Thursday, May 20, 2010

Ned.

Six days into the Ned Yost era, and I’m convinced that he is the managerial equivalent of a Rorschach Blot. What you see in him says less about him than it does about you. So I’ll do my best to break down his track record as dispassionately as possible.

The Case For Ned

Ned Yost was hired by the Milwaukee Brewers after the 2002 season. The Brewers went 56-106 in 2002, the worst of 10 consecutive losing seasons. (By comparison, the Royals went 59-109 in the last 168 games of Trey Hillman’s career, and last year was their 14th losing season in the last 15 years.)

The Brewers lost 94 games in each of his first two seasons – then reached .500 in 2005. By 2007, they were over .500 again at 83-79. They would win 90 games in his final season, and went to the playoffs for the first time in 26 years.

Yost won 83 games twice in his career before he was hired by the Royals. Not one manager the Royals have employed since Dick Howser – Mike Ferraro, Billy Gardner, John Wathan, Hal McRae, Bob Boone, Tony Muser, Tony Pena, Buddy Bell, and Trey Hillman (phew!) – had ever won 83 games as a manager even once prior to joining the Royals.

The Case Against Ned

While the Brewers won 90 games in his final season, Yost wasn’t their manager in the playoffs. At the end of August, the Brewers were 80-56, which was the second-best record in the National League; they had a 5.5 game lead on the wild card. They then lost 11 of their next 14 games, a streak which was punctuated by a four-game sweep by the Phillies. They went into that series with a 4-game lead on Philly, and came out of it tied. Yost was fired the next day. It was an almost unprecedented move in baseball history: a manager being fired, in September, with his team in the midst of a pennant race.

This was the second straight year that the Brewers had faded from the pennant race down the stretch. In 2007, the Brewers went into the All-Star Break 49-39, leading the NL Central by 4.5 games. As late as September 18th, they were tied with the Cubs for first place. But they stumbled over the final two weeks, finishing 5-7 and losing the division by two games.

Yost was replaced by his third-base coach, Dale Sveum. After losing four of his first five games, Sveum skippered Milwaukee to five straight wins. After losing the penultimate game of the season, the Brewers found themselves tied with the Mets with one game to go. The Brewers turned to their ace, C.C. Sabathia, who on three days’ rest threw a complete game and won, 3-1. The Mets lost at home to Florida, 4-2, and Milwaukee was in the playoffs. But without Sabathia available to start twice in the NLDS, they were dispatched by the Phillies in four games.

The Case For Ned

As manager of the Brewers, Yost presided over an impressive resurgence of the team’s farm system – a farm system directed by Jack Zduriencik, now the GM of the Seattle Mariners – and to his credit, Yost was quite successful at turning young hitting prospects into good major-league hitters. They include:

- Scott Podsednik, who was picked up off waivers from the Mariners after the 2002 season. Pods, at that point, was a Triple-A journeyman who had all of 26 major-league at-bats and had hit just .279/.347/.425 in Triple-A, at the age of 26. Yost broke him in slowly in 2003, using him off the bench for the first month of the season before installing him at the top of the lineup in mid-May. Podsednik would hit .314/.379/.443 and score 100 runs, finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting. The following year he hit just .244, but smacked 12 homers and led the league with 70 steals. He was traded after the season to the White Sox, and was the leadoff hitter for the World Champions.

- Rickie Weeks, the #2 overall pick in the 2003 draft, came up as a 22-year-old rookie in 2005. Weeks, like another college hitter drafted #2 overall, has yet to reach the promise of his draft position; he developed considerable patience to go along with good power for a second baseman, but his defense has never been stellar and he has battled injuries and a chronically-low batting average. He’s still a good player.

- Bill Hall, who was a minor league player of little note when Yost arrived – in 2002, Hall hit .228 with 4 homers in Triple-A, and in 2003 he improved to .282 but still with only 5 homers. He came up late in 2003 and hit 5 more homers in just 52 games, batting .261/.298/.458 overall. As a utility infielder in 2004, he hit .238/.276/.374 with 9 homers; in 2005, he continued to play all over the infield, and hit .291/.342/.495 with 17 homers.

In 2006, Yost installed Hall as his everyday shortstop, and Hall hit .270/.345/.553 with 35 home runs. He fell off quickly after that; by 2008, Yost’s last season in Milwaukee, Hall hit .225/.293/.396. But for two seasons he was one of the best-hitting middle infielders in the National League, not bad for a guy who projected as a bench guy at best.

