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Yost Will Be Back

Begin rant.

As you all know by now, Doug Melvin has announced that Yost will return for 2008.  Attanasio had already given him a vote of confidence, and I don't think any of us seriously believed there'd be a hunt for a new manager this offseason.

After following baseball from a sabermetric vantage point over the last several years, I should be used to this sh*t.  But I'm not.  I think people generally agree that baseball managers have two roles:

  • Emotional leader: keeping the players motivated, avoiding clubhouse acrimony, etc.
  • Field tactician: effectively using the 25-man roster to do the best job of winning games.
I think people (at least with sabermetric leanings) also generally agree that most baseball managers are pretty good at the former (if they last long, as Yost has), and not so good at the latter.  That's why guys like Davey Johnson and Earl Weaver--notably good at the field tactician aspect--are held up as heroes.

Here's what makes me angry.  I refuse to believe that there are so few eligible baseball managers out there who are good at field management.  Okay, maybe I am willing to believe that--after all, they all studied at the knee of some other bad field tactician--but given how modern analyst types have infiltrated front offices--up to and including the general manager, in some cases--it seems like managers ought to be better educated.  (And I don't mean that buying a copy of "Baseball Between the Numbers" and having it on display when a reporter stops by is good enough.)

Maybe this is hubris talking, but I'm convinced that if you let me sit down and talk with a receptive major league manager for an hour or two, I could show him how to win--I'm pulling a number out of my hat here--three more games a season, with the same players.  For just one example, I pointed out the other day in my Menchkins Post Mortem that using the two of them in a more strict platoon could've been an extra 1-1.5 wins for the Crew.  Would that have been so hard?

Bullpen management, of course, is the thing that most infuriates us about our managers.  They stick with "proven closers," play matchups when the sample size is five whole at-bats, and ignore the splits data that they should apply, such as Turnbow's results on the second of back-to-back days.

And here, again, is where I get really angry.  I'm guessing many of you have played Strat-o-matic or Diamond Mind.  For those who haven't: they are (now, anyway) computer games with very detailed player information, and your job is basically to manage your team.  Set the lineup, make in-game changes, pick strategy, etc.  , and see what happens.  If you're playing against the computer, the program makes those decisions for the other team.

And you know what?  It (usually) makes good decisions!  I would argue that the computer manager in Strat or Diamond Mind is better at bullpen management than, oh, I don't know, 75% of active managers.  Maybe 100%.  It's simple really: bring in your best reliever when the leverage index is as high as it is likely to get, play lefty-righty matchups, try not to burn your entire pen in one day, and don't pitch guys who are tired.  Funny how far those principles will get you.

That, as I see it, should be the bare minimum of what is expected of major league managers.  A f'ing computer can do it!  If somebody wants to pay me $10,000 to do it (Hi Doug!), I will write you an application you can put on a f'ing BLACKBERRY that will tell a manager when to make pitching changes and who to bring in.  It is not that hard.  

I don't doubt that there are times when human judgment is helpful.  My point isn't that Yost, or anyone else, should manage just like Strat does.  But so long as Strat is better than Ned, Ned has a hell of a lot to learn, and he ought to be more concerned with bringing his skills up to that point than with improving on the computer algorithm at the margins.

Now, as many of you would correctly point out, very little of what I've said so far is specific to Yost.  There are "" websites for more teams than the Brewers.  That's absolutely true.  It's also true that that's a really weak defense of Yost, though one that people frequently use.  Many teams overspend for middle relief help (Hi Mr. Hendry!), but that doesn't mean any GM who does it should be let off the hook.

And, most of all, the fact that "everybody is just as bad" makes it that much more inexcusable for a general manager not to seek out better options.

We're no longer a "small-market team" as measured by payroll (thanks Mark!), but that hardly means we have unlimited resources.  We certainly have many millions fewer than the Cubs do, and that's to say nothing of potential playoff rivals in other divisions.  Point being that we have to make tradeoffs, and every stupid decision means other potentially positive things can't be done.  (That's true even if you're the Yankees.)

I'm digressing a bit here but, on the free-agent market the last few years, one marginal win (say, the difference between winning 82 and 83 games) costs an average of $3 million.  That number is likely to go up.  Where the Brewers are, right on the cusp of the playoffs, each win is potentially "worth" a lot more than that -- think of the 3 wins that would've gotten us from 83 to 86?  How much are those three wins worth to the Brewers organization?  More than $9 mil, I'll tell you that.

You can probably see where I'm going with that.  If you accept my premise that managers (specifically, Yost) could get more out of their 25-man rosters than they currently do, the next logical step is to accept that managers are way more expensive than they seem.  Essentially, Yost made Jenkins and Mench less valuable players by not keeping them in a strict platoon.  He made Cordero a less valuable player by saving him for "save situations."  He made Turnbow less valuable by pitching him on back to back to f'ing back nights.  He made Shouse less valuable by using him against righties.  

