players?  Not much to worry about here either.  Tyler Thornburg is on pace to throw 100 innings; Thornburg tossed 130 last year between Nashville and Milwaukee (and was great in his final starts for the Brewers).  Will Smith (6 IP) is on pace for 88 innings.  Smith pitched 89 minor-league innings and 89 major-league innings in as a starter 2012, and a total of 122 innings between levels last year.  Henderson (4.1 IP)  is on pace for 60 innings and pitched 60 in 2013.  The one guy who is even remotely worrisome is the closer, K-Rod (6 IP), and he’s simply had more work lately because, well, the Brewers are winning lots of games.  That’ll even out over time.  In essence, this is a bullpen that can handle a bigger workload.

It’s not like there’s a shortage of arms, either.  The Brewers haven’t even used Wei-Chung Wang, a lefthanded Rule 5 pick from the Pirates.  And *here’s the news* Brandon Kinzler has landed on the DL with a rotator cuff strain, and Rob Wooten has taken his place.  It sounds like Kintzler’s injury is relatively minor but lingering since spring training.  At least we won’t have to worry about him racking up more innings, I guess.

Although people complain about the starting rotation’s failure to pitch deep into games, it seems to me they’re doing exactly what they need to be at this stage of the season.  Here’s the number of innings each starter has pitched in every game during the win steak: 5.2, 5, 6.2, 5, 6, 6, 7, 6.   I can’t see much wrong with that in early April.

2014 Position Preview: Jean Segura, Shortstop

by Kevin Kimmes

Editor’s note: This is the fifth article in Cream City Cables’ 2014 position preview series. Other positions: catcher, center field, left field, and right field.

(AP Photo/Morry Gash)

(AP Photo/Morry Gash)

If Jean Segura’s 2013 season can be summed up as a Charles Dickens’ novel, it would be “A Tale of Two Halves”. A quick glance at the numbers and you’ll see what I mean:

1st Half: .325/.363/.487, 121 H, 54 R, 11 HR, 36 RBI, 27 SB

2nd Half: .241/.268/.315, 52 H, 20 R, 1 HR, 13 RBI, 17 SB

Now before I get accused of trying to cook the books regarding Segura’s numbers, I fully realize that injuries in the 2nd half of the season limited the number of games that he appeared in (92 in the 1st half compared to 54 in the 2nd). That said, here are how some of the above stats adjust accordingly on a per game basis:

1st Half (per game): 1.315 H, 0.587 R, 0.120 HR, 0.391 RBI, 0.293 SB

2nd Half (per game): 0.963 H, 0.370 R, 0.018 HR, 0.241 RBI, 0.315 SB

Across the board, Segura’s production is markedly depleted in the 2nd half with the exception of a slight increase in stolen base numbers. Some of this can be attributed to a young player playing in his first 162 game season. As time goes on, the body becomes fatigued and production begins to slow. This seems to be the situation with Segura.

Heading into 2014, many have wondered if Segura would be healthy enough to go when the Brewers take on the Braves in the season opener at Miller Park tomorrow. Lingering pain in his throwing shoulder has limited his spring, however that pain seems to be subsiding in recent days. As of right now, expect Segura to appear as the Opening Day shortstop.

So, which version of Segura can we expect to see this season? I’m going to go with neither. I believe what we will see is a more balanced Segura and the experts seem to agree:

2013 Recap

623 PA, 74 R, 12 HR, 49 RBI, 44 SB, 4.0 BB%, 13.5 K%, .294/.329/.423, 107 wRC+

2014 Projections

Steamer: 611 PA, 71 R, 11 HR, 58 RBI, 33 SB, 5.1 BB%, 12.8 K%, .278/.320/.404, 98 wRC+

ZiPs: 580 PA, 70 R, 12 HR, 59 RBI, 35 SB, 4.7 BB%, 14.1 K%, .284/.322/.422, 103 wRC+

Contact Status

2014-15: Pre-arb. Eligible, 2016-18: Arb. Eligible, 2019: Free Agent

All stats courtesy of baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.

Garza as the new Lackey

By Nathan Petrashek

I said yesterday that I couldn’t think of a deal structured quite like Garza’s, where the Brewers get an extremely cheap club option in the event the pitcher misses significant time.

Turns out, there are other such clauses, but they’re of relatively recent vintage.

