Saturday, October 25, 2014

Royals Today: World Series, Game 3.

Well, we might as well start by talking about Ned Yost, because so much of what happened in Game 3 – good and bad – had his fingerprints on it.

And if it's alright with you, let’s start by talking about the one mistake that he made, not because I want to dwell on the bad in a game that the Royals won – making Ned Yost just the second manager ever to win 10 of his first 11 postseason games – but because I want to get it out of the way.

As soon as Jarrod Dyson grounded out to end the top of the fifth inning, meaning that the pitcher’s spot in the lineup would lead off the sixth, I tweeted out that Jeremy Guthrie should pitch the bottom of the fifth only, and then get taken out for a pinch-hitter to lead off the sixth.

Guthrie, to that point, was cruising, but only if you focus simply on the end result of the at-bats against him and not the process that led to the outcome. Guthrie had allowed just two singles, one of them of the infield variety, in four innings. However, he hadn’t struck out a single batter. His defense had made several strong plays in support of him. As if to underscore the point, Guthrie threw a perfect fifth inning – but only after Hunter Pence lined out hard to Omar Infante, and then Brandon Belt did the same thing, this time with Infante perched in short right field as part of the shift. Through five innings, Guthrie had a line of 5 2 0 0 0 0, which is completely unsustainable. His BABIP was .125. He was pitching effectively, but he wasn’t pitching well.

But even if he was, the plan should have been for him to get pulled in the top of the sixth. The Royals had a 1-0 lead, and while it was unlikely that Kelvin Herrera could go two innings just two nights after he had thrown two innings and 32 pitches, he was good for one. So was Wade Davis and Greg Holland. That left just the sixth inning – it's always the sixth inning – and the Royals had several options to pitch. Brandon Crawford was scheduled to lead off the bottom of the sixth, followed by the pitcher’s spot, then Gregor Blanco and Joe Panik – three left-handed bats and a pinch-hitter. Even if Danny Duffy was still unavailable to pitch after throwing 59 pitches in Game 1, Brandon Finnegan hadn’t appeared in the series yet. The formula seemed pretty simple.

And remember: it’s not simply a question of whether Guthrie or Finnegan was the better option for the sixth. It’s whether Guthrie was sufficiently better to justify letting him bat when he led off the top of the inning, a high-leverage spot. Even if Guthrie pitched well, he was going to throw one more inning, tops. The difference between even an elite starter like Clayton Kershaw and a good reliever for one inning is not worth letting a guy with a .121 OBP lead off an inning in a 1-0 game.

Guthrie led off the sixth, and grounded out. The next two hitters singled and doubled, meaning if a pinch-hitter for Guthrie had reached base, he would have scored an extra run. And then Guthrie took the mound to start the sixth, gave up a single to Crawford and an RBI double to pinch-hitter Mike Morse, and was pulled without recording an out. Both runners scored. Making the decision to let Guthrie bat and start the inning even worse was that Yost then replaced him with Herrera, meaning that he was willing to use Herrera with no one out in the sixth inning, but wasn’t willing to do so 15 minutes earlier when Guthrie was due to bat.

 After all this time, the sixth inning remains a minefield, because Yost just isn’t willing to concede that he can pull his starter after just five innings even if his starter is pitching well. (The one time he did do it, in Guthrie's last start - Game 3 of the ALCS - it worked to perfection.) His decision to stick with Guthrie put the Royals’ victory in jeopardy, and only four sterling innings from his bullpen prevented that from happening. It was a mistake. I hope Yost will not repeat it in the series. I am afraid that he will.

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about all the things he did right.

Much to my surprise, and in yet another piece of evidence that Yost is a vastly better manager than he was even six weeks ago, his announced lineup before the game 1) had Jarrod Dyson in CF and Lorenzo Cain in RF and 2) had Alex Gordon batting 2nd.

And both moves paid off in a big way. The Royals went with the Golden Outfield alignment, and Cain made two terrific defense plays to end the first and second innings. It’s unlikely Nori Aoki makes both plays, and he might not have made either. Starting Dyson paid immediate dividends in the field.

And Gordon, batting second, did exactly what you want your #2 hitter to do when the leadoff hitter reaches base. In the top of the sixth, after Alcides Escobar singled with one out, Gordon got a fastball up and drove it to the base of the wall in center field, allowing Escobar to score from first base on the double. Gordon then came around to score on Eric Hosmer’s two out single, giving the Royals a 3-0 lead and enough cushion to weather Yost’s mistake of sticking with Guthrie for too long.