- Despite his terrific 2006 season as a shortstop, Hall was moved to center field for the 2007 season to make way for J.J. Hardy, who unlike Hall was considered a top prospect in the minors. Hardy actually hit .246/.319/.388 in 159 games for the Brewers in 2005-06, but was lost for the season with an injury on May 16th, when Hall took over. Healthy in 2007, at age 24 Hardy hit .277/.323/.463 with 26 homers, and hit .283/.343/.478 with 24 homers in 2008, with excellent defense both years.

Coincidentally or not, after Yost was fired Hardy struggled. Battling injuries last season, he hit just .229/.302/.357, and he was traded to Minnesota after the season for Carlos Gomez.

- Corey Hart was a well-regarded minor-leaguer but not a top prospect; he cracked the bottom of Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospect list at #91 before the 2003 season. That year he hit .302/.340/.467 as a 21-year-old in Double-A, and fell off the list the next year. He spent all of 2004 and 2005 in Triple-A, hitting .281/.342/.485 and .308/.377/.536. In 2006 he hit .320/.391/.560 in 26 games in Nashville, finally earning a call up. He hit .283/.328/.468 in 87 games as a rookie.

In 2007, he became a full-time starter and hit .295/.353/.539; in 2008 he regressed to .268/.300/.459, but made his first All-Star team. He was a 20-20 player both seasons.

- Prince Fielder, selected #7 overall in the 2002 draft (one pick after Zack Greinke; rumor has it the Royals were deliberating between both players), was a monster in the minor leagues – he ranked among Baseball America’s #15 prospects three straight seasons. In 2005, he hit .291/.388/.569 in Triple-A at age 21, hitting 28 homers in just 103 games.

Like another big left-handed hitting first baseman, Fielder languished on the bench for much of that season, getting just 59 at-bats despite sending the better part of two months on the major-league roster. The next season he was installed as the Brewers’ everyday first baseman, and hit .271/.347/.483 with 28 homers. It was a stacked year for rookies, and he got just two third-place votes in Rookie of the Year voting. But as a sophomore he was even better, leading the NL with a Brewers-record 50 homers. He’s been one of the best hitters in baseball ever since.

- Fielder, though, isn’t even the best hitter on his team, because of Ryan Braun, the #5 pick in the 2005 draft (two picks after Alex Gordon). Braun crushed the ball in the minors, hitting .313/.375/.572 in 199 minor league games, and was called up to the majors on May 25th, 2007, less than 2 years after he was drafted (and just six weeks after Gordon debuted).

Braun doubled in his first game, homered in his second, and he was off: he hit .324/.370/.634 as a rookie, won Rookie of the Year honors despite playing in just 113 games, and led the league in slugging, which is even more remarkable when you consider he fell slightly short of the 502 plate appearances required to be eligible. Braun was a miserable defensive third baseman, though, so – sound familiar? – he was moved to left field the next season, where his glove is still bad but not nearly as costly. He hit .288/.335/.553 in a solid sophomore season, and has been even better since.

That’s an impressive group of talent. In 2008, Yost’s final year with the team, six of his eight lineup spots were filled with home-grown players that he had personally developed – the guys above minus Podsednik, who had been traded for Carlos Lee. The only veterans in the lineup that year were Jason Kendall (surprise!) and shrewd free-agent signing Mike Cameron.

Yost proved he could work with different kinds of hitters; the pure take-and-rake approach of Fielder, the rake-and-rake-some-more stylings of Braun and Hart; the waterbug leadoff hitter approach of Podsednik. The only player of the seven that you could argue didn’t reach his potential with Yost was Weeks, who continues to tantalize and frustrate the Brewers long after Yost left. Meanwhile, there doesn’t appear to be any outright failures among Brewers prospects to develop. The biggest miss was Nelson Cruz, who got all of five at-bats with Milwaukee before he was packaged with Carlos Lee to Texas in 2005, where three years later he blossomed into one of the game’s most underrated hitters.

But that’s hard to pin on Yost. He was asked to turn seven players – six prospects from the farm system and one minor league veteran – into major leaguers, and he succeeded seven times.

Yost also turned Keith Ginter, who had been acquired in a deadline dump for Mark Loretta in 2002, into a useful player for two seasons. Ginter was then traded to Oakland for Nelson Cruz, and 51 games later was out of the majors. After Yost’s first season, the Brewers traded Richie Sexson to Arizona for a package of talent, including his successor, Lyle Overbay, who had played just 87 games as a rookie. Yost made him his everyday first baseman and Overbay hit .301, leading the league with 53 doubles. Overbay was traded to Toronto two years later to make room for Prince Fielder; the hitter acquired in the deal, Gabe Gross, had the best year of his career for Yost in 2006.

