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Ned Yost made it to the World Series somehow

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Ned Yost used to manage the Brewers. Ned Yost is not a good manager. Ned Yost is in the World Series.

Jamie Squire

There was a time in my life that I dedicated a significant amount of my daily activity to working towards getting Ned Yost fired as manager of the Milwaukee Brewers. I was not at the forefront of the struggle-- that distinction would go out to the proprietors of the late FireNedYost.com, which was run by a group of bloggers who still hang around these parts of the internet. I happened upon that site in a fit of rage after one of Yost's mind-boggling bullpen management decisions back then when I was a high schooler in 2007. Their slogan (nothing disappears from the internet forever) was:

Should he really be fired? Maybe, maybe not; that's not really the aim of the site, anyway. Yeah. I mean, seriously, you watch the games, right?

Many of the anti-Ned crowd also found a home at Brew Crew Ball, which like SBNation was still in its infancy. So in a way Ned Yost led me over to this site.

A lot of virtual ink is spilled among baseball fans arguing about managers. I think there's little doubt they matter less than head coaches in other major sports, and their biggest impacts are probably not directly observable to fans (i.e. behind-the-scenes personnel management). But in-game management is an important part of being a baseball manager, and Ned Yost is really, really bad at making in-game decisions.

Ned has 3 main flaws as a manager-- he locks in to strict bullpen roles and generally plays matchups poorly, he tries to play small ball in inappropriate situations, and he can be incredibly stubborn about sticking with "his guys" and refusing to alter lineups in the face of new evidence. This year and these Royals, however, provided Yost with the ideal Yost-proofed squad. That was always something talked about around here when Yost was in charge-- building a squad that the manager can't really screw up. I think the Royals figured it out:

  • He has a historically good bullpen. Though he has managed his 3 great right-handed relievers poorly by most standards (almost costing his team the play-in game by refusing to go to one of them in a jam in the 6th), it's pretty hard to screw up the back end of games with guys this good. His starters have generally been able to get him into or through the 6th inning through this remarkable run and from there the pen is basically Yost-proofed. On top of that, he has a solid 4th righty option (Jason Frasor) and lefties who can be effective against batters coming from each side of the plate (unlike, say, a Brian Shouse).
  • He has a ridiculously fast team in a depressed run-scoring environment. Unequivocal opposition to sacrifice bunts makes little sense. On average, a team is more likely to score 1 run with a runner on second and 1 out than with a runner on first with no out. But on average, the team with a runner on first and no out scores more total runs in an inning. In a situation where 1 run can be the difference (say a tie game in the 7th when your bullpen is unhittable), sac bunts can make sense. This is especially true when a lot of your hitters are speedy guys who are capable of bunting. That sac bunt equation only holds on a successful sac bunt; you're a heck of a lot more likely to end up in a good position when you have Alcides Escobar drop down a bunt with Jarrod Dyson on 1st than you are if you have Kevin Mench do the same with Prince Fielder on base. All that is on top of the fact that the run environment is down .7 runs per game from 2007. The lower scoring environment has made bunting a more practical strategy in general.
  • The Royals position players are pretty dang good. Their rotation isn't much better than average overall, but the top-tier defense makes their run prevention great, and there's a solid enough regular at each position that it's somewhat hard to screw up day-to-day lineup decisions. There's not a hard platoon that Ned has to try to wrap his head around. Every regular had 500 at-bats, with 4th outfielder Jarrod Dyson next with only 290 PA. Playing in the AL, Ned also didn't need to spend time each game worrying about pinch-hitters and double switches, freeing his mind to focus on more important topics such as when to bring in the 7th Inning Guy, or taxidermy.
Ned Yost deserved to be fired from the Brewers in 2008. He led them to a collapse in 2007 that was very similar to the collapse this year. He was on his way to doing the same in 2008 when he departed.

The Royals this year won 89 games, and those 2008 Brewers won 90. It's easy to argue now that these Royals are really the better team, but they can't have been all that much different in talent. The real lesson to be learned here is that the playoffs are a crapshoot. Regardless of what happens in the Series, does anyone want to make the case that the Royals are one of the 10 best baseball teams of this decade? And they just won 8 straight games in the playoffs!

I'm really happy for the Royals, and I'll be pulling for them in the Series whether they're playing the Giants or the [censored]. Heck, the top 3 in their lineup are all former Brewers most games. But Ned Yost isn't leading a baseball revolution anymore than he was when he managed in Milwaukee. Ned hasn't really altered his strategies to fit the times so much as he has a Ned-proofed team, the game of baseball has changed, and his team got hot at the right time. Sometimes that's how baseball works, and sometimes baseball is stupid. But let me be clear: the Royals aren't where they are because of Ned Yost. They are there because they're good, they got hot at the right time, and even Ned Yost couldn't manage to screw it up.