Sunday, September 15, 2013


I’ve really had my fill of writing about Ned Yost’s tactical decision-making this month. Honest. I have.

But I’ve also really had my fill of watching him make decisions that cost the Royals ballgames and are threatening to bring an end to the most exciting month of Royals baseball in a decade or two.

Let’s set the stage again.

Max Scherzer was dealing for Detroit this afternoon. Maybe he deserves the AL Cy Young Award, maybe he doesn’t, but let’s not let the argument over whether his win-loss record means anything (it doesn’t) obscure the fact that he’s been a phenomenal pitcher all season. In seven innings he struck out 12 Royals, the most strikeouts by any pitcher against the Royals this season, and allowed only a run on a solo homer to Alex Gordon.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Guthrie was…not Max Scherzer. He gave up a pair of two-out singles in the first; in the second, he allowed a leadoff single and then a home run to Alex Avila, followed by two more singles before he retired the final two batters of the inning.

He began the third inning by allowing back-to-back singles to Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez. At this point, the Tigers were 8-for-14. But he retired Andy Dirks, Omar Infante, and Avila in order to get out of the inning.

In the fourth, Ramon Santiago led off with a bunt single, but Guthrie got Austin Jackson to ground into a double play, and Torii Hunter’s bunt attempt failed.

In the fifth, Miguel Cabrera led off with a single, and Fielder doubled to put men on second and third with none out. At this point, the Tigers were 11-for-22 in the game. But Guthrie worked his way out of another jam, getting Martinez and Dirks to ground out to Eric Hosmer with the runners holding, and then Infante to ground out to Escobar.

Through five innings, the Tigers were 11-for-16 with a home run and a double with the bases empty or a runner on first base only – but they were 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position.

This has been the key to Guthrie’s success all season – he has worked out of jams all year long by pitching much better with runners in scoring position. His BABIP, coming into today’s game, was .299 – actually higher than his career mark of .281. But look at these splits – before today’s game:

Bases empty: .273/.333/.454
Man on first base only: .302/.343/.431
Runners in scoring position: .244/.290/.359

What Guthrie has done this year is awesome, and it’s helped to post a 4.08 ERA and win 14 games despite pitching on the edge all year. It’s also completely out of line with what Guthrie has done in his career. For his career, Guthrie actually has a higher OPS with runners in scoring position (765) than with the bases empty (760). Those splits are unsustainable. That doesn’t negate the value of what he’s done this year; it does mean that you can’t just assume that Guthrie has some magical ability to pitch with men in scoring position.

Given the way he was pitching, you could make a strong case that he should have been pulled after five innings, if not sooner. Again: it’s September, you’re in a pennant race, AND YOU HAVE ONE OF THE BEST BULLPENS EVER ASSEMBLED at your disposal. Oh, and because it’s September, YOU HAVE ELEVEN RELIEVERS to choose from.

Guthrie took the mound for the sixth, which I found curious, but I suppose defensible. Avila struck out; Santiago grounded out, and after Jackson walked, Hunter popped out.

The Royals were unable to take advantage of a second-and-third, one-out situation in the top of the seventh, and the score remained 2-1. Guthrie came back out to the mound to face Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Victor Martinez. I would argue that this was a mistake, and I still think it’s a mistake even after Cabrera and Fielder grounded out, and after Martinez lined a single to left, Dirks struck out.

The Royals needed a run and they only had six outs left, but they also got Scherzer out of the game after 116 pitches, exposing the Tigers’ biggest weakness: their bullpen. Drew Smyly has been the Tigers’ best reliever this season, but Alcides Escobar led off the eighth with a double. After Gordon failed to advance him by popping out, Escobar stole third base while Bonifacio struck out – Escobar is now 19-for-19 on steal attempts this year. Hosmer grounded out, but not before Escobar raced home when Smyly buried a pitch that Avila could not keep from bouncing away from him. On a gift run from the Tigers, the Royals had tied the game.

A day after the Royals turned a remarkable defensive play that kept them from potentially losing a game they had no business losing, they had a chance to win a game they had no business winning. Even though the Tigers were the home team, my first thought after the Royals tied the game was that this was now a battle between their bullpen and ours, and I liked our chances.

At no point did I think there was ANY chance that Guthrie would take the mound again. Not after 7 innings. Not after 102 pitches. Not with a collection of bullpen arms that is the envy of baseball lurking behind an outfield fence.

