By In Stuff

I’m Fine

So, you’ve seen “Defending Your Life,” right? Love that movie. Quick plot synopsis: Albert Brooks dies and finds himself in “Judgment City,” where he has to defend his life in front of judges. It’s a little bit more complicated than that, but that’s all you need to know for this World Series reference.

In the middle of the trial, Brooks’ regular lawyer gets pulled away and Brooks finds himself being defended by a guy named Dick Stanley (played by the incomparable Buck Henry).

“Without tooting my own horn,” Stanley tells Brooks, “I’m very good at this.”

Then, every time a moment comes up for for Stanley to make an argument for Brooks’ life, he instead says, “I’m fine.” And that’s it. He does not say anything else. Just: “I’m fine.”

“I hear you had Dick Stanley today,” one of the other lawyers says to Brooks. “He’s excellent. Quiet. But excellent.”

“Very quiet,” Brooks said.

Here, after that overly long setup, we come to our point which is the awesome power of the Kansas City Royals bullpen. I’ve started trying to get people to enter their Chuck Norris like Royals Bullpen Facts on Twitter, to only moderate success. So far we have:

When the Royals bullpen cuts onions, the onions cry.

When the Royals bullpen stares into space, space blinks.

Before the bogeyman goes to sleep, he checks his closet for the Royals bullpen.

Thunderstorms can’t sleep because of the Royals bullpen.

The bartender says: “Why the long face?” “The Royals bullpen,” says the horse.

Star Wars wears Royals bullpen pajamas.

But the greatest trick this Royals bullpen ever pulled was, yes, making  Ned Yost look like the man of the hour. Look: Ever since Game 2 of the series ended, smart people have been considering the somewhat mind-boggling possibility that Yost out managed Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy.

Did he? Well, as I suggested to San Francisco Magazine, even a longtime Yost yammerer like myself doesn’t really believe that manager strategy will make that much of a difference. Seven games is such a short series. Small samples rule the airwaves. The variance between optimal and non-optimal strategies is minuscule (unless you bizarrely decide to send Michael Wacha into the game in the ninth inning after not pitching him for three weeks). And most moves, for one reason or another, don’t matter anyway.

Quick example: In the sixth inning of Game 2, with runners on first and second, Billy Butler hit a run-scoring single that broke the tie and gave the Royals a one-run lead. Yost then decided to pinch-run Terrance Gore for Butler.

I racked my brain to come up with a single reason why he did it. By pulling Butler in the sixth inning, he removed one of his two most-potent right-handed hitters from the lineup. And for what? Gore’s one skill is that he’s fast. But with a runner on second, Gore could not steal. With a runner on second, Gore’s run wasn’t especially important in the grand scheme of things. 

But … what difference did it make? A wild pitch moved up both runners (even Butler advances on that pitch) and then Salvy Perez’s double scored both runners (even Butler scores from second on a double) and then Omar Infante’s homer would have scored anybody including me. It’s not quite right to say the move worked. It is more right to say the move didn’t matter — and a lot of moves don’t matter.

So, no, I don’t put much stock into the idea that Yost actually out-managed Bochy or that Bochy could have somehow changed the outcome by managing better.

But I will say this: Yost has learned the Dick Stanley art of zen and baseball management. In the sixth inning, Bochy was doing some full contact managing, pacing back and forth between the mound and the dugout like one of those 1950s expectant fathers, leaving his starter in one batter longer than seemed prudent, matching lefties against lefties, righties against righties, going to his homer-prone and hotheaded rookie for reasons nobody could quite fathom. Bochy was working it, hitting all the buttons, pulling all the levers, twisting all the knobs, switching all the switches.

And Ned Yost said: “I’m fine.”

“After the sixth inning, my thinking’s done,” Yost said, and it drew a little bit of a laugh, but he’s exactly right. The Firm of Herrera, Davis and Holland is so good, so bleeping good, that there are no decisions to be made, no match-ups to be matched, no maneuvers to maneuver.

“Hey Ned, there’s a lefty coming up against Kelvin Herrera.”

“I’m fine.”

“Ned, this guy coming up against Wade Davis has got some power and kills righties.”

“I’m fine.”

“Um Ned, there’s a giant spaceship over the stadium, and aliens are rushing in from the Planet TaterBopper, and Greg Holland is out there alone.”

“I’m fine.”

This has been the impervious bullpen. Going into every series so far, the talk has been that the Royals might have a SLIGHTLY better bullpen than Anaheim or Baltimore or San Francisco, but those other teams have really good bullpens too. The Giants do. But the Giants like those other teams have an IKEA bullpen which requires Bochy to guess which of those screws is the right one, which wood piece is D and which one is E, what direction these things are supposed to face.