On Twitter, Alex Poterack of Disciples of Uecker clued me in to the fact that John Lackey has a similar clause in his deal, as does Felix Hernandez in his extension.  Sure enough, Dave Cameron of Fangraphs has a writeup comparing the risk management features of those deals.

The Lackey Clause, as it is apparently coming to be known, was created after Lackey’s 2009 physical turned up an elbow injury, but the Red Sox didn’t want to scrap the deal.  So, they created an insurance clause: if Lackey missed significant time with an elbow injury, a year could be tacked on the deal at the veteran minimum, at the club’s election.  That clause was triggered when Lackey missed 2012 after having Tommy John surgery, so he’ll likely pitch for the Red Sox in 2015 for $500,000.

The Mariners picked up on this and put a similar clause in their extension with King Felix.  The Brewers appear to have lifted the terms of Garza’s Lackey Clause almost directly from Felix’s deal.  Under Felix’s extension, the Mariners get a $1MM team option in 2020 if Hernandez spends 130 consecutive days on the DL.  Here’s where the clauses differ, though; the team option is only triggered if Hernandez hits the DL due to an elbow injury.  The Brewers option is apparently much broader, and activates if Garza spends the requisite number of days on the DL for any reason.

It seems Lackey Clauses are gaining in popularity, and perhaps rightly so.  While a team will likely never recoup the full value forfeited if one of their major pitchers hits the DL, the clause does allow the team to recover something.  When taken in conjunction with Garza’s vesting option, it allows the player to gain something if he stays healthy, too.

The question now is why the Brewers thought they needed such a clause.  Was it simply Garza’s injury history, or something in the physical?

The Surreal Matt Garza Deal

By Nathan Petrashek

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Cincinnati RedsIt seems the Brewers could be paying Matt Garza a mere $1MM to pitch for them in 2018.

Okay, it’s a little more complicated than that.

According to various media outlets (e.g. Cots, Tom Haudricourt, Joel Sherman, and Adam McCalvey), Garza is set to earn a base salary of $12.5MM between 2014 and 2017.  $2MM of salary in each of those years is deferred without interest, payable beginning in 2018.  But 2018 is also the year in which things get kind of … odd.

Garza has a vesting option for 2018.  There is nothing particularly unusual about this contractual device.  It basically means that, under a defined set of circumstances, the Brewers are willing to guarantee Garza a fifth year at a predetermined salary.  That salary is $13.5MM, and it will be due Garza under the following circumstances:

  1. Garza starts 110 games between 2014-17
  2. He does not end the 2017 season on the disabled list
  3. He pitches at least 115 innings in 2017

If Garza meets all of those requirements, he’ll get a fifth year at a nice payday tacked on the end of his deal.

Satisfying those three requirements won’t be easy, though.  Garza essentially can’t miss more than a year’s worth of starts between 2014 and 2017.  Garza has had several maladies over the past few seasons-the most troubling being a stress reaction in his elbow-and his mechanics could lead to future shoulder problems for the 30-year-old.  Between the 2010-13 seasons, Garza only made 105 starts, so if we were to go by his last four years, the first requirement would not have been satisfied.

But that’s not all.  Not only must Garza remain healthy for at least three years, but he basically has to pitch for at least half of the 2017 season.  And even then, any missed starts (i.e. a DL stint) can’t come at the end of 2017.  Pretty brilliant contractual maneuvering by the Brewers to get out from under the option if Garza breaks down at the end of his deal.  Remember, most teams wanted to give Garza only  three guaranteed years.

But what’s really bizarre is what happens if the option doesn’t vest.  Then, according to the previously mentioned media sources, the vesting option becomes a $5MM team option.  In other words, even if Garza does break down, the Brewers can choose to bring him back anyway at a substantially reduced rate.  Even as things stand now, Garza wouldn’t have to do much to be worth $5MM, and who knows how much a win will be worth in 2018.

But if Garza misses a lot of time between 2014 and 2017, the Brewers get him in 2018 at an even bigger discount!  If Garza lands on the disabled list for 130 days in any 183-day span of time, the Brewers’ team option is reduced to a paltry $1MM.   The only scenario in which I could see the Brewers declining that option is if Garza’s arm is completely shredded and he just can’t pitch any more.  I don’t recall ever seeing a provision like this, in which a player essentially agrees to give the team a year of his time for next to nothing if he fails to take the mound due to injury.