Jeremy Guthrie took the mound. He struck out Omar Infante looking on five pitches. Alex Avila batted. On a 1-1 pitch, Guthrie hung a slider right over the middle of the plate, and Avila did what you’re supposed to do when a tiring starter who was skating on thin ice all game long parks a pitch in your happy zone.

That was the game. Five more batters would come to the plate, two for the Tigers and three for the Royals, and all would make out. Jeremy Guthrie got his complete game. He also took the loss.

Let’s back up here. Guthrie started the 8th inning despite having thrown 102 pitches. Back on May 6th, Ned Yost got second-guessed by half of Kansas City because he pulled James Shields in a 1-0 game after eight innings. That day, Shields had thrown…102 pitches.

And here’s the thing: I never joined the second-guessing, because pulling Shields was the right move. It was the right move EVEN THOUGH Shields had allowed just two hits and two walks in eight innings, and had struck out nine. It was the right move because a fresh Greg Holland was likely to be more effective than Shields facing batters for the fourth time. People got upset because Holland gave up the tying run – but it was the last run Holland would give up until June 16th, and the last lead he would blow until September 5th. (People also got upset in hindsight because it turned out to be the first game in a 4-19 stretch that will probably keep the Royals out of the playoffs.)

But again: pulling Shields was the right move. So how on Earth can Yost pull Shields after 102 dominant pitches in early May, but leave an inferior pitcher having a vastly inferior game on the mound in a September pennant race with three extra relievers at his disposal?

Do you know how many times Yost has let his starting pitcher go back out to start an inning, having already thrown at least 7 innings and at least 102 pitches? Twice, and it was Shields both times. On April 13th, Shields pitched the ninth against the Blue Jays losing 3-1, having thrown 103 pitches. He worked around a one-out walk to throw a scoreless inning.

The other time was on May 17th in Oakland. Shields had thrown 102 pitches, and had allowed the game-tying home run in the 7th inning, when he took the mound to start the 8th. The first batter he faced, Adam Rosales, hit a home run. The Royals lost, 2-1.

So in September, in a pennant race, with ELEVEN relievers on hand, in a tie game, in the 8th inning, with his #4 starter (at best) having thrown 102 pitches, and having allowed 12 hits already, Yost sent him back to the mound. Even though he had only asked his starting pitcher to work that hard twice all season, and one of those two decisions proved disastrous.

It’s true, Greg Holland (1.33 ERA) pitched yesterday, although that was his first game since Wednesday. And Luke Hochevar (1.67 ERA) also pitched yesterday, although that was his first game since Tuesday. But here are the other options that Yost could have turned to:

There was Wade Davis (no runs in four relief innings), who hasn’t pitched since Monday, and has pitched four innings all month.

There was Kelvin Herrera (3.70 ERA), who hasn’t pitched since Tuesday.

There was Aaron Crow (3.55 ERA), who hasn’t pitched since a week ago Friday, and just twice all month.

There was Tim Collins (3.60 ERA), who hasn’t pitched since a week ago Thursday – ten days ago.

There was Louis Coleman (0.35 ERA – one run in 26 innings), who pitched an inning on Friday, and before that hadn’t pitched in a week.

There was Will Smith (1.75 ERA as a reliever), who faced one batter yesterday, but before that hadn’t pitched in a week.

There was Francisley Bueno (no runs in six innings), who threw 19 pitches on Friday, and before that hadn’t pitched in eight days.

There was Donnie Joseph (no runs in six innings), who threw 11 pitches on Friday, and before that hadn’t pitched in eight days.

The Royals have eleven relievers on the roster. Every one of them was available to pitch. Nine of the eleven hadn’t pitched the day before. Thanks to the off-day on Thursday, not one of the Royals 11 relievers had appeared in more than one game in the last three days. They were all available.

AND IT’S THE ONE OF THE BEST BULLPENS EVER ASSEMBLED. Ten of the 11 relievers have a better ERA than Guthrie. (The exception is Luis Mendoza, who’s appeared in one game in the last three weeks.) Seven of the 11 have ERAs under 2.00 in relief. The bullpen ERA for the team as a whole is 2.55, which remains the lowest by an AL team since 1990.

Yost chose to stick with Guthrie. He stuck with Guthrie even though the Tigers were batting 12-for-32 (.375) in the game. He stuck with Guthrie even though, for his career, batters were hitting .305/.387/.426 when they were facing Guthrie for the fourth time in a game.

