Drew & K.B.

Drew & K.B.

Drew Olson & K.B., afternoons on Milwaukee's Sports Talk That Rocks, 97.3 The Game!Full Bio


Counsell is playing 3-D chess with his bullpen

Brewers manager Craig Counsell (David Bernacchi photo)

This isn't a "View From the Couch," but I felt inspired to publish a few thoughts about Brewers manager Craig Counsell. For starters, we need to forget everything we think about we know about pitching strategy. 

Asked about pitching, Counsell's non-committal answers are frustrating us to no end. Where we talk about starters, innings pitched, and closers, he returns volley with “27 outs”, “initial out-getters” and “final out-getters”. It’s as if he is talking about an entirely different game.

Well, as matter of fact, he is.

The reason for our frustration isn’t because of his elusiveness, it’s because we are trying to apply traditional theory to what is a non-traditional way of viewing the game. Not only is Counsell talking a different game, he’s playing one and when it comes to pitching strategy we’re not even in the same ballpark.

Think of it this way. In the United States our units of measurement are feet, inches, pounds and ounces. However most of the world uses the metric system. Why? Because it’s easier, faster and it’s more efficient. Now, apply the same thinking to the Brewers pitching strategy. We’re using more complicated units of measurement and nomenclature like innings pitched, and middle relievers and closers, because that is the way it’s always been done. We’re caught up in the dogma. But when it comes to pitching strategy it appears Counsell has switched to the metric system. Why? Because it’s easier, faster and more efficient.

It’s entirely different thought process and requires total abandonment of the current units of baseball measurement. You have to retrain your brain and separate yourself from baseball pitching theory as you know it. You have to convince yourself there are no longer nine innings in a game and therefore measuring the durability and effectiveness of your pitcher by innings pitched is a useless measure. The new way thinking has no innings per se. The game has 27 outs and you organize your pitching staff not based on the number of innings they can pitch, but on the number of outs they can deliver, wherever those outs may fall.

The old way talking about a pitching staff is to organize starters, long relievers, short relievers, closers, based on the number of innings they pitch.  The new way would be to classify a pitcher as an 18-20 out guy and the number of innings is just a conversion calculation much like most Americans use when they try to figure out how many miles are in a 5K run. It’s an unnecessary step that complicates rather than simplifies the matter.

Everyone is talking about how Clayton Kershaw can give you 7 innings. In the new baseball world order that means nothing. In the new baseball world order, Kershaw is a 21-out guy. So the Dodgers have a 21-out guy. Good for them. I have Jhoulys Chachin. He’s a great 14 – 16 out guy. That’s what I have to work with so how am I going to set up the rotation?

Instead of thinking get Chachin through the 5th inning and then use someone for innings 6 through 9, my thinking now becomes let’s get 15 outs out of Chachin and figure out how to divvy up the last 12. Knebel and Burnes are 3-6 out guys. Hader is a 2-6 out guy. Jeffress is a 3 out guy. So as a manager I’ve got 23-37 outs to play with.

Now all I have to do is figure out is when to use them. I could use them in the 6th, or the 8th. I could split them between the 6th and the 7th. At the end of the day I have to get 27 outs and have more runs on the board.  Who cares if I do it with a “middle reliever” or “set up guy”? Those are just arbitrary titles/roles created to justify a pitcher’s role, value and worth to the team.

To the fans who say, “why aren’t we using Hader as a closer” I say, you’re being held hostage in the mind of a baseball purist. You have to realize it doesn’t matter what inning Hader delivers his 3 outs in, all that matters is he delivers 3 outs. The traditional roles of middle reliever or set up guy are of no consequence anymore. They have become obsolete so just let it go.

Personally, I think Counsell is a visionary. He is light years ahead of the rest of us. He’s simplified pitching strategy, but has us thinking what he is doing is more complex when it’s not. 12 pitchers. 27 outs a game. No names. No labels. It’s pretty easy. Just like the metric system. We just haven’t figure out how to use it yet.

Then again, I could be wrong.

Listen to KB on "The Drew Olson Show" from 12-3 p.m. on The Big 1070 and 1-3 p.m. on The Big 920. 

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