The cheap rates on the potential team options have led some to speculate that these are actually buyout amounts for a $13.5MM team option that springs to life if the option doesn’t vest.  That’s now how they’ve been reported, though.  And if you think about it, it makes sense that the Brewers would hedge their bets against future injuries.  If the Brewers would wind up picking up the $1MM option, it would mean that Garza has spent nearly a full season or more on the DL at a $12.5MM salary; why shouldn’t they attempt to recoup some value on the back end of the deal?  Conversely, Garza has the ability to earn substantial additional salary if he remains generally healthy for the duration of the deal.

It’s always interesting to see the final result of extensive negotiation, and the Garza contract looks like the parties did a great job of balancing risk.

Is Ryan Braun Public Enemy Number 2?

20140120-200002.jpg

by Kevin Kimmes

Is Ryan Braun really the second biggest villain in all of baseball? If you believe the results of a recent New England Sports Network (NESN) article, he is.

A few days ago, the network posed a question online: Who are Major League Baseball’s Biggest Villians? The outcome, not surprisingly weighs heavily on the Yankees. After all, for those that don’t know, NESN is THE network for Red Sox baseball.

The names that you might expect are here: Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman (10), former Yankee slugger Robinson Cano (8), former Red Sock Carl Crawford (7), young lightning rods Bryce Harper (5) and Yasiel Puig (4), super agent Scott Boras (3) and MLB pariah Alex Rodriguez (1). Grant Balfour (9) and Brandon Phillips (6) find themselves included for recent indiscretions. Then, there’s Braun.

Coming in as the second biggest villain in the entire MLB, the fallout from Braun’s suspension is being felt across the league. NESN’s justification for the high seeding? It’s a combination of escaping his 2012 suspension on a technicality and throwing an innocent man to the wolves. That man being sample collector Dino Laurenzi, Jr.

While Milwaukee tries to move on, it seems that many around the league are not as quick to forgive. Is a number two ranking justified? That remains to be seen. If the power numbers are absent from Braun’s game this season, expect there to be more than a few pundits calling for an asterisk to be added to his 2011 MVP award.

Kevin Kimmes is a regular contributor to creamcitycables.com and an MLB Fan Cave Top 52 Finalist. You can follow him on Twitter at @kevinkimmes.

Axford departs

By Nathan Petrashek

play_g_axford1_sy_576John Axford is the only Brewers player I’ve booed.  I don’t remember when exactly it was, but I suspect it was some time in June or July of 2012, when his every other outing seemed to end in a (BS).  I’ve felt kind of guilty about that for a while now, because I’m usually a guy that likes to back up good players during their struggles.  Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.

Axford was traded to the Cardinals today, so his time as a Brewer appears about over.  The trade for a player to be named later was really more about finances than anything else.  Axford was pretty good trending to okay, but he was making $5M this year and has three years of arbitration eligibility left.

The money would have been easy to swallow if Axford was still pitching like it was 2011.  In the year that brought the Brewers to the brink of another World Series, Axford delivered a microscopic 1.95 ERA over 73 innings, all while striking out better than a batter per inning.  He placed 17th in the MVP vote, a showing that I didn’t (and still don’t) think truly represented just how absolutely crucial he was to winning the division that year.  It was one of the most memorable season-long pitching performances I’ve seen.  To say Axford was a lockdown closer that year doesn’t give him half the credit he deserves.

But Axford has his share of fleas too, and that’s why I’m fully on board with jettisoning him.  We kind of suspected it at the time, but 2011 looks increasingly like a well-timed aberration.  Where Axford once had three brilliant pitches, only his slider ranks as above average this year (and just barely).  And though he hasn’t really lost much velocity on his fastball, Axford’s biggest bugaboo is the same today as it was when he took over for Trevor Hoffman in 2010: command.  2011 aside, Axford has always allowed too many batters to reach via the walk, which is a real problem when you have a propensity for giving up the long ball.

And then there were the character issues.  Much of the time, Axford was fun, easygoing, and entertaining, and he usually owned it after he blew a save.  But man, when that guy took to Twitter, he could troll with the best of them, often responding in kind to neanderthal tweets.  To his credit, he’s scaled back on that a lot this year.

For me, John Axford does not leave a complicated legacy.  I’m going to carry those memories of 2011 fondly, one of the greatest relief seasons I’ve had the pleasure of watching in person.  But today, Axford is just a guy who makes too much money.   That (and the lack of a long-term contract) makes him expendable.  Though I wish Axford well with the evil empire, the Brewers made the right move.