Really, about the only blemish I can find on Yost’s record with developing hitters is that he had Russ Branyan on his team – twice! – and like every other manager before him, didn’t see fit to give him an everyday job. On the other hand, with Overbay playing first base in Branyan’s first go-round with the team, and Prince Fielder entrenched there the second time, it’s not clear where Branyan could have played every day.

Yost’s track record for developing hitters is truly impressive, and much better than I thought it would be when I started this analysis. For a team that is down to its last chance with Alex Gordon, a team that is just starting to realize that Kila Ka’aihue is one of the four best hitters in the organization right now, a team that has Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer and Derrick Robinson coming down the pike between now and the end of next season – as a Royals fan, I don’t have the slightest hesitation in trusting Yost with the future of our offense.

The Case Against Ned

That’s great that he developed all those hitters, but how much credit does he really deserve? He was the beneficiary of a ridiculous amount of hitting talent that the Brewers drafted and developed – it’s no surprise that the guy who was really responsible for landing all those guys got hired as the GM of the Seattle Mariners.

And if you didn’t see any pitchers on the list above, that’s not an oversight. Under Yost, the Brewers produced almost no starting pitchers of any note. Ben Sheets had already established himself in the rotation before Yost got there.

In Yost’s six seasons as manager of the Brewers, the only starting pitcher developed by the franchise to last even a full season in a rotation is Yovani Gallardo.

The Case For Ned

You can’t wave away all the hitters that Yost developed as a product of the farm system, and then blame him for all the pitchers that the farm system didn’t develop. During his time with the Brewers, the top pitching prospects on the farm were Mike Jones and Mark Rogers, who both blew their arms out before they ever touched foot on a major-league mound. Former top prospect Nick Neugebauer, who was one of the hardest throwers in baseball and who made 12 starts for the Brewers in 2002 at the age of 21, had already blown out his arm before Yost arrived and was never heard from again. Other top prospects like Jose Capellan profiled best as relievers.

Meanwhile, Yost did the best he could with the players he was given. Doug Davis was a 27-year-old southpaw who had washed out of the Rangers and Blue Jays organizations when the Brewers claimed him off waivers in 2003. He made 118 starts with Milwaukee over the next three-plus years, with an impressive 107 ERA+. A year later, the Brewers promoted Chris Capuano, a Grade B prospect who had been obtained in the Richie Sexson deal. Capuano gave the Brewers three-plus seasons of league-average pitching before his arm gave out. Yost also got two decent seasons as a starter out of Victor Santos, when no other team could get even one.

The only top starting prospect to reach the majors under Yost who didn’t pan out was Jorge de la Rosa, who only made 8 starts with Milwaukee before he was traded to the Royals for Tony Graffanino – and it took de la Rosa 3 more years and another organization before he finally started to fulfill his promise last season with the Rockies.

It’s true that the Brewers under Yost didn’t develop very many starting pitchers. But 1) that’s a reflection of the farm system more than the manager, and 2) Yost had enough success with recycled pitchers from other teams to win anyway.

The Case Against Ned

If there’s one complaint that both Yost’s critics and defenders agree upon, it’s that he did a terrible job of running a bullpen. He was very by-the-numbers with his relievers, assigning specific roles to his pitchers and then not deviating from those roles even when the need called for it. In particular, he used his closers seemingly to generate saves more than to win games.

In his first season, his closer went 2 innings for a save twice; Mike DeJean did it on July 29th, and Danny Kolb did it on July 19th. But as you can see, the Brewers were sort of transitioning between closers at the time, so neither one of them was the undisputed #1 guy at the time. In the five years after that, not once did Yost allow his closer to pitch 2 full innings for a save, and only nine times did his closer get a save of more than 3 outs.

His inability to work matchups is most brilliantly – and painfully – illustrated in Joe Sheehan’s column here. In the midst of the Brewers’ September collapse that got Yost fired, in the middle of being swept by the Phillies, the Brewers found themselves in a 3-3 tie in the 8th inning. Jayson Werth led off with a single, and Yost replaced Guillermo Mota with lefty specialist Brian Shouse to face Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. Utley sacrificed Werth to second…whereupon Yost ordered Shouse to intentionally walk Ryan Howard. To face Pat Burrell. And left Shouse in.

Royals fans fondly remember the time John Gibbons, then the manager of the Blue Jays, intentionally walked Tony Pena Jr. There really is nothing more to say, except that once Gibbons was hired as the Royals’ bench coach, fans were immediately worried that he would one day take over as manager when Trey Hillman was fired.

