I was discussing the Brewers with a friend of mine earlier this week, and he said something that made me reflect.
"When will you write about Ned Yost and how unfair and wrong the Brewers were in firing him last year?", my friend asked.
That immediately put a grin on my face and I reasoned it by stating that the change made a couple of weeks prior to the end of the season in 2008 worked out in the end. As most fans likely recollect Dale Sveum took over the club late in the season to lead the Brewers to the postseason for the first time since the early 80's.
But then I stepped back for a moment and realized something that many people were, and maybe still are, quietly thinking, but not publicly stating. Maybe Ned Yost was just the scapegoat that was needed in Milwaukee to wake up the players and make them perform up to par with the built expectations.
Seeking to find an answer to my internal questions I decided to make a parallel between Yost and Macha and the quality of the remaining coaching staff during the tenure of each skipper.
It is likely too early to jump to conclusions about Macha as he has not completed his first season as a Brewers manager, but I am focusing more on managerial qualities and approach and less on record and results. The latter can fairly be evaluated only after this season completes, or maybe even after next season, which is when Macha's ideas and style will have better blended with the group of players currently wearing a Brewers uniform.
Yost was often perceived as a stubborn manager, who tenaciously would defend his players even at times when their performance was incredibly poor. His decisions were often questioned, especially in bunting situations. He and his staff appeared to have an apparent lack of vision for playing small ball when necessary. But he was not a bad manager by any stretch of the imagination.
Truth be told, Ned Yost was the one who built the cornerstones of the current Brewers team.
He was likely most instrumental in building the chemistry within the Brewers ranks, a chemistry that thrives to this day. He created a close-knit group of players who stayed together through good and bad.
Ken Macha, on the other hand, has a very open relationship with his players and is not afraid to call the game as he sees it. There were previous reports suggesting that the athletes do not like the way he exposes them in the media or in front of the rest of the team.
With all the deficiencies and stubbornness he possessed, I don't believe Yost was ever the main problem. In fact, my personal opinion holds that it was the surrounding circumstances at the time that failed him in the end.
The Brewers were in a win now mode after the acquisition of CC Sabathia just before the 2008 All-Star break. Any failure or step in the wrong direction was thereafter viewed as being unacceptable. And logically, after the Brewers were swept by Philadelphia in a four game series in the late stages of last season Yost was released.
In addition to the high expectations, I also credit Yost's release to some of the other members of the Brewers coaching staff at the time to include hitting coach Jim Skaalen and bench coach Ted Simmons.
Both of them are smart baseball men but they worked with the young core of players the wrong way. Their approach was to teach the game to the young and growing stars in the way they would teach it to more seasoned players who have already developed the ability to do the little things in baseball.
For instance, there was little mention of anyone focusing on Rickie Weeks and his fielding mishaps prior to this off-season when Willie Randolph reportedly spent a couple of hours at the end of every practice to work on small details of the defensive games of Weeks and Fielder.
Sveum, a member of both coaching staffs, after succeeding Skaalen's position, started working individually with the players in an attempt to improve the offense. And even if the numbers for many players have stayed the same, one can notice the difference in approach adopted by a number of players at the plate.
Sveum, Randolph and Macha focus on the little things in baseball, the things that would make a difference in close games. The only problem is that Macha declines to do it on the road.
A recent trend that has bothered the fans has been Macha's lack of desire to call a bunt in road games when the Brewers are looking to tie the game in late innings. His motto is that on the road the team plays to win, not to play extra innings, which would tire his bullpen.
Bill Castro, the current Brewers pitching coach, was heading the bullpen staff last season. With the loss of Sheets and Sabathia the Brewers have had a difficult time finding an answer on the mound outside of the still learning Gallardo. And while last year the bullpen was underused and needed more reps to stay in top form, this year the relievers are mostly overworked and the constant promotions to the starting rotation due to injuries or poor performance of primary starters has created problems for players like Villanueva and McClung.
Former Brewers pitching coach Mike Maddux, who is now the pitching coach of the Texas Rangers, was often criticized for overworking his starters and leaving them in the game for too long. There were many instances in which the Brewers would give up a big inning in the later stages of the game and Maddux and Yost were always reluctant to pull pitchers out early.
But with all the comparisons, in the end it comes down to how well the skipper does. Macha has never finished a season below .500. But there are obvious gaps in the starting rotation, which the Brewers tried to fill with today's acquisition of Claudio Vargas, a player the Brewers organization and fans are very familiar with from his previous time in Milwaukee.
In fact, letting Vargas go, in my opinion, was one of the mistakes Yost and Melvin made together in the past.
Today, even if observers still cringe when being reminded about the free swinging all-or-nothing approach Ned coached, I am not sold that Ken Macha is a definitive upgrade over the former Brewers catcher and manager. At least he has not proved to be capable of miracles with the limited resources he can rely on.
It is yet to be seen whether the Brewers made the right move by bringing in Macha, but one thing I definitely expect is for Ned Yost to do very well the next time he takes over as a manager of a team.
Last year he learned some invaluable lessons and he may be ready to build a successful team in the future, just it will likely not be Milwaukee.
Boris Yovchev is a freelance writer for the Bleacher Report and a supporter of the children's story "A Glove of Their Own." "A Glove of Their Own" is the award winning children's story that teaches Pay It Forward through baseball and is being supported by Louisville Slugger, International Baseball Federeration, iFungo, Rawlings, Modells, as well as players and coaches including Jason Grilli, Joe Torre, Luis Tiant, Dick Drago, Ken Griffey, Craig Biggio and Sean Casey. Visit www.agloveoftheirown.com .
Boris Yovchev is a freelance writer for the Bleacher Report and a supporter of the children's story "A Glove of Their Own."
"A Glove of Their Own" is the award winning children's story that teaches Pay It Forward through baseball and is being supported by Louisville Slugger, International Baseball Federeration, iFungo, Rawlings, Modells, as well as players and coaches including Jason Grilli, Joe Torre, Luis Tiant, Dick Drago, Ken Griffey, Craig Biggio and Sean Casey. Visit www.agloveoftheirown.com .