Al's Ramblings

Monday, September 22, 2008

(9/22/2008 05:02:00 PM) - Robert R.

A post-mortem, of sorts, on the Ned Yost era.

I fully believe that Ned Yost was the right choice to succeed the debacle that was the Lopes/Royster era and his efforts to help rebuild the team left it in much better condition than when he arrived. But changing team fortunes also resulted in his weaknesses being exposed and looking like the Brewers were going to come up short in a pennant race, again, just was unacceptable. So, a look back, at some of the positives, negatives, and things in the middle seems to be in order now.

Preserving Arms
One of the things that teams with limited resources have to do is develop and be protective of starting pitchers. In his nearly 6 years with the Brewers, the only really serious arm injury to a starting pitcher was to Chris Capuano. You'll have a hard time coming up with a manager with a better record than that over that time span.

Developing the arms might be a slightly different story though. Bush has been fitful at times, but overall has progressed. Gallardo and Parra are very promising, and seem to be in good position for the future. Villanueva appears to have found a niche. Doug Davis was a nice reclamation project. Still, with the possible exception of Sheets who was already showing signs of blossoming when Yost arrived, the number of outright successes isn't quite so clear cut. The bullpen is full of retreads and Yost and Maddux weren't able to figure out Dana Eveland.

Developing Position Players
There's been some spectacular successes here. Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, J.J. Hardy, and Corey Hart have all played big roles in making the team a contender and appear to be well on their way to long and productive careers. Yost didn't like Alex Sanchez's performance and rewarded Scott Podsednik with an opportunity, which paid dividends. The work the coaching staff did with Jason Kendall defensively is a great example of why coaching still matters at this level.

OTOH, Bill Hall's regression is troubling. And Rickie Weeks, despite some strides in the field, has never fully blossomed offensively and struggles a lot at the pivot. Still, the number of successes far outweighs the problems and the Brewers are were they are because of how much talent was developed internally.

Team Attitude
Is Yost a good "leader of men"? Given the chaos that he inherited, the Brewers have turned into a professional team that generally plays hard and doesn't get involved in silly confrontations and bean ball wars. There's been a few incidents, like the Fielder/Parra confrontation, but probably nothing that any other team doesn't go through in any year.

That said, the Brewers still struggle at some of the finer details of the job and I think that reflects attitude as much as anything. They're impatient at the plate, Fielder doesn't appear to be all that concerned about his conditioning, Weeks struggles with the pivot regularly, etc. They get the big things right, but struggle with the little things. Things that can be accepted in a rebuilding team have come back to bite them late this year during the midst of a pennant race.

Yost doesn't stir things up, which for a young team that demands patience is a good thing. It's a fine quality when things are going well. But, when things are going bad, Yost didn't have the ability to snap the team out of a funk either. Distracting a team from a bad tendency and then getting them to refocus, like with dogs, isn't a bad quality to have, and Yost didn't have it.

This is a double edged sword depending on circumstances. When you put a plan in place, Yost will carry it out. I think that's a vital quality to have for a rebuilding club who has to put the plan ahead of winning 72 games instead of 70 games. Not playing music chairs with Hardy, Fielder, Braun, Hart, Bush, and Weeks probably helped their overall development. I think it will help Parra long term as well.

OTOH, when you carry over that same loyalty to veterans and underperforming players in the midst of a pennant chase, you have to wonder if it's a positive. Did the loyalty Yost extended to Wes Helms and Derrick Turnbow really help anyone long term? The Brewers had chances in 2006 and 2007 and Yost's faithfulness to Turnbow, even when he could have turned to Linebrink in the setup role, didn't help.

Bullpen Management
Let's start by saying that Doug Melvin has been at his weakest in supplying Yost with good arms for the pen. With the exception of Francisco Cordero, nobody has been really consistently reliable long term at the back end of the bullpen.

That said, Yost certainly didn't help himself with his management. He stuck with guys that weren't performing for too long, let some guys rot through underuse, overused his guys that were dependable until they ran out of gas, and didn't seem very imaginative about changing roles. Is there a reason that Carlos Villanueva wasn't moved to a higher leverage role with McClung also in the pen except for inertia? McClung throws as hard as anyone, any reason he wasn't given work instead of an ailing Riske? Couldn't you have found room for Mark Difelice on the roster as effective as he was?

Bench Construction
This is a little hobby horse of mine, but where would the Brewers bench have been this year without Kapler and Branyan? And I'm thankful that Prince Fielder never had to miss a game except for normal rest.

I really don't understand how Yost constructs or manages a bench, except to protect himself against embarrassment. Considering his tendency to keep a lot of arms in the bullpen, you have a utility infielder or two who are better for their fielding and versatility than ability to hit, an outfielder who can play all three positions, and a backup catcher who is never, ever, used except in the direst circumstances. Even if he is a better hitter than your utility infielders. Or starting catcher for that matter. A lot of teams will have a guy that can play first and third and hit a little, but Yost has never really explored that option. And it came back to bite them this year when in the midst of a pennant race, Craig Counsell ended up starting a lot of games at third base.

Yost was never known as a tactician in Milwaukee. And I wonder if the lack of viable bench options played a part in that. Craig Counsell certainly has very little left in the tank offensively, with a .647 OPS, and he's going to lead the Brewers bench in ABs. Mike Rivera, despite an .812 OPS, has been barely utilized.

Ned Yost isn't a failure as a manager. The team is better now in part due to his contributions and he's not done so at the expense of the team's future. But, in the midst of a pennant race, his weaknesses were exposed and management decided that they couldn't be patient with him any longer.

I do think Yost deserves another chance at manager. He has many positive qualities as a patient developer of talent and preserver of starting arms. A team like Kansas City with an established closer and a lot of young talent that needs patience and structure could do a lot worse than hiring Yost if they get tired of Trey Hillman. Moving over to the AL would probably cover up a lot of his tactical and bench construction weaknesses as well. That's the type of situation where Yost is likely to maximize his value to a franchise at present.

9/22/2008 05:02:00 PM

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