After Infante struck out, Yost stuck with Guthrie against Alex Avila, even though Avila’s left-handed, and while right-handed hitters were batting .221/.278/.337 against Guthrie this year, left-handed hitters were batting .332/.381/.522.

Yost stuck with Guthrie against Avila even though Avila had already homered against him earlier in the game. (You think single-season platoon splits and pitcher vs. hitter matchups don’t matter much? I agree with you! But those are the stats Yost believes in, and even those stats told him to get Guthrie the hell out of the game.)

With two weeks to go in the season, with the Royals with genuine playoff aspirations on September 15th for the first time in the memories of many of you reading this, in a tie game in the bottom of the eighth inning, with a phenomenal and rested bullpen at his disposal, Ned Yost chose to stick with a league-average starting pitcher who didn’t have his best stuff and who was laboring his fourth time through the lineup.

And the Royals lost the game. Guthrie did get his complete game, even though he allowed 13 hits. It was just the fifth 13-hit complete game of the decade. The last time a pitcher threw a complete game while allowing more than 13 hits? Tim Wakefield, in 1996. There's a good reason for that: pitchers aren't allowed to throw a complete game when they don't have good stuff.

Unlike Monday’s debacle, afterwards even Yost sensed he might have made a boo-boo. “I thought he could get us through the bottom of the order, but I pushed him too far…Hindsight is 20-20, and there will be a lot of that. I just thought (Guthrie) had enough to get us to the ninth.”

Hindsight is 20-20, but sometimes foresight is too. If you’re reading this, you probably had 20-20 vision into the future from the moment Guthrie walked out to the mound in the eighth.

“The way he had pitched,” Yost said, “I just felt real strongly that he could get us to the ninth, turn it over to the pen in a tie game and give him a chance to win the game.”

Give HIM a chance to win the game. Not the Royals. Jeremy Guthrie. Because pitcher wins – which are nothing more than an accounting trick – matter more than team wins. 

Reading that quote, I suddenly feel like Brian Kenny isn’t being forceful enough in his crusade to #KillTheWin. Kill the win? Ned Yost risked losing a game in order to give his starting pitcher a chance to get the “win” on his ledger instead of another pitcher on his own team. Waterboard the win. Napalm the win. Nuke the win.

I wish we could buy Yost some glasses, but I don’t know how you can just wave away what’s happened this week. It’s not just that Yost made tactical blunders that may have cost the Royals two games – it’s that he made radically different errors in each game. On Monday, he pushed too many buttons (pinch-hit for Cain, then bunted with the pinch-hitter, then pinch-hit for Dyson with Pena) in a panicked attempt to do something to score the tying and winning runs. Today, he stood pat and stuck with his starting pitcher when he literally had 10 better options in the bullpen waiting for a phone call.

If Yost kept making the same mistake over and over again, maybe you could drill him to stop making that mistake. But when he overmanages one night and undermanages the next, what do you do?

I don’t know what the Royals will do. But I’ll tell you what the Brewers did in a September pennant race, five years ago today: they fired Ned Yost.

The Brewers made the playoffs. The Royals probably won’t. Unfortunately, they probably won’t whether or not they retain Yost’s services for the rest of this season.

I just hope that they remember today’s game, and Monday’s game, when they decide whether to retain his services for next season.


Ryan said...

Keeping Guthrie in in the 8th was indefensible. I thought he was going to get yanked in the 5th too. It would have completely rational if it had happened.

Dad said...

I was flipping between Chiefs and Royals, and turned back just in time to see the end of the 8th. I had done so because I assumed after seeing them tie it that our bullpen would give us a chance to take the lead in the 9th, and I wanted to see that, regardless of what the Chiefs were doing. I saw Guthrie's face flash briefly on the screen before it went to commercial, and I said out loud "that better not have been Guthrie giving up that run." Of course, it was.

Should the Royals have scored more than 6 runs in this series? Yes, and you could say that the offense has been a disappointment all year. However, there is nothing more crushing to one's hopes for their favorite team than watching the manager make a decision that NO ONE OTHER THAN HIM thought was a good idea. Ned does not deserve all the blame for certain failures of the team this season. I would assume he deserves at least some of the credit for being the leader of a team that never quits. In my opinion, however, that is overrated. Ultimately, the players have to have the will, the desire, and the ability to prepare for, play, and win the games.

