We figured we’d wrap up the season by covering some Ron’s greatest, play-off denying blunders. These are in no particular order, you can all decide which was the stupidest decision of the year, but we’re going to start with a little something I like to call:
John Axford pitches on 4 consecutive days because DERP!
If you painstakingly go back through John Axford’s game logs you will discover that before 2012 he had never, not once, pitched on 4 consecutive days. In 2012 he did so not once, but twice.
As you know, we here at RRSMB believe that “Closers” are not things. “Closers” are relief pitchers that have magical duties assigned to them by cowardly managers afraid to actually manage. One of those magical duties is to pitch whenever your team is ahead by 3 runs or fewer in the 9th inning even if it means pitching a million days in a row and pitching the last 500,000 of those with your other arm because your good arm fell off.
John Axford did not have a good season, but it’s entirely possible that much wailing and gnashing of teeth could have been avoided had RRR simply used John Axford in a less abusive manner.
Before his first go at 4 consecutive days Axford hadn’t been stellar, but he had gotten the job done and many of the issues he was having were the result of a .410 BABIP. He had allowed a ton of base runners as he’d walked 9 men* in 15.1 innings while allowing 16 hits, but he’d bailed himself out time and time again with 26 SOs. I remember thinking early this season that everything was falling in against Axford and that really was the case.
From May 27th thru May 30th Axford threw 81 pitches on four consecutive days. In March and April batters hit .273/.385/.303 off of Ax (you can see the high BABIP driving the batting average and OBP), but Ax was keeping it in the park. In May they hit .200/.294/.311 with a 2.31 ERA as his BABIP started to normalize around .333. He struck out 18 and walked only 5. He saved 5 games while blowing one, and that one was the infamous May 11th game against the Cubs where the Brewers blew 2 saves and still won the game. Ax finished up May with the 4-game stretch. Then in June:
.231/.348/.615, 7 walks, 4 HRs (after not allowing any HRs to that point), 9.00 ERA.
Axford’s first appearance in June was on June 3rd against the Pirates. He entered the game trailing 5-4. The first batter he faced was Clint Barmes, who promptly took him deep. It was the first home run allowed by Axford on the year, and it put the Brewers in 6-4 hole which is important because Brooks Conrad led off the next inning with a HR to cut it to 6-5, the eventual final score. Axford didn’t figure in the decision, but the Barmes HR was decisive. In June he would save 3, Blow 3, and suffer a loss in a non-save situation.
Other lowlights included his blown save against the Blue Jays on June 19th in which Colby Rasmus and Jose Bautista hit back to back HRs against him, and a loss to Cincinnati in which he gave up the winning run, a home run by Drew Stubbs to lead off the 8th.
This is purely correlation of course. Maybe Ax would have struggled just as much even if he hadn’t thrown 81 high-effort pitches in a four day period. Ron Roenicke, ever the scientist, decided to repeat the experiment, at the start of July against Arizona and Miami. Axford would pitch on four consecutive days from July 1st through July 4th throwing 66 pitches.
July was not as bad as June, but it was still bad. He gave up 3 HRs, and 14 hits and batters slugged .436 against him. Unlike the start of the season, his BABIP was only .306. so he wasn’t just seeing balls fall in. He was getting pounded.
After the 4th of July Axford would next pitch on July 8th against the lowly Astros. He would get the save but not without some serious danger. Chris Snyder and Matt Dominguez would lead off with singles and Jordan Schafer would bunt them over to 2nd and third. Ax made the most of that free out by striking out Altuve and Moore but it continued the trend of Axford almost never having a clean inning. He would allow 2 hits, one of which was a HR in his next appearance against the Pirates. Two games later he would blow his second save of the month with a disastrous performance allowing 3 runs on 3 hits while walking 2 in only two thirds of an inning. This led directly to the dreaded K-Rod experiment. The less said about that the better.
Axford only tossed 9 innings in August and his superficial numbers remained bad, but a closer look shows that with some rest and a more reasonable usage patter he started to return to normal once again. He didn’t give up a HR, batters hit .289/.391/.289 against him. Walks were an issue but a .423 BABIP made it look it look worse than it was.
He finished up strong in September posting a 2.93 ERA, (and enjoying a favorable BABIP for once).
There’s no way for me to prove decisively that throwing on 4 consecutive days destroyed John Axford for months at a time, and I’m sure there will be some skeptics (as there should be), but just consider that:
1. Prior to this season Axford never threw on four consecutive days and therefore hadn’t experienced that kind of workload.
2. There was no reason to use Axford 4 days in a row. On May 28th, Axford’s 2nd straight day pitching, only he and K-Rod pitched. The entire rest of the bullpen had at least one day’s rest for the 29th. On the 29th Axford and K-Rod were both the only relievers used AGAIN meaning on the 30th the entire rest of the bullpen had at least 2 days rest. On the 30th, Axford’s 4th day in a row, K-Rod pitched his 3rd day in a row. Manny Parra also made an appearance.
3. That May 30th game? You’re maybe thinking it was a close, tense, extra-inning nail-biter or something that required the team’s best relievers (and Manny Parra)? It was not. The Brewers enjoyed a fairly comfortable 3 run lead. It was barely a save situation as Axford was called on to retire the dangerous AJ Ellis, Dee Gordon, Jerry Hairston Jr., and Elian Herrera (after Gordon walked). Again, Ron Roenicke put John Axford out there to throw pitches 63-81 with a 3-run lead against some real garbage. Managing!
4. Axford was a different pitcher after the late may stretch and the normal signs of being unlucky are simply not there (unlike in April and May). It looks like he was a different pitcher.
5. That May 27th game? It wasn’t a save situation. Axford just needed the work because he hadn’t pitched since May 23rd as no save situations came up. So Axford literally went from not pitching 3 days in a row because of the save rule, to pitching 4 days in a row because of the save rule. Managing!
I happen to think it’s criminal to have a relief pitcher throw on 4 consecutive days, especially to adhere to a stupid arbitrary rule about “closers” and “saves”. I’ll leave it to you to decide just how much, if any damage this did to the team and to Axford. I consider it to be managerial malpractice. The bullpen was the primary reason the Brewers missed the playoffs and it’s entirely possible the Ron Roenicke destroyed his best reliever for a 2-month period to preserve a 6-3 lead.
*It’s also worth mentioning that two of those 9 walks came on opening day when the Brewers were trailing the Cardinals 6-2. He started with 2 strikeouts but walked the next 2. Ron pulled him for Kam Loe who promptly gave up a 3-run bomb. After opening day and before the first 4-game stretch Ax walked a much more reasonable 7 in 14 innings while striking out 24. Not too shabby, eh?
** I learned one other interesting fact writing this. It’s getting its own, very small post next. We’ll call that one 1A.