The Chase: What You Need to Know About The Timber Rattlers Run At The Post Season

T-Rats Logoby Kevin Kimmes

Optimism. That’s what Timber Rattlers’ coaches, players and fans are feeling right now. Optimism for a return to the postseason and another attempt at the Midwest League championship which they currently defend. If you had asked these same people about the Playoffs last week, you would have gotten a Jim Mora-esque reply. But, that was then, and this is a very bright now.

Streaking To The Finish Line

Since last Thursday, the Timber Rattlers are 5 for their last 6 games and still very much in the hunt for their second postseason bid in as many years. The streak, ironically enough began against their top rival for the 2nd half Wild Card, the Clinton LumberKings. Clinton, who is winless during this same period, has allowed the Rattlers to pull within a game of them in the standings with 6 games remaining. As if this didn’t make for a good enough storyline, let’s look at some other reasons to head on out to Fox Cities Stadium over the next 3 days.

The Dynamic Duo

Milwaukee has had some great duos on it’s rosters over the years including Molitor/Yount and Braun/Fielder. But, what if I told you that the duo of the future is playing right now in Appleton? Left fielder Victor Roache and his partner in crime, center fielder Tyrone Taylor, bring a youthful exuberance to the game that is frankly contagious. Making up the 3-4 punch in the Rattlers order, Roache (.249/.325/.443) and Taylor (.282/.346/.412) are showing experience beyond their years (21 and 19 respectively) while making the game fun to watch for young and old alike.

The Hunt For 23

Speaking of Victor Roache, did you know that Victor is just 2 homeruns away from breaking former Timber Rattler, and current Brewers left fielder, Khris Davis’ single season franchise homerun record? The power hitting Roache currently stands at 21 homeruns on the season and should either tie, or break, Davis’ single season record some time this week. It’s a good sign for a Brewers farm system which is often maligned by the national media for not having much to offer, while simultaneously giving fans the opportunity to see Timber Rattlers history remade.

On The Bobble

Thursday night is the final bobble head giveaway of the year. This time, the subject of the head knocker is none other than Milwaukee’s 2012 1st round draft pick Clint Coulter. Fans will want to head out to the ballpark early on Thursday as this giveaway is limited to just the first 1,000 fans through the gates.

So, while the 2013 Brewers campaign may have been less than what fans were hoping for, let the farmhands again come to the fans rescue by playing some inspired ball down the stretch and possibly making this another September to remember. See you at the ballpark!

Kevin Kimmes is a regular contributor to creamcitycables.com and an MLB Fan Cave Top 52 Finalist. You can follow him on Twitter at @kevinkimmes and read about some his latest adventures in the pages of the September issues of Beckett Baseball and Beckett Sportscard Monthly.

The Kids Are All Right: Finding The Positives In The Brewers’ Lost Season

20130817-193406.jpgby Kevin Kimmes

Every year spring blooms eternal and nowhere is this more apparent than in Major League Baseball. Opening Day means a clean slate on which everyone is equal and anything is possible. Just ask your average Brewers fan.

On April 1st, Milwaukee set the stage for their 2013 campaign with an extra innings victory over the Colorado Rockies in the friendly confines of Miller Park. While not the prettiest of wins (with Gallardo showing some signs of a post WBC hangover and incumbent closer John Axford unable to pick up the save), a win was a win was a win.

The lineup was one that Brewers fans had become accustomed to over the last several seasons:

1) RF Norichika Aoki
2) 2B Rickie Weeks
3) LF Ryan Braun
4) 3B Aramis Ramirez
5) C Jonathan Lucroy
6) 1B Alex Gonzalez
7) CF Carlos Gomez
8) SS Jean Segura
9) RHP Yovani Gallardo

The win however, came with a certain sense of discomfort. There was a palpable sense of unease in Milwaukee that afternoon, but no one could quite say why. The Brewers, now 1-0 on the young season had just sent the Opening Day crowd happy, or should have if not for the lingering sense of dread that many, myself included, left the park with that afternoon.

Was it the absence of Corey Hart, the right fielder turned 1st baseman, who had become a regular fixture in Brewers lineup over the years, who was recovering from knee surgery? Was it that Hart’s backup, Mat Gamel, had already fallen victim to the injury bug with a season ending injury to his ACL? Or what about the fact that Gamel’s backup Taylor Green, was also on the DL with hip issues? Maybe it was a lingering sense of doubt from the end of 2012, a season in which Milwaukee was in the hunt for the Wildcard until the final weekend of the season?