I was watching "Remember the Titans" the other night, and my favorite part about that movie is that Coach Boone is not the hero. Yes, he had to have some unique abilities to lead a team that accomplished so much. However, it wasn't until his two defensive stars became leaders themselves that the team began to take off. Coach Boone's job was to put his players in a position to win. It was the players' challenge to go ahead and take advantage of the opportunity.

I believe this team has something special, and I think the players are responsible for this. Ned gets the credit for allowing them to be who they are. Unfortunately, he is just not blessed with the ability to make in-game decisions placing his team in a position to win games. In fact, they often have to overcome his shortcomings with their play. If he is not let go at the end of the season, I see no hope for next season being anything more than the massive disappointment that this season almost certainly will be.

Scump said...

Not saying I agree with Yost- I don't- but did you maybe answer your question when you noted how long it had been since many of those relievers had pitched? I guess given Yost's quote it isn't the case but I could see an argument that he thought those guys had TOO much rest and were maybe a little rusty. I'm not sure if that really happens- and if it does it's on Yost for not using them with some consistency anyway- but you do hear managers make this excuse on occasion. Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

This team is close.

Teams that are close need to take advantage of all of the chances they are given.

A manager does not have a great impact on wins and losses, but he does have some.

This team is being held back by the manager.

If you are Dayton Moore don't you want the manager to add to the chance the team wins, rather than take away from that?

i personally really wanted Terry Francona after last year for this team. I believe he would have added wins to this team. I think he has done that for Cleveland. I think KC, especially with the pitching staff assembled has more talent than Cleveland. Not a lot. But is it possible that if you switch managers the records of the teams are switched?

I think Moore should go all out to get a veteran manager for this team. I would love Francona or Showalter. Unfortunately they aren't available.

Would Cox come out of retirement for a year?


Probably not to both.

I am not a fan of Charlie Manuel, but he would be better than Yost.

For the right money, I think that Joe Torre would come back. The position he has is a pretty thankless job an he doesn't really make any impact.

One benefit of hiring him is that he has relationships with all of the umpires. That can't hurt.

He isn't a perfect fit, but I think he would be much better than anyone who is available.

JustinG said...

Well said. There was no excuse for Guthrie to still be in the game in the 8th. Or 7th. Or 6th. He should have been pulled after the Fielder double in the 5th. Because the Royals, as you said, have the best bullpen in baseball. And Guthrie has been the worst starter in this rotation the second half. Besides Wade Davis, of course.

Yost also made a questionable decision by not pinch hitting for Cain and then Dyson in the 7th with runners on second and third -- Dyson especially. But I know why he let Dyson hit. Because he got crap for pinch hitting for him Monday. Nevermind that the reason people were upset was because of who Yost chose to pinch hit (Pena), not because he pinch hit.

I think Ned Yost is one in a line of many Royals who is a nice guy, tries hard, but just isn't good enough. If his situation follows Royals suit, Moore will bring him back even though the numbers argue against it. That said, there are two weeks left in the season and Yost still doesn't have a contract for next year. Maybe Dayton Moore is smarter than we think.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Abdul-Infinite said...

great job as always, Rany. The other game that I will never forget is the James Shields game earlier in the year. And as you do better than anyone else, you were able to make the connection that in that game Shield was also, ironically, at exactly 102 pitches! Unbelievable. I really believed after the previous night when Ned made the smart move and took Santana out early that Ned knew it was time to go all in with his league leading bullpen. But as usual, we were "Yosted" and I knew before the season that no matter how good our team was Yost would find a way to screw it up. Why can't he just make the obvious moves and call it a day?

John said...

Yes, clearly, Guthrie should have come out. But in the (slightly) larger picture, when we hold the Tigers to 3 runs, that is a game the offense needs to win. At the end we were only in it at all thanks to sheer luck, i.e. the 8th inning wild pitch that scored Escobar. And a major reason we won Sat. was due to another gift, in the form of a horrible managerial decision by Leland: not pinch running for Prince Fielder behind 1-0 in the bottom of the 9th(!). Moustakas is absolutely killing us this month, a fact partly obscured by the one walk off homer. Butler and Hosmer have grown strangely quiet, and the Triumvirate (Cain/Dyson/Lough) isn't doing much either. Gordon can't do it all himself. If we do not make the playoffs, the biggest reason by far will be the offense's failure to support consistently elite pitching.

Troy said...

I tweeted during the 6th inning that Ned should be fired between innings if Guthrie gave up another run in that inning. I tweeted that Dayton should have been in the dugout with the pink slip, handing it to Ned when Avila's home run cleared the fence.