Yost’s decision to intentionally walk Ryan Howard, who has one of the most pronounced platoon splits in baseball, in order to pitch to Pat Burrell, who crushes lefties, WITH A LEFTY SPECIALIST ON THE MOUND, is orders of magnitude dumber than walking Pena to set up a double play. This was in September, in a pennant race, in the 8th inning of a tie game. Burrell hit a tie-breaking single, Shane Victoring hit a game-breaking single, the Brewers were swept in a doubleheader, and Yost was fired the next day.

The Case For Ned

One decision – admittedly, one horrible, indefensible decision – should not undo all the good work that Yost did in six years as the Brewers’ manager. Besides, at least in one regard Yost was a revolutionary thinker when it came to his bullpen. I am speaking of The Brooks Kieschnick Experiment, which Yost presided over.

Kieschnick, a star two-way player in college who had stuck to hitting – with meager success – as a pro, took up pitching again as a way to help his team on both sides of the game. Kieschnick actually resumed his pitching career with the White Sox in 2002, at the age of 30, but then joined the Brewers organization in 2003, Yost’s first season. He quickly earned the 25th spot on the roster, and over two seasons, he performed with admirable mediocrity as both a pitcher and a hitter. In 96 innings, he posted a 4.59 ERA; in 133 at-bats, he hit .286/.340/.496. In 2003, he played the outfield 3 times and DH’ed 4 more times, but in 2004 he didn’t play the field at all. But he was used as a pinch-hitter 71 times over those two seasons.

He was released the following spring, and never appeared in the majors again. But for two seasons, Kieschnick was the most perfect 25th roster man I’ve ever seen. The man who gave him that opportunity was Ned Yost.

The Case Against Ned

He was aloof and standoffish with the media in his time with Milwaukee, and his reaction to the Brewers’ second-half fades in 2007 and 2008 were so hyperanimated that within the clubhouse he earned the moniker “Nervous Ned”.

The Case For Ned

It’s possible – perhaps even probable – that Yost learned from his mistakes in Milwaukee. Many years ago, in his Guide to Baseball Managers, Bill James studied the performance record of managers based on whether it was their first job as a manager, second, third, etc. If I recall correctly, what James found was that there was a small but real trend towards managers doing their best in their second and third jobs. This makes sense – a first-time manager has a lot to learn, while a fourth-time manager is either old enough that he’s starting to slip, or was never that good in the first place, otherwise he wouldn’t have been fired three times.

This is Yost’s second job as a manager. He’s only 55. If he continues the good things he did in Milwaukee, and shows a willingness to learn from the mistakes that he made, he could be very successful in Kansas City.

The Case Against Ned

Since he was hired by the Royals, he has already made it clear that the one truly bold idea that Hillman had – to use Joakim Soria for more than three outs – is going to be put back on the shelf.

“I don’t think I would hesitate to use Soria in a four-out situation,” Yost said, “but I don’t generally like to do it. I think a closer is at his best when he comes in, gets his work done and goes into the locker room. I don’t like to see a closer come in, have to get an out, go sit down and then have to go back out and get three more outs.”

And later: “I like my closers to get every save that they can get.” Like I said: save-generating machines.

The Case For Ned

Whereas his predecessor had fallen so deeply under the spell of Little Ball that he was sacrifice bunting in the first inning, Yost seems to have a more enlightened view. In his first game, the Royals were mounting a rally with two singles to start the seventh inning, bringing Jose Guillen to the plate.

“We had first and second with nobody out and I thought about bunting for about half a second and I thought, ‘You know we’ve been struggling to score runs, let’s try to put a big one on the board,’ ” Yost said. “And we did.”

And later:

“I don’t like to play for one run,” he said, “unless it means we’re going to win the game. So early in the game, very seldom will you see me playing for one run.

“It doesn’t mean we’re going to bomb home runs to win ballgames, (but) we can drive the gaps and hit little bloop singles and put a big number on the board.”

The Case Against Ned

Yost managed Jason Kendall in 2008, when Kendall started a ridiculous 149 games behind the plate – no catcher has started more games in a season since Gary Carter in 1982.

Judging from his comments that Brayan Pena might get a start “every two weeks or so”, we’re in for more of the same.

The Case For Ned

He didn’t even wait 24 hours before he fired Dave Owen as his third-base coach. Some managers might have decided to evaluate things with their own eyes before making any big moves. Yost, this one time, understood that this was not the time for patience.

The Case Against Ned

On Tuesday, after Blake Wood had coughed up a win for Zack Greinke as he is contractually obligated to do, the Royals went into extra innings. In the bottom of the tenth, in a tie game, rather than reach for Soria to pitch an inning in the hopes of getting the game into the 11th, or any of the other options in his bullpen that were not making their season debut, Yost called on Brian Bullington.