Let's say all those screwups meant that Yost's decisions cost the Brewers exactly one win.  (That's low.)  That's essentially the same as saying that keeping Yost as the manager is equivalent to lessening the Brewers payroll by $3 or $4 million.  If you think Yost cost the Brewers three or more wins, that's the same as saying keeping Yost is the same as lowering the payroll by $10MM, and potentially cost the organization WAY more than that in postseason revenue.

That's (obviously) not acceptable.

I want to talk a little about the common defenses of Yost, as well as other subpar managers.

Everybody second-guesses

Melvin said this:

"Hey, we're all managers," Melvin said. "We're all the biggest second-guessers in the world. There are teams going to the playoffs that were second-guessed. ... There are areas that Ned has to improve at, and he knows that."

Setting aside the fact that Ned has been a big league manager for years and he "knows" he has to improve some things, this is BS.

I would argue that smart baseball fans are not second-guessers.  I'm not talking about the people who call into (and host) talk radio.  I'm talking about us (how immodest, I know), who groan in game threads when Turnbow comes in or when the lineup is posted -- not after the game when something hasn't worked.

A bad decision is not one that doesn't work.  A bad decision is one that gives the team less of a chance to win.  Starting Counsell over Braun is a bad decision regardless of whether Counsell hits for the cycle and drives in eleven runs.  (Yeah right--like he'd ever do that!)  Bringing in Shouse to face Pujols is stupid, whether Albert strikes out or not.

The fact that "everybody second-guesses" has nothing at all to do with whether a manager is good, or better than people think, or ought to keep his job.

All managers are bad at this stuff.

True.  That's why a GM with balls should hire a manager who is good at this kind of stuff.  It's like expanding your payroll by ten million bucks.  Or more.  This isn't rocket science.

And anyway, I've already said that, for ten grand, you (Hi again, Doug!) can give your manager a magic decision-making machine to keep in the dugout with him at all times.

I'm not kidding.  My e-mail is on the right sidebar.

Ned wasn't the real reason the Brewers didn't make the playoffs

This is the favorite around these parts.  Truth be told, there is no single reason that the Brewers didn't make the playoffs.  My personal opinion is that we didn't make the playoffs because was because Prince Fielder didn't hit 20 more home runs and slug .750.

I'm kidding, but with a point.  Any player on the team, or any combination of players, could've played better, up to or exceeding expectations, and caused the Brewers to win more games.  Of f'ing course.  That one guy "should've" done his job better (Hi Johnny!) doesn't mean that other people are off the hook.  Every baseball team has some people who exceed expectations and some who underwhelm.  Each has to be evaluated individually.  That Richie Sexson had a .205 batting average with an OBP of .295 isn't okay just because the Mariners outperformed expectations.  That's ridiculous.

But, ultimately, that's what people are saying when they argue, "Ned is ok -- the starting rotation is the real problem."  No argument from me on the second point: the starting rotation could've done better.  (Though, as I've covered in my Suppan and Capuano post mortems, we're criticizing the pitchers too much for what appropriately belongs at the feet of the defense.)  If Ned is making bad decisions and costing the Brewers wins, it doesn't matter whether we're talking about win #84, win #104, or win #54.  

If there's a better option out there, we should take it.  It's exactly the same reasoning that leads Doug to pick up a reliever off of waivers when he thinks that guy is better than all the guys currently on the 40-man.  If we can make a marginal improvement, we should do it.

Is that so hard?

Well, what is hard (or so I can hear Doug objecting) is picking who that marginal improvement is.

As with most things, I've got a solution for that, too.  I think that managers, like middle relievers, are fungible.  One is largely the same as the other: in the case of MRs, it's a matter of catching lightning in a bottle (Hi Danny!); with managers, it's finding somebody who isn't set in incorrect ways.

Let's find somebody who we know is good at "team chemistry" stuff.  Frank Kremblas comes to mind, but I'm sure that, given time, a good MLB staff could come up with a list of 15 names like that.  Then, let's sit him down with Dave Lawson, the Brewers stat consultant, and give him a thorough education on how a baseball team ought to be run.  (Dave would do a great job with this, in my opinion.)  No room for egos here: I don't care if that's not the way "people do it"--that's the way we're going to do it.  You don't get a competitive edge by mimicking your competitors.

That, essentially, is what Billy Beane is doing.  However, just about every other team is going along with the status quo, allowing their manager to cost them ten million bucks a year.

That is a mistake.  Doug: you can do better.