Milwaukee Brewers: How will short season change Counsell’s managing?

MIAMI, FL - JULY 09: Manager Craig Counsell #30 of the Milwaukee Brewers calls the bullpen in the fourth inning against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park on July 9, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - JULY 09: Manager Craig Counsell #30 of the Milwaukee Brewers calls the bullpen in the fourth inning against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park on July 9, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

Major League Baseball will be playing a 60-game season, so how will that change how Craig Counsell manages the Milwaukee Brewers?

After weeks and months of frustrating negotiating, we will finally have baseball in 2020. Players will be reporting on July 1st and the season will start just three weeks later. This quick turnaround is exciting for baseball fans, but it will still be a very short season. However, it may give the Milwaukee Brewers an interesting advantage.

After the rule changes that were supposed to be put in place this season like the three batter minimum for pitchers and smaller September rosters in favor of one extra player for the entire year, it seemed there would be no more bullpen craziness and double switch madness in September for Craig Counsell and his ragtag gang of platoon players. However, this could all change with the shortened MLB season.

First, let’s talk about exactly how rosters will be structured. Each team will bring 60 players to spring training that they can then make their final roster from. The active rosters on Opening Day will consist of 30 players, then drop to 28 after two weeks, and 26 players two weeks after that.

The other players in the 60-man player pool would stay at a facility near their home park. It is unclear how easily players can be switched in and out from the active roster to the player pool and whether it would use up minor league options to do so, but there certainly will be cases where players can be brought up from that pool to the active roster.

There are really three things that point to Counsell being able to do some version of his September routine: The expanded active roster for the first few weeks, the possibility of bringing players in from their player pool, and simply the shortened nature of the season.

The expanded roster of 30 players gives the Milwaukee Brewers plenty of arms to work with. Most teams don’t need to carry more than 12 or 13 position players, especially with the universal DH now in play that takes away a lot of pinch-hitting opportunities.

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Even if the Brewers took 14 hitters, that still leaves them with at least 16 pitchers which would mean 11 in the bullpen if they employ a 5-man rotation. This is plenty of arms to mix and match without burning anyone out, especially if guys like Brandon Woodruff, Josh Lindblom, or Brett Anderson can get deep into a game once in a while and let the bullpen mostly take a day off.

Then at 28 players, there will still be enough guys ready and waiting in the bullpen to let a guy like Brent Suter pitch a solid 4 or 5 innings and then hand it over to the relievers to take it the rest of the way.

That is really the way that the Milwaukee Brewers have won games down the stretch in the past two years. By doing just enough offensively to get a lead and play matchups with relievers so hitters never see the same pitcher more than once and rarely allow the starter to go through the order a third time letting hitters figure him out. At 26 players, it gets trickier, but that’s where the other guys in Milwaukee’s player pool could come in.

Again, it is unclear what the rules will be for having players on the active roster swapped with others in the player pool and how often they’ll be able to do it. However, there has to be some process for sending guys up and down and I believe that Counsell, in collaboration with David Stearns who makes the official roster moves, will exploit this the best he can and use it to his advantage.

If you’ve ever heard a David Stearns interview, you know that he loves using the phrase “organizational depth” and it may be more important now than it ever has been or ever will be again.

Having 30 players in reserve, then eventually 34 when the rosters shrink to 26, will be a huge measure of every franchise’s organizational depth. Having quality players to bring up in a pinch and arms to use when the bullpen is burnt out will be extremely valuable. Also, with the Covid-19 pandemic, there is always risks of players contracting the virus and the Milwaukee Brewers may be one of the best-equipped teams to handle that in terms of roster makeup.

Finally, there is the fact that it is only a 60-game season. Because of this, the long term effects on pitcher’s arms, and fatigue that builds up over the course of a usual 162 games is significantly reduced. This means there could be more 3-inning outings from Josh Hader, more starts on short rest for Brandon Woodruff, and relievers being able to take on a slightly bigger workload if they’re pitching well. Exhausting the bullpen is always on a manager’s mind, and it still will be, but the impact of that is not quite as great with just over a third of the games.

The bottom line is that the three things outlined here that free up Craig Counsell to do so much more than he could do in any regular two months inside of a full season. They don’t give him all of his September powers back, but they do give him the freedom to manage his team playing to the strengths of the roster and the analytical knowledge that people in the organization work hard to get him.

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Baseball is finally back and it will be a wild ride with only 60 games and Counsell at the helm. Only two weeks ago, the only exciting news on the Milwaukee Brewers front was Garrett Mitchell and the rest of the draft picks, but now we have real baseball to talk about and not much could be better than that. Especially when we get 60 games of bullpen madness. It won’t always be enjoyable, relievers still give up runs too, but it’ll keep us all on the edge of our seats.