Brian Bullington had just been called up from the minors. Bullington had all of 39 major league innings (and a 5.08 ERA) to his ledger. A single, a walk, a missed-first-base-error, and a drive over a drawn-in outfield later, the game was over.

The Case For Ned

In Gil Meche’s first start with Yost, Meche had thrown exactly 100 pitches after six innings. Coming back to the dugout, Meche held up one finger to his manager across the dugout, asking for one more inning. Yost simply shook his head, and that was that. The days of Meche actually being able to convince his manager to stay in the game even when it’s counterproductive seem to be over.

The Case Against Ned

Yesterday, Meche had grinded through 109 pitches in just 5 innings, yet Yost inexplicably let him start the sixth with a one-run lead. Two batters and two baserunners later, Meche was out having thrown 122 pitches, and the Indians were able to tie the game.

The Case For Ned

Yost’s comments after Ka’aihue was sent down were probably the biggest vote of confidence I’ve ever seen from the Royals regarding Kila.

“It just kills me to see Kila sitting on the bench and not playing,” said Yost, who replaced Trey Hillman as Royals manager following Thursday’s win against Cleveland. “I think he’s a huge part of our future, and for me I’d much rather have him down there right now, getting his at-bats, playing first base and if something happened he could come back here.”

“(Kila) is getting close to not having to go through this anymore, you know the up-and-down swing where you (get called) up and you (get sent) down,” Yost said. “He’s getting real close to becoming a major-league fixture.”

From an organization that went out of its way to pretend that Ka’aihue didn’t even exist last season, this is a welcome sign.

The Case Against Ned

He let Kila Ka’aihue get sent down. Words are good; actions are better.

The Case For Ned

He seems to understand, in a way that his general manager sometimes doesn’t, that the Royals aren’t really playing for 2010, and that sometimes you have to make decisions which may cause short-term pain for long-term gain. In Luke Hochevar’s first outing under Yost, he blew a 4-1 lead in the seventh inning, and Yost left him out there even as Hochevar gave up five hits and a walk to the first seven batters. Hochevar’s pitch count wasn’t high, but the Royals lost the game by a run, and a quicker hook might well have saved the game. Afterwards, Yost said:

“I told him, `Look, in those types of situations,’” Yost said, “`I’m going to let you pitch yourself out of trouble. You need to learn how. When you get yourself into those situations when you’re rolling, you need to learn how to get yourself out of those situations.’”

A pitcher like Hochevar, who has been underperforming to his talents for years now, needs some tough love, but he also needs the confidence of his manager. With one quote, Yost gave him both.

(If I ever stop writing this blog, it might be because the Royals finally suck away my will to go on. Or, it might be because of columns like this from Joe Posnanski. Sometimes I wonder why I even bother. In one column, Poz sums up everything I’ve spent the better part of 15 years trying to get teams like the Royals to do.)

Conclusion

I tried to present the case for and against Ned as impartially as possible. But in the end, I have to say: the case for Ned Yost is a lot stronger than I thought, and the case against him isn’t.

The biggest problem I had with his hiring was that it was so predictable. I don’t mean predictable in the sense that he was hired as an adviser to the GM this off-season, and that as a former major-league manager he would make a perfect interim manager choice if and when Hillman was fired. I mean predictable in that some Royals fans successfully predicted that Yost would be our next manager the day he was fired by the Brewers, almost two years ago.

Yost, of course, was a coach for the Braves for over a decade before he was hired by the Brewers, and we know how much Dayton like his ex-Braves. So in that sense, the hiring was disappointing, because it seems to me that Yost was hired not for what he’s done, but simply for who he’s worked for in the past.

But maybe it’s both, because the deeper I looked into Yost’s time with the Brewers, the more I was impressed. His .477 winning percentage with the Brewers isn’t anything to write home about, until you remember that in the decade before he was hired, they had a .444 winning percentage. He took a team that had just lost 106 games to .500 in three years, and to the brink of the playoffs three years after that. The man who ultimately replaced him, Ken Macha, is already on the hot seat barely more than a season into his tenure.

As fans we focus so much on a manager’s tactical moves, simply because those are the decisions he makes that are most accessible to us. But there are thousands of smaller decisions that are made on a daily basis – do I give a pep talk to this struggling young player here, do I show confidence in this young pitcher by letting him work through this jam, how do I light a fire under this young player who’s not getting the most out of his talents. And we’re simply not privy to these conversations. All we can see are the results, which play out not in a game, or in a week or a month or even a season, but over multiple seasons.

Yost’s tactical mistakes are easy to see. His strategic victories are not. But it’s those victories – the ability to develop Fielder and Braun and Hardy and Weeks and Hart and Hall into quality ballplayers with relatively few bumps along the road – that made Yost’s tenure in Milwaukee the most successful of any manager since arguably Harvey Kuenn.