The Royals bullpen is out of the next century, You can’t use them wrong.  You don’t have to read the instructions. You don’t have to install any anti-virus protection. No assembly required.

Of course, things change quickly in a short series. The Firm has been so absurdly dominant this postseason that you can’t help but think at some point they will lose a game. But that’s looking more and more like a bad bet. The Giants pathway to victory in this series seems clear: Do what you did in Game 1. Score early, get a solid performance out of your starter, maintain that lead. If they do that, Bochy will look great. If they don’t, he might not look great.

The Royals pathway to victory seems even clearer: Take a lead or tie game into seventh inning. Then Ned Yost will happily turn off his brain. Joke about it all you want. With this bullpen, he’s fine.

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23 Responses to I’m Fine

  1. 18thstreet says:

    The Ikea metaphor was perfect.

  2. Aaron Snyder says:

    Kirk: Bones, we need some help here.
    McCoy: Dammit, Jim, I’m a Doctor, not a Royals reliever.

  3. Paul_in_Los_Angeles says:

    So if the Royals win (and I hope they do and hope I do not jinx them with this comment), are we going to see a “Ned Yost is the luckiest man in the world” column?

  4. Jake Bucsko says:

    “Hey, Giants, you like strikeouts?”
    “No, no strikeouts please…”

  5. Did you just see the line up for Game 3 Joe? Yost is getting better by the game! Playing Dyson in the field and saving Aoki for the bench is a genius move in my view for so many reasons. Very un-Yost like, and while I have been a critic at times I no longer feel the need. This is a magical ride and Yost is the carnival worker pushing the big green button!

  6. Brent says:

    Rany suggested that Yost knew he was going to score at least one run in the 6th (which is likely given 1st and 2nd and no one out), knew that Billy’s spot would come up one more time, thought it would not be a high leverage spot (becuase he would have the lead) and wanted to get Josh Willngham another game at bat before he actually needed him in a high leverage spot in the NL park the next 3 games. Ergo, pinch run for Billy there.

    Personally, I cannot imagine Ned thought several moves ahead like that, but if so? Genius

    • DJ MC says:

      I can absolutely see Ned Yost taking out a superior hitter in what was than still a tie game so that he could pinch-hit an inferior hitter later in the game.

  7. BobDD says:

    Actual Audrey Hepburn quote in Movie ‘Charade’: “Do you know what’s wrong with you?”

    Actual Cary Grant (playing the part of KC Royal reliever) response: “No, what?”

    Actual Audrey Hepburn dazed reply: “Absolutely Nothing!”

  8. Cathead says:

    I wish Matt Williams had said “I’m fine” and left Jordan Zimmermann in the game.

  9. Doug says:

    I think that’s actually one of Bochy’s great skills as a manager (as a Giants fan) – as a general rule, he is extremely comfortable not doing much. Certainly, by the standards of NL managers, he’s comfortable with it. He will generally tend to err on the side of leaving pitchers in, of not going crazy min-maxing lineups. He’s not going to bunt or steal constantly. And I think that’s usually a good thing – my feeling is that managers are much more likely to make mistakes through trying to do too much. Bochy seems like he’s generally reasonably comfortable leaving things be. He trusts his guys.

    Unfortunately, the Giants’ pitching this year just isn’t quite good enough to let him do that (especially with Petit as an apparent starter rather than a long reliever). If the starting pitching is a little shaky in the 6th, there’s not enough quality arms in the bullpen to take care of that confidently. There’s a gap in the armor at that point. So he has to do something about it and, well, sometimes you don’t have any really good alternatives.

  10. I don’t know how many expert commenters have predicted Ned Yost to lose a game (or a Series) because he likes things like set lineups and bunting, and all he has done is nearly run the table against great managers like Scioscia, Showalter and Bochy.

    As for the set lineup, there is something to be said about giving your people set rolls and just letting them play. Not that Yost has been cast in stone or anything, as he has been flexible enough to let his relievers pitch two innings or to bench Aoki in tonight’s game. But as Sparky Anderson once said, most of your managing is done before the game even starts, just by managing the clubhouse. By that standard, Yost has been fantastic.

    As for things like his preference for bunting, the 2014 KC Royals are a case in point of when to use the bunt as a weapon. While it may be counterproductive for most clubs, it works wonderfully if your team a) has speed, b) lacks power and c) has a lockdown corps of relievers.

    A & B are pretty self-explanatory. By bunting with speed guys, you put pressure on the defense. Witness all the hurried throws against the Royals in these playoffs. Since you are less likely to hit a long ball, it makes sense to play for a single run, especially early in the game.

