Milwaukee Brewers: DH allowing Counsell to play matchups

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - JULY 04: Manager Craig Counsell of the Milwaukee Brewers looks on during Summer Workouts at Miller Park on July 04, 2020 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - JULY 04: Manager Craig Counsell of the Milwaukee Brewers looks on during Summer Workouts at Miller Park on July 04, 2020 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

With the designated hitter implemented in both leagues this year, the Milwaukee Brewers have been able to pinch-hit for position players and play matchups.

With the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League, the few position players on the bench needed to be conserved in every season before this one so they could hit in the pitcher’s spot when needed. With that spot gone from the batting order, however, manager Craig Counsell is free to pinch hit for other batters to get favorable matchups.

The Brewers this season have a few platoons that this directly affects most often. First, is at catcher with Manny Pina hitting against left-handed pitchers and Omar Narvaez hitting against righties. The other main platoon is at third base with Eric Sogard to face righties and Jedd Gyorko to face lefties.

In the first two games of the season, the lineup stayed the same, but in each of the five games since there have been multiple pinch-hit situations. The third base platoon may be the most prominent, in fact, neither Gyorko nor Sogard have stayed on the bench for the entirety of the game since Counsell started using pinch hitters in the third game of the season.

Sometimes it’s a simple switch like in the second game of the series against the Pirates when Sogard came in for Gyorko to face right-hander Chris Stratton who was relieving the left-handed Derek Holland who started the game. Then, in the ninth inning, Narvaez came in to face righty Nick Burdi in favor of Pina.

It isn’t always quite that simple, though. In the first game of the Pirates series, Sogard came in early for Arcia at shortstop. In the Brewers’ big 4-run inning in the 9th, Logan Morrison pinch hit for Pina and Narvaez hit for Gyorko. Brock Holt then came off the bench to play third base, and Narvaez took over catching duties.

That’s not the only time they made multiple switches in one inning and shifted around in the field. Two days later, Gyorko hit for Holt in the seventh and then in the 8th Braun hit for Morrison and then was pinch ran for by Arcia. In the bottom of the inning, Arcia came in to play shortstop while Sogard rotated to third, and Gyorko moved across the diamond to first.

Having the freedom to be able to use bench players for matchups instead of solely hitting for the pitcher is a huge tool at Counsell’s disposal, and he’s used it a lot so far. It’s by no means a 100 percent effective strategy, but over the course of 60 games, it could decide a few close ones with a few key at-bats.

These are the kind of decisions that give you an edge over the course of a season, not always in the short term. Through seven games, Milwaukee Brewers’ pinch hitters are 2 for 15 with a double and three walks. That may look bad, but Brewer hitting as a whole hasn’t been great, and hopefully, analytics and matchups will catch up with them, and they can start finding some big hits from pinch hitters.

The other effect of having the designated hitter is not having to make a tough decision about whether to pull a pitcher who is throwing a good game in favor of a pinch hitter who could spark something on offense. This came into play last Wednesday with Brandon Woodruff on the mound as he was allowed to go out for the seventh without much of a second thought because even though the ninth spot in the order came around in the top of the inning, he wasn’t going to be batting.

Now, maybe Woodruff would have hit for himself anyway as he is one of the best hitting pitchers in the league. However, the night prior, Brent Suter either would have had to exit after only one inning of work or had to hit in the middle of a huge inning for the Brewers. Instead, Arcia, who was hitting in the ninth spot, cranked a double off of Miguel Del Pozo to score to runs.

Even the night before that, with the Brewers down 1-0 and Adrian Houser looking strong through four innings, only making one mistake to a red hot Colin Moran that he took deep, they avoided having to make a decision.

Counsell has never been afraid of short starts, and with runs at a premium at that point in the game, along with being down a run, he would’ve had a tough decision to make. There was no decision to be made, however, because Houser was never going to hit and got to go out for the fifth and finish off a really good night.

There were also similar situations with Suter and Eric Lauer in the Cubs series to start the season. Having a designated hitter makes those decisions between a pitcher who’s going good and a possible shot in the arm on offense nonexistent. It’s one less thing Counsell has to think about in a hectic season.

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Make no mistake, though; he is still doing all he can to put his guys in the best position to win and trying to exploit any matchup advantage that he can. Both in pitching and hitting, finding the right matchups to gain slight edges over the opponent should pay off in the long run and help the Milwaukee Brewers into the postseason.