And that, in the end, is why he’s been hired by the Royals. Not because of his adeptness with his bullpen, but because the Royals can still salvage Alex Gordon and Ka’aihue, and Mike Moustakas is almost ready, and Derrick Robinson and Eric Hosmer and Johnny Giavotella are on their way. And while Yost wasn’t nearly as successful with his starting pitchers, that really seems to be more a reflection of the talent he had to work with. What works for young hitters may work for young pitchers as well, in which case Yost is the right man to bring along Mike Montgomery and Aaron Crow and John Lamb and half a dozen other promising arms.

I found this remarkably prescient piece written by a Brewers fan immediately after Yost was fired. Money quote: "I do think Yost deserves another chance at manager. He has many positive qualities as a patient developer of talent and preserver of starting arms. A team like Kansas City with an established closer and a lot of young talent that needs patience and structure could do a lot worse than hiring Yost if they get tired of Trey Hillman. Moving over to the AL would probably cover up a lot of his tactical and bench construction weaknesses as well. That's the type of situation where Yost is likely to maximize his value to a franchise at present."

Yost still needs to work to eliminate the “interim” label off his title, but at this point I think the job is his to lose, not his to win. We can only hope that along the way he learns to manage his bullpen a little better. I whined on Twitter after Yost brought in Bullington to pitch the tenth the other day. Joe Sheehan replied, Just wait for 2013, when Yost is doing that with a potential postseason team.”

Well you know what? If the Royals are a potential postseason team under Yost in 2013, he’ll be the first manager since Dick Howser who could make that claim. I certainly hope that one day I’m not writing 5000-word screeds about how Yost’s bullpen shenanigans cost the Royals a game with a playoff spot on the line. But it sure beats the alternative. I know – I’ve been living the alternative for the last 25 years.

xxx

Joe Sheehan has been my colleague at Baseball Prospectus since we started in 1996, and my friend since 1993. Watching as the words that were sent to me by email in the early 90s became sharper, and more incisive, and just plain better over the years until he had become one of the very best baseball writers on the planet, is one of the great fringe benefits of my writing career.

Joe left Baseball Prospectus this winter to strike out on his own. While his work appears in a variety of places, from SI.com to Rotowire, he hasn't had a forum to write the long, unfiltered columns that he became famous for at BP. Now, though, he's announced his new project here. It's no exaggeration for me to say that after Bill James, I've learned more about baseball, and more about baseball writing, from Joe Sheehan than from anyone else.

So if you can spare the $20, I can't recommend his newsletter highly enough.

30 comments:

Boots said...

Rany, excellent piece and you captured why I think that Yost would be a great choice for the Royals as their official manager. you of course did way more research into it than I did, but I was aware that he developed some big talent, which the Royals desperately need.

My biggest worry is that if we do not give him the official title and contract of our manager, he may feel more obligated to continue playing Guillen, Ankiel, et all than he would otherwise. His goal right now has to be to win games so that he gets a big contract. His goal COULD be to play the people he needs to win games next year and beyond.

I dont know that I'm right and giving him a contract and vote of confidence would make him do any better, after all we've played pretty well since he has become manager. Perhaps things continue working out for the best, and Im sure Moore knows that whoever he hires next will be the last manager he probably gets to hire before he gets the axe himself. Moore probably wants to make his pick count, so we'll see how this continues over the next few weeks.

bankmeister said...

Huzzah!

Anonymous said...

Epic post Rany, and i love it!

I agree with you, the manager job is Yost's to lose. I suppose I am okay with that for now.


Jeff
@jcneedham

Stephen said...

It occurs to me that there are just a handful of managers -- maybe in history -- that are truly GOOD managers, regardless of the situation. (And I don't mean just wins and losses - that's obvious - I mean being able to get the most out of any situation in front of them).

As an Astros fan, I remember how good Terry Collins was for the young Astros and how much of a misfit he was once the team matured, at which point Dierker became perfect. Phil Garner was not a great manager for much of his career, but did a really good job in Houston, managing the drastic swings of performance in '04 and '05.

From the record Rany describes, Yost's strengths seem to be suited for a young, building team, when overall development arch is much more important than wins and losses. But for a contender, his decisions that blow singular games are absolute killers, so he might not fit a contender at all. If that is the case, here's hoping the Royals develop under Yost, and then he's gone once they are ready to make the next step.

(Art Howe also was a good developmental manager that didn't fit mature contenders that well).

Fast Eddie said...