It wouldn’t take long for the sense of dread that we all felt to become something much more tangible, the kind of thing that stuck to your ribs and followed you around for months on end.

By April 5th, Ryan Braun was suffering from neck spasms. On April 6th, 3rd baseman Aramis Ramirez sprained his knee. April 7th saw Jean Segura leave the game with a bruised left quad and pitcher Chris Narveson sprain his middle finger. By the time that Alex Gonzalez suffered a hand contusion on April 12th, Milwaukee found itself with a 2-7 record on the season and there was no doubt that the time to worry was now.

For the Brewers, the idea that the team had become “snake-bitten” (a sentiment expressed by skipper Ron Roenicke on August 3rd) was quickly becoming the teams reality. From March 20th to July 21st, the team would see 18 different players befall injury, some with just minor maladies, others with injuries that would require extended trips to the DL.

Then there was the afternoon of July 22nd. After sending Segura and Gomez to the All-Star Game, and finally receiving Braun back from an almost month-and-a-half long DL stint, the elephant in the room finally materialized as the team’s worst fears came to be. Ryan Braun, the team’s perennial All-Star and face of the franchise, was being suspended for the remainder of the season for violating the league’s drug policies.

Could things really get any worse? The answer was a resounding yes.

Soon, Opening Day starters Rickie Weeks and Yovanni Gallardo would find themselves added to the list of injuries. For Weeks, this would mean season ending surgery to fix his left hamstring. Gallardo, who also suffered an injury to his left hammy, escaped with a strain and a trip to the DL.

As of this morning (August 17th), the Brewers hold down last place in the NL Central with a record of 53-69. It’s enough that most fair-weather fans packed it in weeks ago letting their attention drift on to the newly dawning NFL season. Their loss. You see, for those of us that continue to stick it out until the bitter end, we are getting a glimpse into the teams potential future, and frankly, the future looks bright.

Since July 22nd, the Brewers have been playing .500 baseball (12-12) and they’ve been doing it with players that your casual fan probably had never heard of prior to this year. Names like Khris Davis, Scooter Gennet and Tyler Thornburg are showing the Milwaukee faithful inspired performances which fly in the face of those pundits who claim that the Brewers have one of the worst farm systems in the MLB. So who are these fresh faces?

Khris Davis – #18 LF

Called up to replace Braun on the active roster, the power hitting Davis wasted no time proving to fans and the front office that his slow start in 2013 (.188/.235/.313 in April) was an anomaly by turning on a pitch and crushing the first of five homers in his return to regular duty. Davis, who now sports a slash line of .278/.344/.630, is living up to the potential that he showed in Appleton in 2010 when he set the Timber Rattlers single season homerun record with 22 bombs.

Scooter Gennett – #2 2B

Originally brought up earlier in the season as part of a platoon with the struggling Rickie Weeks, Scooter found himself in the role of human yo-yo, being bounced back and forth between the majors and minors as needed. When Weeks’ season ended on August 8th, the role of everyday second baseman transferred to Gennett who has taken to the role admirably. In his 29 at bats in August, Scooter carries a slash line of .448/.484/.862 proving that he can hit for both power and average.

Tyler Thornburg – #63 P

Originally utilized this season as a member of Milwaukee’s renovated bullpen, Thornburg grabbed opportunity by the horns when he was given the chance to start in late July. Since July 30th, Tyler has only allowed 1 earned run in 19 innings pitched. He currently carries a 1-0 record with a 1.76 ERA on the season.

It’s also worth noting that so far in August, Milwaukee’s pitching staff carries a team ERA of 2.51, good for 3rd amongst all MLB teams.

So, despite all of the doom and gloom that has surrounded this season, it’s reassuring to see that there is indeed light at the end of the tunnel. A light being shone brightly by several talented young Brewers.

Kevin Kimmes is a regular contributor to creamcitycables.com and an MLB Fan Cave Top 52 Finalist. You can follow him on Twitter at @kevinkimmes and read about some his latest adventures in the pages of the September issues of Beckett Baseball and Beckett Sportscard Monthly.

The Cards That Made Milwaukee Famous: 1909 T-206 Newt Randall

by Kevin Kimmes

Welcome to the 3rd installment of The Cards That Made Milwaukee Famous in which we try and shine the light of discovery on the players who were once household names in the Cream City. This series is dedicated to looking at Milwaukee’s baseball history through it’s cardboard representations: baseball cards.