And for all the crap I gave Yost for sticking with Guthrie to start the sixth, Bruce Bochy did the same thing, which is why both teams scored two runs in the sixth inning. Guthrie had retired ten straight going into the sixth, and Tim Hudson had retired 11 straight, and neither of those streaks meant a damn thing. Hudson retired Guthrie to start the sixth, but then the lineup turned over for a third time, and wouldn’t you know it, the first two batters to face Hudson for a third time singled and doubled. Hudson was allowed to retire Cain before he was pulled with two outs and a man on second, but the damage was done. Yost made the same mistake, and I excoriated him for it. But like a lot of questionable things that Yost does, he’s far from the only manager who does them. At the very least, Yost managed Bochy to a draw in Game 3. That’s all we can ask for.

There were a couple of other curious decisions that Yost made, but they worked out as well as could be expected. He called upon Herrera to bail out Guthrie in the sixth, which Herrera did, although he allowed Morse to score after a couple of groundouts first. He then let Herrera bat after Dyson singled with two outs in the top of the seventh, a really curious decision given that Herrera had never batted in his professional career, either in the majors or the minors. The argument in favor of it is that with a one-run lead, if Herrera just pitched a scoreless bottom of the seventh you could turn the game over to Wade Davis and Greg Holland at that point. But Herrera walked Pence to lead off the top of the seventh. He then struck out Brandon Belt, blowing a 97 mph fastball right by him on a 3-2 count, possibly the most important pitch of the game – if he throws ball four, the Giants have men on first and second and no one out.

And then Yost takes him out in favor of Finnegan. This is weird on several levels: 1) if you trust Finnegan in such a key spot, why didn’t you trust him to start the sixth inning against a bunch of left-handed batters; 2) having just let Herrera face a left-handed hitter – and strike him out – why would you bring in Finnegan to pitch to another left-handed hitter, especially since that hitter (Travis Ishikawa) was likely to be pinch-hit for by Juan Perez, who in addition to batting right-handed was a far superior defender?

But Finnegan got Perez to line out to Gordon in left, and then struck out Brandon Crawford on a nasty 3-2 fastball down and in. He might have gotten lucky – Crawford swung at ball four – but the pitch had a lot of movement on it as well. The kid who became the first player ever to appear in the College and Real World Series in the same year showed off his huge cojones once again. Wade Davis did Wade Davis things in the eighth, Greg Holland did Greg Holland things in the ninth, and the Royals improved to 5-0 in one-run games during the postseason.

The other questionable decision Yost made was to bat Hosmer and Moustakas back-to-back, making the lineup go R-L-R-L-L-R-R-L, and giving the Giants an opportunity to attack the Royals with lefty and righty specialist for two batters at a time. There’s no good reason to do this – Yost said before the game that he batted them back-to-back because “they’re both swinging the bat well”, which is irrelevant. If he had simply flip-flopped Moustakas and Infante, the lineup would have been essentially perfect – I had advocated Salvador Perez fifth and Infante seventh, but given that Infante appears healthy and had two extra-base hits in Game 2, I wouldn’t have had an issue with Infante fifth instead.

But Yost chose to bat Moustakas right behind Hosmer, and as everyone predicted before the game even started, Bochy attacked the back-to-back lefties with Javier Lopez in the sixth inning. Just one problem for Bochy – it didn’t work. Hosmer had an incredibly impressive at-bat, fouling off five two-strike pitches and working back from an 0-2 count to a 3-2 count, then lining a bullet to center field on the 11th pitch of the at-bat to drive in Gordon from second base with two outs. That run would prove the winning margin.

I don’t know that I’d give Yost any credit for baiting Bochy into bringing in Lopez there – Lopez was probably going to come in to pitch to Hosmer even if there was a right-handed batter on deck, only in that case he would have faced just one batter. And Lopez then struck out Moustakas. I see no evidence that batting them in this order helped at all, and I sincerely hope that Yost changes his mind for Games 4 and 5. But at least in Game 3, thanks to a gorgeous piece of hitting by Hosmer, it didn’t hurt at all.

Yost didn’t manage a perfect game by any stretch. But in the end, his plusses outweighed his minuses, especially when compared to his competition in the other dugout. Yost at least managed Bochy to a draw in Game 3. He outmanaged Bochy in Game 2. And the managers had essentially no bearing in Game 1. Yost isn’t the main reason the Royals are winning. But he’s not holding them back from winning, and I am deeply grateful that he has progressed to this point as a manager at the perfect possible time.

