If you didn't watch last night's AL Wild Card game, you're probably bummed out that you missed an all-time postseason classic and you should be. It was an incredibly dramatic, entertaining game. If you did watch it, you're probably wondering how the Royals managed to win that game against such insurmountable odds. Not the odds put against them by their opponent, oh no. The odds put against them by their own manager.
Ned Yost put on a clinic in how to lose a winner-take-all game last night. He lifted his ace starting pitcher early despite him pitching pretty well, went to a rookie starter in relief who had thrown 70+ pitches only 2 days ago, and watched as that rookie gave up a go-ahead home run. When that 6th inning started to spiral, he elected not to go to his best reliever in the 'pen to shut down the inning. He took the bat out of his best hitter's hands with 2 on and 2 out in the bottom of the 1st by trying to set up a double steal with his lumbering DH and lumbering first baseman. He willingly gave up 4 outs by sacrifice bunting whenever the opportunity presented itself. If the fix would have been in on this game, Ned Yost would have looked like the guy behind it.
Now all of that got somewhat erased by the Royals winning the game, but the stupidity of Yost's decision making cannot and should not be completely erased. The guy didn't trust his best starter in a critical spot, he didn't go to his best reliever in the same critical spot, and the pitcher he did go with was arguably the worst possible option he had. He gave up almost 20% of his team's outs on sacrifices and bad baserunning calls. It was a truly horrible managing performance and one that actually has me looking forward to watching the Royals move on just so I can see how badly he screws things up when he has a full series of games.
Why am I bringing all this up on a Yankee blog? Because I've noticed a big increase in negativity towards Joe and how he managed his team this year. Whether it was the batting order, the bullpen management, decisions to pinch hit, or not being fiery and angry enough in the clubhouse, people seemed to have a bone to pick with him after every Yankee loss in the second half. I want to offer Ned Yost up as a reminder that things could always be worse and that the smart thing to do as a Yankee fan is appreciate what we have in Joe.
Does he make a bad bullpen decision every now and then? Sure. But name one manager who doesn't over the course of 162 regular season games. Should he have moved Jeter down in the batting order and swapped Ellsbury and Gardner? Absolutely. But for all we know, the decision to keep Jeter in the 2-spot could have come from someone over his head.
It's not Joe's fault that 80% of his Opening Day rotation got hurt, it's not his fault that a mid-30s Teix and a late-30s Beltran had injury problems, and it's not his fault that he didn't have any viable full-time replacement options on his bench to cover for them. It's not his fault that Brian Roberts sucked and Alfonso Soriano sucked and Brian McCann, for the most part, sucked. There's nothing any manager can do to magically make injuries go away or make sucky old baseball players stop sucking. For much of the season, Joe was playing the hand he was dealt by those outside factors and doing the best he could with them. Even if 7 or 8 of your guys in the lineup aren't hitting, you still have to fill out a 9-man lineup card. To guide a team that was worse in some respects than last year's team to another winning record is no small feat.
I've called Joe out for some of the things I didn't like about the way he did his job this year, and I wholeheartedly believe that his tirade before Jeter's last home game, if it really was a tirade, was a lame, bush league move. But Joe is not part of the problem with this team and firing him and bringing in somebody else is not part of the solution. What better managers are out there for the taking? Who do you want to replace him? Joe's done a great job making chicken salad out of chicken poop for the last 2 seasons, chicken poop that was not of his making, and that should not be discarded. Whether the Pythagorean win numbers mean anything or not, I want him back managing this team and I think he deserves to be back managing this team. Better him than somebody like Ned Yost.