It is obvious that Ned likes Jeremy and thinks of him differently. A fireable offense. Just like he likes Chris Getz. A fireable offense. Yes he has helped us. Help isn't enough. SAY IT WITH ME (in the voice of Hud) "HE GOT TO GO".

Unknown said...

What is really strange is that May 2 -two days before James Shields was pulled in the ninth with a 1-0 lead and 102 pitches - Yost let Jeremy Guthrie pitch the 9th against the same White Sox with a 2-0 lead and 99 pitches. Is there an explanation as to why Ned Yost seemingly went with two opposite pieces of strategy two days apart?

Unknown said...

OOPS - I meant May 4

Robert said...

I really wish I hadn't read that he ran him back out there to give him a chance to get the win.

I hate Ned Yost.

adoyleBU said...

The only thing that scares me more than Ned’s tactical decision making is that I can see Dayton Moore defending those decisions when he brings him back for next season. I’ve been wrong about this before, but surely there are people in the front office that can see how wrong his thought process is and that he’s costing the Royals wins and can convince DM that someone (anyone) else should manage this team.

twm said...

I know we are talking about the Royals and Ned Yost, and that is exciting stuff, but that Wil Myers home run I saw yesterday was amazing, and I need to keep talking about it. Yesterday I commented that his home run was probably the longest I had seen from a right handed batter at Target Field. So I looked it up: So far this season, Wil Myers' home run is the longest by any batter at Target Field, with a true distance of 444 feet (according to ESPN's hit tracker). And as for Target Field's youthful history, it ranks as the third by a right handed batter, behind Alfonso Soriano in 2012, (448 feet) and Matt Kemp in 2011, (449 feet). It was majestic.

1985again said...

Whoa let's slow our rolls guys. Ned is Dayton's boy. As long as Dayton os there, Ned ain't going anywhere.

Pat Dunn said...

I hate it when Joe is right

Michael S. said...

I think if it were a sure thing that Ned was coming back next year he'd have a contract by now.

John said...

I remember the game where Tim Wakefield was allowed to go the distance despite pitching so poorly. That was actually a different circumstance. The Red Sox were mired in a terrible slump, and had burned through their entire bullpen. Kevin Kennedy asked Wake to throw a complete game that day, regardless of the results, because the Red Sox had to rest their bullpen.

He allowed 16 hits and lost, but because he took one for the team, the Red Sox won their next four, including two extra-inning games. Their now-rested bullpen was a big part of that. (Wakefield famously took another one for his team eight years later...which led to another, more meaningful, Red Sox winning streak.)

That was a desperation move by a manager with 101 games left to play. Yost had no reason to be desperate and couldn't afford to surrender a game.

Unknown said...

When Dayton Moore made the Wil Myers trade, he defended it by saying, among other things, that it would help the Royals learn how to win at the major league level. It appears he was not only talking about the core of young players on the team, but he was also talking about his manager.

For a guy who has been around baseball a long time, Ned's inability to SEE THE OBVIOUS things that are happening in the game is hard to understand. He's got his mind buried in whatever "book" he's relying on to make some of these idiotic decisions, and he's missing what's really happening. It's very sad.

Anonymous said...

Scump, I'm not sure I agree with you. How can they be 'rusty'? Is that even a thing--I mean, do we know that relievers fare worse after, say, a five-day layoff?

Further, once they're 'rusty', how are they going to get unrusty? I guess with mop-up duty, but most games aren't out of hand by the sixth inning. I've never understood this reasoning.

Kansas City said...

Rany did focus on an unbelievable part of the explanation. It has come up in the past. Yost sometimes bases pitching decisions on how it is going to potentially affect the pitcher's won loss and save records. Again, he is not smart enough to be a major league manager in today's baseball.

KHAZAD said...

In between the May 6th game and the May 17th game, Shields had only thrown 101 pitches on May 11th and was left out there for the 8th.

The difference between May 6th and the other two games was the score. Yost said after pulling Shields in the first game that he didn't want him to take a loss after such a fine outing. In the next game, we were behind, and he said he wanted to give him a chance to win. A similar statement was made in the third game, when it was a tie score.

Obviously, Shields was having better outings in all 3 of those games than Guthrie was in his game, but the point is that Yost has been considering the pitcher's wins and losses over the team's for quite some time. I was pissed off about in May as much as I am now.