Let me set a stage for you. You’re the manager of a professional baseball team (let’s say, the Royals). Let’s say this team is on a long losing streak, maybe nine games or so?
You’re the home team, and you’re up by two runs in the eighth inning. Your lead-off hitter is your top-of-the-line defensive catcher who struggles with the bat and has made a handful of bad outs on the bases already this season. He manages to work a walk.
Now, I want to say that in this scenario, your bullpen has been... not good this season. In fact, let’s just say your bullpen has basically been a dumpster fire and you really cannot count on any lead, let alone a two-run lead, holding up. Let’s also say, just for fun in our hypothetical situation, that you’re against the best offense in the league so far this year. At this point you might say to yourself, “Boy, I’d really like to score more runs.”
The pitcher is right-handed, and has been struggling. Your next hitter is a right-handed hitter who has historically, well, not hit. At all. He has literally one good game in his career, last night. He’s never shown any competence with the bat at all. He is playing center field today.
On your bench, you have your normal starting center-fielder, who is also possibly the best base runner in baseball. You also have a left-handed hitter who, in his career, owns a .836 OPS against right-handed pitching. You literally only carry this player on your bench to hit right-handed pitching and occasionally stand on first base. You also carry a back-up catcher.
Now, you might say to yourself, “Hmm. I could use my elite base-runner here to try to steal second, take my left-handed power bat and pinch-hit him for my bad right-handed hitter, and then in the next inning move the runner to center and replace my power-bat with the back-up catcher. This, to me, seems like the best way to use my bench and put my team in a position to win.” Sure, that sounds like a good idea. But why would we do a silly thing like that?
Let’s get real here. The fact that Ned Yost did not pinch-run Billy Hamilton for Martín Maldonado and pinch-hit Lucas Duda for Terrance Gore is nothing short of managerial malpractice. There is no point in carrying Duda, Gore and Hamilton if you aren’t going to use them in situations like this.
I’ve been a pretty ardent Ned Yost defender in his career. I have always contended that he generally manages exactly how you’d expect an old-school manager to manage. But sometimes he does something like this that is just ludicrous, and as someone who defends him a lot I have to also call him out when he does something that is just... stupid. And today, his moves were just stupid.
Hamilton goes down. You still have Duda on your bench. Your options are give up your DH by putting Jorge Soler in RF, or move Ryan O’Hearn to RF to stand there and put Duda in at 1st. This may not be the best defensive alignment, but if the game goes into extra innings it keeps you from having to watch a pitcher hit.
And yeah, of course, we give up our DH and leave Duda to pinch-hit for the pitcher’s spot next time up. But maybe this is all an elaborate ruse to get Merrifield another chance to extend his hit streak. And hey! It worked! For all the good it did him.
This is going to be a long season you guys.