Today we will continue on with the third of four players who played for the American Association Milwaukee Brewers in 1909 and appear in the T-206 card set. For more information on the American Association Brewers or the T-206 card set, click here.

T-206 RandallNewt Randall:

Newton John Randall (February 3, 1880 – May 3, 1955) played outfield for the American Association Milwaukee Brewers from 1908 through 1915. Prior to his tenure in Milwaukee, Randall had already spent six seasons playing professional ball:  five in the minors and one season (1907) in the majors, in which he batted just .211 and split time between the Chicago Cubs and the Boston Doves. (1) (2)

In 1909, Randall would lead the team in hitting (.279 average), at bats (620), hits (173), total bases (216) and would come in 2nd in slugging (.348). (3) He would also lead all American Association hitters with 92 runs scored. (4)

Randall would continue to be a constant producer on offense leading the team in at bats (from 1910-12 and again in ’14), hits (in 1910, ’12 and ’14), doubles (from 1910-12),  total bases (from 1910-12) and tying for homers (in 1910 and ’11). He would again lead the team in hitting in 1914 with an average of .321 (a career high with Milwaukee).

Newt would make 2 more appearances in the minors before leaving the game behind. In 1916, he would appear in 5 games with the Pacific Coast League’s Oakland Oaks hitting a paltry .091 (a career worst). He stepped inside the box for the last time in 1923 as a member of the North Dakota League’s Bizmark Capitals where he recorded 43 hits in 171 at bats (.251 average).

Randall is the only Brewer to appear in the T-206 card set and play for any of Milwaukee’s early championship teams (playing on both the ’13 and ’14 squads).

Newt Randall passed away on May 3, 1955 in Duluth, MN at the age of 75.

Kevin Kimmes is a regular contributor to creamcitycables.com and an MLB Fan Cave Top 52 Finalist. You can follow him on Twitter at @kevinkimmes.

References:

(1) http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=randal001new

(2) http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/r/randane01.shtml

(3) http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/team.cgi?id=e8f8478c

(4) Hamann, Rex & Koehler, Bob (2004) The American Association Milwaukee BrewersCharleston SC, Chicago IL, Portsmouth NH, San Francisco CA: Arcadia Publishing

A few answers (but more questions) on in-stadium replay

By Nathan Petrashek

Miller-Park-scoreboard_display_imageWe’re tardy by a couple weeks on this, but earlier this month, @akschaaf from Ron Roenicke Stole My Baseball got busy handicapping a JSOnline chat with Brewers beat writer Tom Haudricourt. It’s always fun to watch a trainwreck, and especially fun to watch it with the RRSMB guys, so make sure you check out their continuing series of posts.   But one question in particular caught my eye.  Steve in Cedarburg wanted to know who’s in charge of replay at Miller Park, and complains that there’s “never a replay of a close play-ever!” And he wants to know if this is because the Brewers are just stingy, or part of some MLB-imposed mandate to obscure the truth.

A few years ago, Brewers Chief Operating Officer Rick Schlesinger (then Executive Vice President of Business Operations) addressed this topic at a Marquette University Law School forum (video here).  It’s a long interview, but there’s some fantastic inside baseball stuff there.  Anyway, at the time, the Brewers were getting ready to debut their shiny new 5,940 square-foot marvel of a scoreboard, and Schlesinger was asked about replay:

Q: When you’re talking about the scoreboard and instant replay, having gone to Bucks and Packers games, you can always see controversial plays on their scoreboard, but you can’t for the Brewers. I’m guessing that’s the umpire’s union?

A:  That’s one of the areas where I think Major League Baseball rules are antiquated, and behind the times, and need drastic reform.  Think about it, you go to another sporting event and you can see replays of controversial plays. You go to a baseball game, and because of MLB regulations, very restrictive guidelines about what we can show, we’re not allowed to show controversial plays where the umpires made the wrong call.  It’s really a vestige of the old “Kill the Ump!” mentality, which I think expired in 1947 or 1948 but still exists in the minds of some of those in baseball.