- The defense, just to reiterate, was terrific once again. Cain was exceptional. Perez threw out Pence trying to steal second base in the second inning, which saved a run when Belt following with a single. Pence reached on an infield single, but Escobar almost made an exceptional play to throw him out, barehanding his chopper but pulling Hosmer off the bag with his throw. Even Holland got in the act, snagging Pence’s hot shot up the middle with two outs in the ninth, flipping to Hosmer to end the game.

- Ned Yost didn’t call on a pinch-hitter in the entire game – played under National League rules. That can happen when the starting pitcher throws a complete game, but the Royals used five pitchers in the game. Somehow, their pitchers batted all three times that spot in the lineup came up. Somehow, Yost got away with it. I would kindly ask that he refrain from trying to repeat it.

- The first run of the game was Royals baseball at its best. Escobar ambushed Hudson, jumping on the very first pitch of the game for a double off the left field wall. Gordon then grounded out to the right side, allowing Escobar to move to third, and then Cain – after the 2-1 pitch was called a strike on one of the very worst ball/strike calls I’ve seen all season – the pitch was at least six inches low – rebounded to put a ball in play with two strikes, grounding out to Crawford as Escobar scored.

Once again, with a man on third base and one out, the Royals stayed away from the strikeout, and once again it led to a run. And this time, that run was the margin of victory. Put the ball in play. Run hard. And trust that good things will happen.

- Speaking of good things, the Royals are two wins away from the best thing of all: a world championship. They are guaranteed to be back in Kansas City on Tuesday, either for Game 6 of the World Series, or for a parade. My brain does not have the capacity to comprehend either of those possibilities. But they’re going to happen all the same. Go crazy, folks. Go crazy. I know I am.


Unknown said...

Not only does not pinch hitting in that sixth inning make it more difficult for us in the field, it makes it easier on the Giants because we fail to take full advantage of their sixth inning. I seriously hope things change.

AmishElectrician said...

The Hosmer at bat and RBI single in the 6th was a thing of beauty......I had the sense after about pitch number 6 it was the key at bat of not only the game but the rest of the Series. If the Royals pull this thing out, the Hosmer at bat will be what I consider the turning point. Thanks for putting into words what has consumed my brain for the past month Rany. I am pretty sure my head exploded on September 30th and I have been clinically insane for the last month! Loving every minute of it and only two wins away from crying like a baby on the carpet of my living room.

Unknown said...

i'm going to add on to the list of yost mistakes - not sending dyson early in the count with Herrera at the plate.

if he gets caught stealing, no harm, pitcher spot leads off next inning, and you can pinch hit for herrera/finnegan and then bring in davis for the 8th.

the only thing Herrera could possibly do at the plate is slap something to the opposite field, meaning if the blind squirrel finds his nut, dyson has to be on 2nd to make that count.

tookee said...

yost doesn't seem to care or, worse, doesn't grasp the double-switch or when to maximize a pinch-hitter opp'y. He's just not a good manager. A World Championship will cement his place for at least 2-3 seasons. Of course, Royals fans would owe a lot to what he HAS done, but what he'll continue to do will likely not bring them back to WS level (as Bochy has). I won't be petty and complain. I'll take what I can get and hope the Dayton Moore has learned far more than Ned Yost while on the job.

Unknown said...

I think I set the tone for a bit too much Ned bashing.
He's done well, and if he continues to learn, he will be a, dare I say it, pretty good manager next year.

I like our chances tonight but what does everyone else think? And not only that but are others like me and almost conceding game 5?

Unknown said...

Anyone please chime in. Ned is not a great tactition but I think in the grand scheme of things is only 10ish% of his job. Getting the guys to think, they're without a doubt the best team in MLB is a helluva success. When we all wanted to see him blast these guys in the last 3 years for poor play he never did (publicly). I'm not completely sold that's what did it but I'm sure in the hell not going to say it's not (that made more sense in my head). Ned is a grumpy ass, half ass game manager but he has us 2 wins away from something that no one could've realisticly dreamed of 6 months ago. He's made this city fall in love with baseball and the Royals again, after they've broke hearts more times than we should've ever allowed. I think for that he deserves more credit than he will ever receive. I'd bet money that in the coming years we will probably have a better rosters than this but maybe not see a 2-1 series lead in the WS.

Thanks Ned, I have a 5 and 7 year old that are chanting 'lets go Royals' at the breakfast table and that is something I never saw coming nor will ever forget.

Mark LaFlamme said...

Yost made mistakes, but they were very human mistakes, not like the egregious forehead-slappers we've seen in regular season. The most astounding thing to me in this whole thing is how well Yost has managed. I mean, how did that happen? After the wildcard game, I was sure we'd be soon eliminated because of some incredibly stupid Yostism. Not even close. He's been good, crafty even. Credit where it's dude.

loynograd said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
will_severns said...

