No Regrets From Brew Crew's Counsell

by Tyler Young

You may have heard that Craig Counsell, the manager of the Milwaukee Brewers, has a pretty neat backstory. His dad worked in the Brewers public relations department when Counsell was a kid. Counsell grew up, spent 15 years in the majors as a player, including seven in Milwaukee. Now, he has led his hometown team to the doorstep of the second World Series berth in franchise history. The way that Counsell is managing, however, shows that he’s more than just a feel good story.

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Counsell was named manager of the Brewers back in May of 2015 after the team had started the season poorly under Ron Roenicke. It’s no coincidence that, since then, the team has seen their win total jump a bit each year, culminating with a 96-67 record and an NL Central title in 2018.

This is a team with limited starting pitcher talent. They accumulated just 9.4 fWAR as a unit this season, the lowest of any NL playoff team and 17th in all of baseball. Counsell has shown a great understanding of this weakness during the postseason and has been careful to not overexpose his hurlers. It’s worked: Wade Miley has a 1.23 ERA and .185 batting average against over 14.2 innings pitched, Jhoulys Chacin has yet to allow a run in 10.1 innings and Brandon Woodruff is sporting a 2.61 ERA and .156 batting average against in 10.1 innings as well.

Despite the lack of innings from the “rotation”, the Brewers manager has been wisely conservative with his stud-filled bullpen. For example, Josh Hader looks just as unhittable in October as he did during the summer, but Counsell has protected his young reliever and will now have him fresh for a decisive game seven. Closer Jeremy Jeffress has struggled in the postseason, but remains important to their winning formula. Counsell has handed him slightly lower leverage appearances as a result.

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On top of that, Counsell is getting creative. In game five of the NLCS, he sent the left-handed Miley out to the mound only to remove him after one batter for the right-handed Woodruff. It was a move intended to force the Dodgers to start a heavily right-handed lineup. It would up only half-working as Dodgers manager Dave Roberts started several key left-handed batters anyway, like Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy, but it also kept Yasiel Puig, a right-handed hitter with reverse splits, out of the lineup.

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A team can only go as far as the players on the roster take them. But a manager with a unique way of thinking can increase their team’s chances of winning by the smallest of margins. So, if the Brewers do go on to win the World Series, Craig Counsell won’t be the main reason why it happened, but he is certainly putting them in the best position to make it a reality.