I agree that Yost could be successful. The teams' record improved during his tenure with the Brewers. I saw somewhere on a blog that he only has the rest of the year to turn things around. Of course if he might be successful in the future, the Royals will can him and hire _________ (insert lousy managerial candidate here).

GregN said...

Great research, great read. I'm not a Royals fan, but you add so much to the experience of being a baseball fan.
Thank you!

Paul P said...

Great research and thank you. The Royals aren't going to be good, no matter who is the manager, until the fix the walk problem. They don't walk enough on offense and they walk way too many when pitching. When watching games, our announcers talk about how the Royals are leading the majors in hits, or are 3rd in the AL in batting average. Those are great, don't get me wrong. But they are last in the AL in walks,making them 8th in OB%, and thus- are 9th in the AL in runs scored. You know, the stat that determines who wins and loses baseball games. And just read opposite for a similar rant on pitchers walking too many hitters.

Jimmy Jack said...

Excellent as always Rany!!

Two things poppped out to me as I read this:

1) With the way Yost handled Braun in Minneapolis, is there a chance that Gordon's stint in Omaha & transition to Left Field a product Yost's influence on the team prior to Hillman's firing?

2) Also was Kendall brought in because of his prior relationship with Yost? If so, then this is highly disappointing. Kendall Compared to either Olivo or Buck as we all know is a huge HUGE downgrade.

Yes, I'm reading between the lines here quite a bit, but it also stands to reason that if DM knew that Hillman was on his way out the door, then he was at least prior to the season and before Hillman was officially let go attempting to set up this team to move into the Yost era.

I like this for the fact that at least DM appears to be trying to set up the team for Yost to succeed in the way in which he did in Milwaukee, but if that's the case, why let Hillman start the season to begin with?

I'm officially on the Yost bandwagon. We've got a young team & that seems to be his specialty. But please, please, please give Pena the catchers mitt & send Kendall packing...

Bryan said...

I am not overly enthused by the choice of Yost.

Your commentary makes me like the move a little more, but not a lot.

I would prefer they make a big splash and get a Bobby Valentine, or Sweet Lou or somebody who has had major success at the big league level.

My biggest complaint against Yost is that he let Kila go back down. I want someone in the manager's position who will stand up to Moore and tell him he is wrong. Another yes man is not doing the organization any good.

I think I understand that together everyone is trying to get Guillen AB's so that maybe they can get something in return for him. In my opinion Pat Burrell is more attractive than Guillen and Burrell cleared waivers. I don't think Guillen is going to do well enough to merit the time and AB's given to him. They should just chalk that one up and release Guillen. For the future of the team they need to see what they have in Kila. Also Kila would tremendously improve the infield defense. I think this is more important for the future of the organization than to try and get something in return for Guillen.

I like that Yost has seemed to define roles in the bullpen. Wood is the eighth inning guy. Hughes and Farnsworth are the seventh inning guys. This has all been established in less than a week. Hillman had a lot of time to establish roles and though he didn't have much talent to work with, he seemed to get the least out of that talent. Already Yost is letting guys know what is expected of them and I think that alone is a huge improvement.

Yost's track record with young talent is certainly a good one and I hope he continues that.

It is my wish that Gordon gets up to the big leagues soon. I hope that Pods, Guillen, Betancourt, DeJesus and Ankiel are not around much longer. Let's get Parraz, Lough, Gordon and any other shortstop in any other organization and let the young kids play. As a fan, I would much rather watch young guys trying and hustling than the Guillen's and Betancourt's and Farnsworth's of the world.

I think there is the talent, especially with the starting pitching Moore has put together, to compete. I don't know how far that takes them, but I would like to see them go young rather than try and reach with people who are not about the future of the team.

Roy in Omaha said...

FYI

Jason Kendall is currently on a pace to have more at-bats and catch more games than any catcher since World War II. The same Jason Kendall that turns 36 in a month or so.

If it were up to me, Jason Kendall wouldn't even be on this team. He's on a pace to have 582 at-bats and 30 RBI's!!! 30!!!

Anonymous said...

PRO: He was in a really good movie

http://sedatedape.com/2010/05/16/i-like-the-way-he-talks/

Anonymous said...

Roy in Omaha,

You have to have a catcher, or you're going to have a lot of passed balls.

Sincerely,
Casey Stengel

Wabbitkiller said...

We have no way of knowing how Ypst will work out long term, but we DO knmow this:

Yost >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Hillman

And at this point, that's all that matters.

david said...

Great article... anyone care to take a bet on 2013?

pjbronco said...

"I would prefer they make a big splash and get a Bobby Valentine, or Sweet Lou or somebody who has had major success at the big league level."

