Monday, September 15, 2008

Baseball Prospectus hit it right on the nose

Prospectus Today
Justice in Milwaukee

by Joe Sheehan

(not the full article, just the most relevant in my opinion - bolding mine)
Ned Yost has been fired by the Milwaukee Brewers, a near-unprecedented move by a team that currently is tied for the lead in the wild card. At that, it may well be justified; Yost's decision making, particularly his administration of the bullpen, has been questionable all season long, and it reached a nadir yesterday afternoon in Philadelphia.

The players take much of the blame for the Brewers' being swept, of course. Manny Parra and Jeff Suppan got hammered, and the bullpen coughed up the other two games, just as it coughed up two games against the Reds last week. The offense no-showed, scoring just ten runs in four games, no more than three in any contest. In fact, the Brewers have not scored more than four runs in a game since putting up five against the Mets on September 2. They've nearly been doubled up, outscored 75-40 in September, on their way to a 3-11 mark this month.

Yost has to take a big part of the blame as well, after making some of the worst tactical decisions you'll see. In the eighth inning of yesterday's first game, the Brewers were tied 3-3. Guillermo Mota allowed a leadoff single to Jayson Werth, and was lifted for Brian Shouse so that Shouse could face Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. (Charlie Manuel's refusal to always put a right-handed batter between those two is a big reason why the Phillies will have trouble winning a short series.) Utley sacrificed Werth to second, setting up Shouse versus Howard.

Yost elected to walk Howard to face Pat Burrell. This was... well, it strains my vocabulary to find the right word for it. Howard cannot hit left-handers, and would be a platoon player if performance mattered anywhere near as much as reputation does. Or if he had a competent manager. Howard is at .228/.313/.458 against lefties in his career, .212/.287/.410 this year. Howard. Can't. Hit. Lefties. Shouse, on the other hand, is in the major leagues for exactly one reason: lefties can't hit him, to the tune of .175/.192/.289 this year, and .211/.263/.325 for his career, which includes a bunch of years when he was barely a major leaguer. Manuel sending Howard up against Shouse was a continuation of a theme for the Phillies: not hitting for Howard when he has little chance of doing something good. He was giving Yost an out, and Yost gave it right back.

That set up Shouse versus Pat Burrell, which cried out for a right-handed reliever. After all, Shouse is a pure specialist (.307/.390/.455 vs. RHB career; .293/.371/.446 this year). The only way walking Howard even might make sense is if Yost were to bring in a righty to try and get a double play out of Burrell. Burrell doesn't have the big platoon splits he showed earlier in his career—he's a dangerous hitter against both kinds of hurlers—but leaving Shouse in to face him was asking for trouble.

Think about this for a second. Yost had a 481 OPS pitcher facing a 697 OPS hitter. He elected to issue an intentional walk in that situation to allow an 817 OPS pitcher to face a 905 OPS hitter with an additional runner on base. That's when you start looking around the roof of the stadium for snipers, because gunpoint is the only place where that kind of decision makes sense.

So it was no surprise that four pitches later, the Phillies were up 7-3. Burrell singled in one run, and Shane Victorino cleared the bases with a three-run homer to left.

If you're not going to let your left-handed specialist face Howard in that situation, when exactly should you be pitching to Howard? Moreover, if you'd rather have Shouse pitching to two good right-handed batters instead of bringing in one of your righty relievers, why not just release them all, because they're obviously not doing you any good. Eric Gagne, Seth McClung... none of these guys are very good, but all would have been better ideas than letting Shouse face Burrell. Heck, Todd Coffey is made for this situation, getting a right-handed batter out. For that matter, Salomon Torres could have been on the mound, but for the ridiculous idea of saving him for a save situation. Torres, the best righty the Brewers have, hasn't pitched since Wednesday, while Brian Shouse was facing righties with the game on the line.

No, the players didn't play well in Philadelphia, but Ned Yost gift-wrapped that first game, a game the Brewers could well have won with some better decisionmaking. He earned his firing, and short of replacing him with Dakota Fanning or something, the Brewers will be better off for his absence.
I suppose we should thank the Brewers; without them, the last two weeks of the season wouldn't have been nearly so entertaining.
The column also offers the best analysis of the move of the Houston games to Milwaukee that I've read yet. Memo to Astros fans: quit whining, it's the teams fault they flew late and played in Milwaukee.

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