"Guthrie led off the sixth, and grounded out. The next two hitters singled and doubled, meaning if a pinch-hitter for Guthrie had reached base, he would have scored an extra run." What makes you think Escobar and Gordon would have gotten a single/double if say Aoki had gotten a single? Their approach would have been different would it not? Hindsight

I love that 98% of this town loves Ned, and he still takes the 2% in stride, as professionally as any great manager could

Unknown said...

Rany, I know you are calling it quits at the end of this season, but what a way to go out. Thanks for your analysis over the years.

jim said...

Speaking of statistics:

Every pitcher that Yost doesn't choose is 1968-era Bob Gibson. Every batter that Yost doesn't choose is 2004-era Barry Bonds.

What are the odds one 89-win team would have so much talent from which to choose?

jim said...

recall that howser was hired by the royals...after getting fired after the 1980 season by the yankees...after the yankees... lost to the Royals in the 1980 ALCS.

The old saying remains true: The fan wants to be the manager. The manager wants to be the umpire. The umpire wants to be the fan.

Unknown said...

The key thing to remember is that the Royals made it into the postseason and won the wild card game in spite of Ned Yost. The best we can do to complement him right now is say he hasn't screwed everything up. Anybody could've pointed out that this team would be dangerous in the postseason. Not 10-1 good but definitely a dangerous team. Because the ability to make contact (4th highest BA in the majors), great all around pitching and great defense become more important. You can't walk your walk to a championship because generally teams will be facing much better pitchers. Which is why the ability to hit becomes so much more important. This is why Billy Beane and Bill James still love guys that can hit for average and that's why those guys get paid. Moneyballers can't afford those guys so they go for the next best thing. But as you all should remember, those 2004 Red Sox had 6 guys bat over 280 including Damon. The old baseball stats are not bad. The new baseball stats are not any better. They just give a better all around picture. Where baseball stats are still lagging behind is defense. Scouting is still the best way to judge a defender.

Unknown said...

Most upsetting part about the movie Moneyball was the lack of respect given to Miggy T, Dye, and the Hudson Zito Mulder. There's a lot of baseball fans who need to either read or reread the book and actually listen to analysis given by Bill James himself. He doesn't discredit scouting like so many other people unfortunately do.

Seth said...

The analysis is spot on. Winning the game does not absolve Ned of making questionable decisions with the pitching staff and then with pinch hitting (or the lack thereof). Letting Hererra bat when he had never batted in a game is almost inexcusable. I know that Hererra is the 7th inning guy but highly questionable to even consider letting him step to the plate.
But let’s be real honest here, Bochy is making even more questionable managerial decisions in my opinion; and to the Royals advantage. He did it last night with Hudson and he did it today by starting Vogelsong.
Unless Shields does something he hasn't done since the regular season, he probably won't have a very good start tomorrow in game 5... he does have 7.11 ERA in the post-season so far... why pitch Bumgarner in game 5 where you're likely to already have a pitching advantage if you just bump Vogelsong back a day.
If you believe, like I do, that Bumgarner has been the best pitcher in this post-season then why not try to get him as many starts in the World Series as possible. He could've pitched today on short rest and then pitched again in a potential game 7 on short rest. I would say that the way he's pitched in the post-season that the Giants would have a high probability of winning both games (game 4 and game 7) he could've potentially started which would've turned both remaining games (game 5 and game 6) into must wins for the Royals whereas the Giants would only have to win 1 of them including a game that Shields would be starting (game 5).
So, by holding Bumgarner on normal rest he really doesn't become a starting option for game 7 (if it gets that far). Instead, you're now pitching him in a game (game 5) that you would probably have a pitching advantage in regardless unless Shields can do something he hasn't done in a month. This, in my opinion, has turned game 4 into a must win for the Giants and game 5 a throw away for KC. Regardless of the outcome of game 4, KC will come home to play for the title and probably not have face Bumgarner again (unless they just win the whole thing in San Fran).

Jazzbumpa said...

Reading this article makes it plain the Yost managed very badly. The things he did right were pretty close to no-brainers, and the mistakes were not only brainless, but impossible to rationalize.

The other manager doing dumb things does not in any way exonerate Yost.

A manager needs to give his players the best chance to win, and Yost rather consistently fails that test.

Wining in spite of all this means the players overachieved, the opponents didn't, or something fluky happened. None of this exonerates Yost either.

Bottom line is he's a tactical failure.


Matt S said...

Not that it would ever happen, but I wonder if Dyson had laid up on the line drive where he made a diving catch, if he could have gotten Pence in a force at home.