    Now playing for one run early may sound like heresy to most people, but remember, playing against the Royals, you are playing a 6 inning game. If you are behind by a run after 6, you will definitely lose. A 2-1 lead after 6 is the equivalent of a Royals blowout. If you are tied after 6, you will probably lose. You need to be ahead after 6 to have a chance—comfortably ahead, because the Royals bullpen is better than yours, and so long as the game is reasonably close, they have a good shot at pulling it out late, particularly if there’s a weak link somewhere in your relief corps. So let’s say the Royals bunt themselves to a 1-0 lead after one inning. Now you have 5 innings in which to pull ahead. The Royals probably won’t beat themselves, as they will catch anything that’s catchable, so you will have to slug your way past them. Every run that they score early means 2 runs that you have to score early to stay ahead. If the Royals score one run here, one run there, those are big runs to overcome, and that adds to the pressure on your hitters to produce RIGHT NOW. Added to the inherent pressure of the playoffs, hitters start tightening up, as every inning the pressure mounts. And if there’s one thing these Royals aren’t, it’s tight.

    So Yost has found a winning formula, and it’s funny to see all the so-called evidence based stat guys crying that the Royals are winning in spite of Ned Yost, and not because of him. Small sample size and all that. The math works, they say—it’s just the games that have been wrong.

  11. William says:

    “The Royals bullpen is out of the next century, You can’t use them wrong. You don’t have to read the instructions. You don’t have to install any anti-virus protection. No assembly required.”

    This is why KC is up 2-1. Get to the ‘pen with a lead and its a win. No one can mess up with managing them. They get outs.

    • Sluggrr says:

      Obi Wan: “That’s no moon . . . That’s the Royal’s bullpen.”

      Bochy: “I have a very bad feeling about this . . .”

  12. A lot of people assume that the Giants are this awesome team, and its true they’ve won two championships. But this team has two stars, a couple of other good players and a lot of supporting actors. Lincecum is hurt and past his prime, Cain is hurt, Romo is barely serviceable. These were some of the key players in their championship runs. Now they rely on guys like nearly 40 year old Tim Hudson, a diminished Panda, and the awkward but effective Pence.

    The Giants offense was always slightly challenged, but used a dominant rotation and bullpen, tailor made for their park, to win. Somehow, short series math, the more dominant teams like the Orioles and Dodgers are out. We’re left with the Royals and Giants. If it wasn’t for the interesting story of the Royals overcoming 30 years of being the league joke, this series wouldn’t be compelling at all.

    • Doug says:

      I think you’re being slightly unfair to the Royals and the Giants here. No, they are not really teams built around dominant stars as much as other teams are. And they generally do not have dominant offenses. But they are both still good teams in a lot of ways – for one thing, both of them are exceptionally good defensive teams, which counts for a lot but maybe doesn’t show up as brightly. The Royals are obviously a fantastic baserunning team and have a shutdown bullpen. And I would argue that the Giants are a better hitting team than you’re giving them credit for – they have a fairly well-balanced lineup, with guys who are slightly better than you would expect.

      I don’t think either team is necessarily awesome, but that’s the playoffs. I think they are two very good, solid teams. Sure, the Dodgers are probably a better team overall, the Nats are probably a better team overall than either of them, the Angels are probably as well. I don’t think the O’s are that much better ultimately personally, but that’s besides the point. That’s playoff baseball, sometimes the slightly less good teams make it through, but both the Royals and the Giants are fine playoff teams and IMO they’ve matched up really well so far.

      • I thnk the biggest facter going for the Giants is they’ve been here before and know how to handle the pressure. That experience is showing in the WS, well that and the usual playoff Bumgarner. Until the WS, I think the Royals were loose and had no pressure. They weren’t expected to get out of the Wild card, but now they are on the big stage and perhaps gripping the bats a little tighter and the managerial percentages that Yost was getting away with are evening out.

  13. Guest says:

    This blog post exhibits the Rule of Yostnanski: Any time things turn out well for the Royals, the manager has no effect on the outcome, while any time things turn out poorly for the Royals, Yost cost them another win.

    A simple and convenient rule that the world of sportswriting is learning this October.

  14. Ross says:

    Keyser Söze tells his kids horror stories about the Royal’s bullpen

  15. Richard says:

    Any different thoughts now that the Series is 3-2 Giants?

    • kehnn13 says:

      I don’t know why there would be- The idea of “Giants need to score early” pretty much held up through these last 2 games. While the bullpen gave up some runs last night, The Royals were already down at the time and Bumgarner pitched lights-out the whole way.

  16. […] Kansas City couldn’t hold. The Giants clawed back and eventually won 11-4. Joe Posnanski has a good post on how many, perhaps most, decisions a manager makes don’t matter anyway. But I think these were […]

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