Craig Counsell’s playing career with the Brewers was already pretty much over. The team said early in the offseason they wouldn’t be bringing him back, and have added a few Counsell-like players over the past couple months. Today, Counsell’s playing career officially comes to a close, with the announcement of his retirement and hiring as Special Assistant to the General Manager.
Counsell has always seemed like a baseball lifer, so it’s really no surprise that he quickly found work. When the Brewers told him they wouldn’t be bringing him back as a player, Counsell said he would weigh offers for jobs both on the field and off. More details about his new job with the Brewers will be announced later this afternoon, but right now we know that he’s staying home for a “significant role.” It appears he won’t just be a glorified intern.
Counsell’s on-field career with the Brewers didn’t have as many memorable moments as his stints with the Marlins and Diamondbacks did, but he was always a fan favorite due to his local ties. As a player, he wasn’t all that spectacular — just your typical middle infield reserve with a good glove and not much power. Still, he was capable enough to surprise you. In 2009, he played in 130 games at 38 years old, and hit .285/.357/.408. With Rickie Weeks out for much of the year and J.J. Hardy and Bill Hall being totally ineffective, Counsell’s production was big in fielding a competent team that season.
That year would prove to be Counsell’s last gasp, and at times it was hard to watch him hit over the past couple years. It seems like every time they show a clip of Aroldis Chapman on MLB Network, Counsell is one of the guys hopelessly flailing at a 100 MPH fastball. While many guys struggle to hit Chapman, it was a little sad seeing Counsell up in those situations knowing he had almost no chance of making contact. It wasn’t just the hard throwers that gave Counsell problems the past couple years, either — he struggled to make solid contact against just about everyone. According to PITCH f/x data, pitchers gave Counsell a fastball 62.7% of the time, and he struggled mightily against them. FanGraphs had him at 6.7 runs below average against fastballs for the 2011 season. Counsell’s line drive rate also dropped over 3.5% from 2010 to 2011, while the groundball rate rose over 5%. Then, of course, there was the sad story of Counsell’s 50 plate appearance hitless streak (although I do think the story was blown a little out of proportion in national circles, considering the streak took place over two months).
Despite the anemic bat, Counsell was able to provide enough value with his glove to remain above replacement level. Before the team traded for Jerry Hairston, he was the go-to replacement at shortstop or third base when Ron Roenicke wanted to improve the infield defense late in games. Even after the Hairston deal, Counsell continued to provide value with the glove, although playing time did diminish. Counsell only made four plate appearances in the 2011 postseason and did not reach base.
In the end, Counsell will be remembered fondly among Brewers fans. If there wasn’t such a logjam to get into the Brewers Walk of Fame, I’d say he has a pretty good shot of someday making it. We’ll find out soon what Counsell will be doing for the Brewers in 2012, but it still wouldn’t surprise me to see him manage the team someday in the future.