http://host.madison.com/content/tncms/assets/editorial/9/6d/965/96d9652c-af1e-11de-b60e-001cc4c002e0.image.jpg" alt="TOM OATES" width="108" height="103" align="left" />General manager Doug Melvin said it after the Milwaukee Brewers experienced a rough stretch a few weeks ago and third baseman Casey McGehee repeated it after the team went 0-for-6 on its last homestand.
Like any baseball manager, they said, Ken Macha can only do so much.
“He hasn’t thrown a pitch, he hasn’t hit a ball, he hasn’t made an error,” McGehee said. “I think sometimes managers get too much credit and too much blame. When it isn’t going right, it isn’t going right. You know what I’m saying? There’s nothing you can say or do. He’s trying to keep us all together and we’re all fighting.”
Of course, expressing support for the manager is a familiar refrain for a team that has lost eight in a row like Milwaukee has. A fair number of Brewers fans, on the other hand, are muttering an equally familiar refrain: Fire the manager.
But should the Brewers make a change in the dugout?
In a word, no. Not yet, anyway.
Macha might be as dry as day-old toast, but he has a track record of success, isn’t afraid to embrace modern technology in his team’s preparation and has kept the Brewers playing hard despite a 15-24 start. Unless there is a tangible reason to dismiss Macha, replacing him would be a futile gesture made only to placate fans and sell a few more tickets.
But firing the manager doesn’t keep fans interested, playing winning baseball does, and winning consistently requires better players than the Brewers have. Indeed, Milwaukee doesn’t have an effort issue this season, it has a performance issue, and much of that is out of Macha’s hands.
Sometimes, a change at the top can shake up a team and improve performance. But no one is questioning how hard to the Brewers are playing, so to change for the sake of change makes little sense.
As much as people want to blame the manager for the Brewers’ record, remember it wasn’t Macha who assembled this team, it was Melvin. Macha is trying to win with a roster filled with holes, a problem that runs much deeper than the manager.
Is a new manager going to add 5 mph to the fastballs of Jeff Suppan, Doug Davis and Dave Bush? Can a new manager get Prince Fielder to stop worrying about his contract and start hitting home runs? Can a new manager lead Trevor Hoffman to the fountain of youth?
Sorry, not going to happen.
More important, many of the decisions that have backfired on Macha — particularly those related to the beleaguered bullpen — weren’t managerial decisions, they were organizational decisions.
For instance, is Macha to blame for Hoffman, baseball’s all-time leader in saves, blowing more saves (five) in the first 39 games than he blew all last year? Of course not. Hoffman was signed to be the closer and any manager in baseball would have used him in that role despite the possibility that he would suddenly stop fooling hitters at age 42.
Oh, and just as using Hoffman in the ninth inning wasn’t the manager’s decision, removing him from that role won’t be entirely Macha’s call, either.
Similarly, Macha isn’t responsible for keeping two extra starters on the roster because they were out of minor-league options and the Brewers wanted them around to provide depth for the rotation and, in Suppan’s case, to avoid eating his $12 million contract. But with Suppan and Manny Parra in unfamiliar roles as relievers, Macha’s bullpen options were greatly reduced and there was no room — until injuries hit, anyway — to add pitchers from a red-hot bullpen at Class AAA Nashville.
Macha has also angered fans and perhaps cost his team a game or two with his slavish devotion to pitch counts. But, again, his hands are tied. He is merely working under an organization-wide edict to limit the pitch counts of starters.
Macha keeps saying the problems this season are mostly bullpen-related, and he’s right. Hoffman cost the Brewers another game Tuesday at Cincinnati, wasting 8½ strong innings by the Brewers when he gave up three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning without getting an out.
Has Macha done everything right this season? Absolutely not. But until the Brewers stop playing hard for him or start ignoring his instructions, there is nothing for the team to gain from a knee-jerk reaction like firing the manager.