Milwaukee Brewers' Slow Starts a Big Problem Under Ron Roenicke

By Tim Muma
Ron Roenicke
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

We all know MLB is a marathon, not a sprint. We also hear how it’s not how you start, but how you finish. And finally, many people argue the games in April (sometimes March) and May aren’t as important as the ones in August and September (or October). These are all dripping with half-truths, because every game counts the same — literally.

Until they start handing out extra wins for each victorious outcome in the final two months, let’s get away from this whole, “more important” idea.

The fact is, when your club goes 6-22 in May like last year’s Milwaukee Brewers, it will essentially render the September games completely meaningless. So in a way, the April and May games are more important because they always matter. One axiom is certainly true: you can’t win a pennant in April or May, but you can lose one.

In three seasons with Ron Roenicke at the helm, the Brewers have had their struggles in the first pair of months. From Opening Day through May, the Brewers are 73-86 (.459) since 2011. May has been extremely troublesome as Milwaukee owns an 18-38 (.321) record during the past two seasons, and 35-50 back to 2011.

The first half of the season as a whole has been problematic during the last two campaigns:

2013:  38-56 (.404) — second-worst in the National League

2012:  40-45 (.471) — 11th out of 15 teams in the NL

Even adding in the 2011 mark of 45-40 in the first half, the Brewers are just 127-144 (.469) through the All-Star break. Considering the 2011 squad won a franchise-record 96 games, 45 is a slow start as well. That shows a consistent issue with early-season play, regardless of the team’s overall success.

It all comes down to pitching and being properly prepared in those early months. Protecting players’ arms and building them up correctly are extremely important facets, and Rick Kranitz and company are failing in these areas. Yovani Gallardo and Wily Peralta have especially been mishandled recently.

There are two separate issues that may arise when building up a pitcher’s arm: too few pitches heading into the season or adding pitches to quickly. There is plenty of time to get the hurlers’ arms into gear and ready for regular action, but you also need to know how much is too much at a time. I’m not arguing a pitcher throw 100 times in a preseason contest, but the consistency needs to change.

Many guys end up reaching 65-75 pitches as their highest total in a spring game. The problem is that they’re only doing this one time and it’s typically the second-to-last start. This makes zero sense as the arm hasn’t been pushed to throw back-to-back games with a realistic pitch count.

What happens come April? Now that pitcher tosses 80 or 90 pitches in an outing, then comes back to do it again in five days, followed by another start with a similar count after never being close to that in spring. The result is limited effectiveness, poor command and severe fatigue at the end of April and into May. And it’s not just the number of pitches, but innings also matter because of the “start and stop” impact of resting between innings.

The other issue is trying to raise a pitcher’s total too quickly. Jumping from 25 pitches in one start to 65 in the next can damage the arm and slow the buildup process. There needs to be early, gradual throwing both in games and in-between starts. This also includes more innings to simulate what happens once the season starts.

Finding the sweet spot of throwing and resting is clearly a difficult concept to accurately handle, despite more information and technology. The fact remains, the Brewers’ early-season struggles can be attributed directly to the pitching and the staff’s inability to properly prepare their key arms.

The Brewers are 100-66 (.602) during August, September and October under Roenicke, a terrific record to hang one’s hat on. Unfortunately, 53 of those victories were essentially meaningless due to their horrid record in April and May the past two seasons. A win is a win is a win, and the Brewers need to understand how much those matter in March, April and May as well.

 Tim Muma is a Milwaukee Brewers writer for Follow him on  Twitter @brewersblend, “Like” him on Facebook, or add him to your network on Google.

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