On Oct. 1, the New York Times Magazine posted a profile of Kansas City Royals manager, Ned Yost. In the article Ned comes across as a baseball Neanderthal; a man who refuses to listen to the collective wisdom of the baseball numbers crunchers, yet somehow succeeds anyway.
The article’s prime example of Ned’s backward decision-making is a game in Detroit; the score was tied in the bottom of the ninth inning and Ned refused to use his closer, Greg Holland. Instead he brought in Ryan Madson and Madson gave up a single and a home run and the game was over.
The article then quotes Mitchel Lichtman, an author and former professional gambler who says that (and I’m quoting the article here) the statistics are unambiguous: not bringing Holland into a situation like that of the Detroit game is bad managing.
The article also says Ned Yost refuses to use his closer when his team is behind or tied — and that’s just factually incorrect.
What author Bruce Schoenfeld and the former gambler seem to completely overlook is the fact that the game was in Detroit. Let’s say you follow the former gambler’s advice and use Holland in the bottom of the ninth inning. And now let’s say Holland does his job and goes 1-2-3; guess what — you still need someone to pitch the bottom of the tenth and that someone might be Ryan Madson.
If your closer can pitch two or three days in a row, but then needs a day off, you want to make sure you use him when his innings matter most. If Holland gets you through the ninth inning. but Madson blows it in the tenth, you’ve burned up an inning from your closer and still didn’t get a win. Do it the other way around — Madson pitches the ninth — and even if Madson give it up and the game is lost at least you didn’t burn your closer.
Ned Yost uses his closer in tie games all the time
But Ned usually does it in the top of the ninth in home games that are tied. If your closer gets you through the top of the ninth and you score in the bottom of the inning, you don’t need any more pitching. If you don’t score in the bottom of the ninth, you’re still guaranteed another chance to win the game in the bottom of the 10th.
Using your closer in a tie game at home is worth the risk; most managers don’t feel the same way about using their closer in a tie game on the road.
Why can’t relievers throw more than one inning?
Yost is also taken to task for having relievers throw just one inning; the geniuses who have never stood on a pitcher’s mound reason that if a guy is throwing well, why not leave him in the game?
Here’s the answer: many relievers throw well because they’re only pitching one inning. As Danny Duffy puts it, they can: “Empty out the tank.” Guys who were throwing in the low to mid-90s might throw in the mid-to-upper 90s if they know they only have to throw 15 pitches.
Sending a pitcher like that out for a second inning is like asking a sprinter who just ran a 100-yard dash to run another one and expecting him to run the second sprint as fast as the first.
Why some fans like to think baseball players and managers are dumb
There are two jobs that everyone in the country thinks they can do better than the guys currently doing them: managing a big-league baseball team and President of the United States.
Generally speaking, baseball players are athletic, rich and famous. They also tend to attract beautiful women. In short, baseball players are everything most of us aren’t, so it can be gratifying to think they’re dumb; they may have everything else going for them, but at least were smarter than they are.
And in some cases that’s true.
I’ve heard plenty of stories about knuckleheads who have a hard time retaining how many outs there are in an inning even though that number is readily available; in a big-league park look in just about any direction and you’re likely to see a scoreboard.
But there are also really smart guys playing and managing in the big leagues and portraying those guys as tobacco-chewing dinosaurs is inaccurate. The truth is most of us are not smarter than the average big league manager.
And we’d also make lousy presidents.