What the Crew can learn from the Deer

When John Hammond became the general manager the first move he made was also his best move so far.  He hired Scott Skiles.  As I said at the time, the two decade long dark era of bungling defense and mediocre win production had finally ended the day Coach Skiles “walked through that door”.  It was not only the best hire possible, it was the only path available to the team back to respectability, or anywhere near that level.  When you play in a small market like Milwaukee, you have to add value where it comes cheapest — defense.

The usual path, hire some superstars, is too erratic and time consuming.  The Deer would have a hard time assembling a team that was loaded with high powered offensive players, anyway.  They did it in the early millenium, but that was a fart in the wind. (the Big 3 on that team did not actually include Glenn Robinson — the Big 3 win producers  were Ray Allen, Sam Cassell, and unsung, unloved Ervin “Tragic” Johnson.  When Johnson’s win production fell off the next season, the team went back to .500%)

Instead, the Bucks are doing it the right way, the cost effective way — the way they did it in the days made famous by the Academy Award winning movie “Hot Tub Time Machine“.  (Actually, when I say “cost-effective”, there’s really no such thing in terms of “dollar cost” in the “Zsa Zsa Gabor” NBA pay structure.  What I mean by “cost” is the scarcity of really elite level talent — that’s hard to assemble).

The Buck’s greatest sustained winning period in its existence was from 1980 to 1989.  That entire period was driven by a few highly productive all-around players and one of the NBA’s best and most consistently dominant defenses.  That was the only way the team could have sustained such a run.  Defense is always undervalued, and if its dominant, it can turn an affordably efficient offensive team into a big time winner.

The Milwaukee Brewers increasingly unpopular “Canadian Mafia” management team needs to pick up on that, eh.   Stop blaming everything on the pitching.  Sure, the team’s pitching staff is undertalented and underproductive.  But its hardly all their fault.  The main fault lies with what I call “the phantom menace” — the team’s sieve-like positional defense.   Actually sieve implies a “small” hole, doesn’t it? The Brewers diamond lineup is like a bullet riddled Wiley Coyote.

According to “Stat of the Week”, the Brewers are the very worst team in baseball at turning hit balls into outs.  Understand, I’m not talking about errors.  Get that out of your head.  That’s not how to judge a baseball defense.   I’m talking about “range factor” UZR as the Sabers call it.  I’m talking about the ball that rolls past Rickie Weeks just two short feet to his left and dribbles into the outfield for a cheap hit.  That’s a ball that would have been an out on most teams.  By routinely failing to make those kind of “invisible outs” the Brewers have produced a situation where only the very best pitchers can succeed in Milwaukee… high strike out pitchers, ie expensive pitchers.

That’s a recipe for missing the playoffs for another 25 or so seasons… the Brewers can’t afford the very best pitchers.

They need to get smart.  They need to take a page from the beloved Deer.  Instead of waiting for the day that will never come when they can afford a fleet of Bentleys, the Brewers need to instead “pimp their rides”.  Hire some out producers like the Oakland A’s do, cheap players who will augment the value of a middle market pitching staff by getting them extra outs per game… instead of forcing them to work for extra outs per game.

The smart kids are all doing it.  The slow kids can’t see it.  Look at the very best defensive teams on “Stat of the Week”.  You can generalize — by and large — that these are among the very best run teams in baseball.  Now look at the teams at the bottom.  Duhhh.  Ouch.


5 Responses to “What the Crew can learn from the Deer”

  1. Abe Says:

    That’s still only 3 losses. While the defense has been bad this year, an inconsistant offense and a poor pitching staff have led to the demise of this year’s team, not to mention a DREADFUL CF. If Dewin only has Gomez as +4, he needs to go. Viva de Lorenzo Cain!

    • tywill33 Says:

      Et tu, Abe? Nobody likes defense! kidding. Isn’t that fucker Gomez clueless?? Hey pal, learn to go back on a ball without looking like a drunk!! Why are they not playing Cain???

  2. JoeHova Says:

    I disagree with the all defense strategy. For one, the measurement of defense is far more prone to error than the measurement of offense is (in baseball, at least). Look at Seattle, they were an all-time great defense last season and actually tried to upgrade defensively at a couple positions (Kotchman, full season of Jack Wilson) and now they’re run of the mill defensively.

    Another thing I’ve noticed is that in baseball, offense is much more valuable than defense because there is a 3rd variable, unlike in basketball. Pitching is a big part of defense and while a defense can make a pitcher look better or worse, there is a limit to that effect.

    For example, I wrote this up a couple months ago, but: “In the AL last year, the spread between the top offense and the bottom offense was 275 runs and the best offense was 134 runs better than the average one. Meanwhile, the spread between the best defense and the worst was 135 runs (measured with UZR) and the best was 87 runs better than average (the average team UZR in the AL last year was -1.2).”

    This seems to say to me that offense is more valuable/important than defense. Perhaps I’m missing something but it seems to me that given two teams with identical pitching, it’s better to have the one with the great offense and terrible defense than the one with the great defense and terrible offense because they will win more games.

    I realize that you are mostly just saying that defense is enough cheaper than offense that a team with a mid-level payroll can more easily field a good team with defense as the focal point but I don’t see a lot of evidence for that. You mention that the list of good defensive teams is similar to the list of well-run teams. Well, every team in contention for a playoff spot (that is to say, within 5 games of a division lead) in either league is at least league average in terms of runs per game. The recent fetishization of defense is fine but a lot of people have taken it too far, imo.

    The Brewers have gone wrong because their pitching is garbage, not because their defense has cost them a few runs. UZR has the team as a whole at -24.5 runs. Going into tonight, they had played 103 games. That means their defense (by UZR) has cost them .24 runs per game. That seems like a lot until you realize that if you subtract that from their runs allowed per game, they move from 15th in the NL to 14th. Let’s go farther and give them the best defense in baseball. That saves them another .42 runs per game. That moves them all the way up to 12th in the NL.

  3. Jerbil Says:

    Good to see your old chart from Bucks Diary on the Skiles Effect. There are two (compensating) errors in the “Skiles effect” column: See Eddy Curry and Oliver Miller. Anyway, the numbers are pretty amazing.

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