I was hopeful that Valentine would be the manager when they hired Hillman, but if Yost can steer this team to some success with the young guys and get them ready for "the next generation," I don't see any need to replace him. However, I don't see how anyone would want Piniella at this point. He brings virtually nothing to the table at this point in his career.

Anonymous said...

Rany, I'm ready for a minor league update! I keep track of our minor league teams everyday, but I wanna know what people are saying about our studs.

rljaco said...

The problem I have is that two of the decisions were so absolutely terrible that I question his judgment: 1-- the Bullington insertion; and 2-- Meche for 122 pitches (certainly for not taking him out after the first walk).

Stephen Raymond said...

would love to support Joe - not clear how the newsletter is delivered - do you have an email contact for him?

Rany said...

Stephen,

I believe it's delivered directly by email. You can email him yourself at jsheehan@baseballprospectus.com - I think that address still works.

Stephen Raymond said...

thanks - will try that email address to contact him

Jason Kendall said...

I will not stop until I catch all 162 games for some lucky team! Play me or trade me--every day!

Anonymous said...

My 2 Cents Good manager + Good players = good team. Great managers + Great players = Great Teams.

I will spare you the converse of this theory.

Since the firing of Trey watching Royals baseball gives me feelings of doubt and anxiety. I see it, but don't believe.

Last evening When Farnsworth left the mound bounding to field a mistake swing dribbler my mind flashed images of a ball sailing over Butler's head perhaps knocking out the ball boy, a tall lanky pitcher pulling hamstrings, and a great game ending in typical Royals fashion. Bumbling and stumbling to a head scratching victory or more so, an unspeakable loss.

But, for the first time I can really remember in a long long long time, a Friday evening was spent watching excellent major league baseball played by the team I follow.

So Cool! Balls being mashed, middle relief pitchers getting the calls on 100 mph corner painted fastballs, wonderful camera angle of DeJesus heaving a dart nailing a fine player at third, a young pitcher taking over a game, an older game hero player being pulled for a pinch runner while smiling, the feeling of an fine opponent who'd given up, and last but not least a really enjoyable announced game.

Can we believe? Well, at least for me I'm going to trust my eyes. Go Royals!!!!

KHAZAD said...

I think you could make cases against even the most successful mangers. (i.e. Larussa often bats his pitcher 8th and invented the one inning closer) However, I am happy with the choice for KC. Having a manager with some success in his past is novel for this town.

That being said, why do all the long time baseball men buy into the one inning only closer? These guys have watched baseball as long as I have (or longer) and should remember the success (and team success) of Quisenberry, Gossage, Lyle, Sutter et al.

John said...

Baseball is just like any other sport. Somebody has success with a certain strategy or style of play, and everybody else copies it.

LaRussa invented the one-inning closer because he had, for a number of years, the greatest one-inning pitcher who ever lived. Before he got Dennis Eckersley, he worked his closers very hard--with the '85 White Sox, Bob James threw 110 innings over 69 games to earn 32 saves--and he missed about a month of the season.

Other teams didn't have Eckersley, but they still copied the tactics because: 1) it worked for the 1988-92 A's, and the A's won a lot; and 2) it's fairly easy to find a pitcher who can just air it out for an inning. The only guy who really didn't copy LaRussa's strategy was Sparky Anderson, but he retired not long after, and he didn't win a lot because his relief ace was about the only real pitcher he had.

It's going to take someone like LaRussa to break the trend--a manager held in such high regard, choosing to use his bullpen differently than anyone else, and winning with it.

tookee said...

Thanks for the deep insights, Rany. Yost will be an improvement over Hillman whose innovative thinking was either lost coming back from Japan or was never really there in the first place. It's also clear the players quit on him. If we start to see Kila play, Betancourt sit, and other common sense decisions, we'll know that Yost won't be just interim.

Anonymous said...

Getting about time for another post, isn't it?

Terry said...

I was thinking the same thing...Rany must be waiting for the dust to settle before commenting on the "new" Royals. Based on their performance Friday night in Boston, he'll have a lot to talk about. Yost is now 9-5 since taking over a dreadful baseball team.

What say you, Rany?

dave said...

I'd like to read a draft column myself.

Donald Zackary Greinke said...

Hey Dayton Mooreon, thanks for yet another loss! I guess I needed to hold the Red Sox to negative runs to win.

tookee said...

Rany,

Just wanted to let you know that I listened to your radio interview w/ Bill James. I am a huge fan of Bill James (starting with his books in the late seventies when I was just a kid). Like you, his writing -- and disciplined, yet innovative thinking -- completely changed not only how I saw baseball, but life as well. Thanks for having him on. I'll be following the radio show, too.