The other thing I find somewhat funny is that you have people at the game watching our game feed; if there’s a bad call by the umpires, you’re seeing it 7 or 8 times on replay on Fox Sports Wisconsin, whether you’re in your seat on a handheld device,* or in a suite, or in the concourses.  So you already have a segment of our market in the ballpark, seeing what other people can’t see, and now I have this 5,940 square feet of high definition scoreboard, and we’re restricted with what we can show.  I have talked to the Commissioner, and I know other teams have as well.  There’s sensitivity because of the umpires, but I think technology doesn’t really care about sensitivities, and I expect those rules to be reformed. I’ve also told our people candidly that we can push the envelope.  I mean, we want to play by the rules, we’re in Milwaukee two miles from the Commissioner’s office, and I don’t want to get fined, but that doesn’t mean we can’t sort of go right up to the edge of what’s allowed.  And if we get a warning letter from MLB that we’re being a little too aggressive with replay, well … okay.  So I totally agree with you, I would love to change the rules.  It will happen, it’s just not happening as fast as I would like.

Naturally, you might be asking, “What are those rules?”  Truth be told, we don’t know.  According to Schlesinger, they’re not for public consumption, but he told me they try to balance the “fans’ interest in seeing replays of close plays while protecting the safety of the umpires and avoiding inciting arguments on the field.”  Don Walker from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel appears to have gotten his hands on the MLB rules in 2010, but it’s not clear if this is the official guidance given to clubs or if these rules are still current.  In any case, he wrote:

The Brewers rely on MLB policy, which states, “Clubs must continue to use good judgment not to ‘show up’ the umpires, incite the crowd or distract players, but this admonition does not preclude showing close plays. Close plays may be shown, using good judgment and all plays must be reviewed by the scoreboard operator prior to being replayed on the scoreboard (and video monitors).”

Additionally, MLB won’t allow certain plays. They are: replays showing called balls or strikes from the current game or series; brushback pitches; or any instance where an umpire has clearly made an incorrect call.

Close plays can only be shown once and no close plays may be shown in slow motion or freeze frame.

If that is official MLB policy, it seems to leave plenty of wiggle room to show controversial plays at Miller Park.  The universe of absolutely prohibited replays is pretty small.  No balls and strikes, no pitches designed to move the batter off the plate, and no replays where the umpire has “clearly” made an incorrect call.  But “clearly” implies discretion and should be read hand-in-hand with the directive that a replay only be shown once and at game speed.  Say, for example, the runner is called out on a close play at first.  The scoreboard operator could replay if, at game speed, it appears the catch arrived simultaneously with the runner – even if super slow motion would show the runner beating the catch by a hair.

So, are the Brewers just stingy, or is it a massive MLB cover-up?  The answer seems to be “both.”  MLB doesn’t want fans at the game to see what *really* happened because they’re afraid of fan (or perhaps even player or manager) retaliation. But despite Schlesinger’s calls for increased latitude, the team just doesn’t seem interested in pushing the envelope as far as they could.  Based on my own personal experience, as an attendee of a good 30+ games every year, any play that could reasonably be called controversial seems to be off-limits at Miller Park.  Of course, without some system to compare the use of in-stadium replay to the television feed, it’s impossible to evaluate whether the team is appropriately blocking bad calls or taking a more expensive view of the rule.  Then again, if the team only refused to replay clearly incorrect calls, it’d be pretty obvious when there was an umpshow.

Even if the Brewers could do more within current policy, though, the underlying justification for the policy in the first place seems to have eroded.  Perhaps the rule made sense when there was a real fear of fan retaliation.  But as anyone who checks John Axford’s Twitter timeline can tell you, today’s fan is just as likely to be incited by a blown save as a blown call.  Yet I don’t see anyone lining up to prohibit road teams from hitting walk-off home runs.  Hell, I barely see anyone brave security to have their 30-second run on the field anymore.  Games are a very tightly controlled environment and fans just aren’t likely to risk their own well-being to physically engage an umpire or player.

But more than that, today’s high definition world values more information.  What fans won’t get at the game, they can get on TV or online instantly – and why would any team want to make attending a game less attractive?  Everyone knows umpires are not infallible, and most fans will understand (if not forgive) an occasional lapse in judgment as long as the umpire shows some sign of humility.  That’s exactly the trait Jim Joyce demonstrated when he apologized for blowing one of the biggest calls in history a few years ago, depriving Armando Galarraga of a perfect game with one out remaining.

So what is MLB really protecting with its restrictive replay policy?  Nothing more than the right of the umpire to be wrong and arrogant.  Unfortunately, there are plenty of those types already in baseball.  Let’s not encourage them to remain that way.

*Mr. Schlesinger was perhaps unaware of MLB.tv’s draconian blackout policy.