OK, OK… I’m late on this. But it’s the offseason. That Thanksgiving week lull where we are a few weeks removed from the World Series and a week or two ahead of the winter meetings. There’s not much going on, so why not talk about Ned Yost.
Yost, if you will recall, wasn’t even a finalist for the Manager of the Year award handed out last week. Meaning he wasn’t even in the top three.
(Now feels like the appropriate time to remind everyone that the voting for the awards is done prior to the start of the postseason. That way everyone is held to the same standard of the 162 games of the regular season. October glory does not count for this particular set of hardware.)
When the finalists were announced, I went on a mild Twitter rant – it’s kind of difficult to get worked up over these awards – expressing a little disdain that Yost was ignored in the balloting. After all, it seems like the Manager of the Year award goes annually to the manager who led his team to the most surprising, positive finish. The Houston Astros were pretty bad last year and were expected to be pretty bad again this year. Therefore, being in the hunt for the AL West title for most of the year before ultimately settling for the Wild Card meant AJ Hinch would receive consideration. Paul Molitor in Minnesota didn’t have his team atop the division, but they did massively beat the expectations of a fifth place finish. And Jeff Banister… You get the point.
Anyway, the point of this isn’t to bemoan Yost’s lack of support. When I received my annual delivery of the Bill James Handbook, I flipped to the section on managers. What jumped off the pages was exactly how much Yost didn’t do. He has, by his experience and familiarity with his team, become the ultimate push-button manager. And it works.
Let’s look at how Yost has managed his team over the last season.
That the Royals were so set with their starting nine uncovers another Yost nugget and that was his lineup was pretty much set in stone. Granite, if you will.
The average American League manager filled out a total of 128 different lineup cards. Yost had 83 different lineups. Here are the five managers who fielded the fewest different batting orders.
Ned Yost – 83
Robin Ventura – 114
Brad Ausmus – 122
Paul Molitor – 124
Mike Scioscia – 125
Again, that’s simply amazing. Yost had the fewest lineups in the AL and it wasn’t even close. We clogged copious amounts of bandwidth complaining about Alcides Escobar hitting leadoff and Alex Gordon hitting sixth (or eighth!) but it was never going to make a difference.
However, this is an area where I give Yost a ton of credit for his willingness to go outside of the box. When he installed Mike Moustakas as his number two hitter, that seemed to make as much sense as insisting the sun rises in the west. Then, paired with Escobar at the top seemed a special kind of lunacy. Yet it worked. Why? In retrospect it was clear that moving Moustakas to the top of the order actually took the pressure off, where he could focus just on making contact and going to the opposite field, rather than trying to drive the ball all the time, which in year’s past had led to a bag of mixed up swing mechanics and a plummeting of confidence. Fixing that is what a good manager is supposed to do. Yost fixed it.
The consistency carried over into October. The only time he deviated from his end of the year lineup in the postseason was when he lost his designated hitter for the games at Citi Field. The Royals most popular regular season lineup?
That was Yost’s lineup for 11 games in 2015. His second most popular lineup was the exact same, except for a flip-flop of order of Alex Rios and Sal Perez that was used 10 times. Stability, man.
With such a set lineup, it probably shouldn’t be a surprise that Yost avoided pinch hitters. Myself, I can’t get over how little he uses bats off his bench. Last summer, he summoned a pinch hitter just 40 times, by far the least in baseball. How far?
This speaks to the strength of the Royals lineup combined with a lack of depth. The Royals decided to keep speedsters and glovemen along with the basic backup catcher. Not to mention the fact they rolled with 13 pitchers for most of the season, rendering their bench only three deep. On occasion they had four on the bench is consisted of a back up infielder like Christian Colon, a pair of defense-first outfielders in Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando and a catcher. You may decide to work those guys into a game, but it’s understandable when they aren’t used for their bat.
This was an area where Yost seemed to overmanage, removing players from the game a little too early, or in situations where their run didn’t matter. In 2014 Yost led the AL using 63 pinch runners. I would imagine roughly 62 of them were used to remove Billy Butler from the game. In 2015, with Butler gone from the roster, it wasn’t a surprise Yost’s pinch running number dropped. He used only 40 pinch runners. That was tied for the sixth most among AL managers and just ahead of the average of 37.
We know about The Seventh Inning Guy, The Eighth Inning Guy, and The Closer. Yost loves his roles and for the most part, the bullpen was an area of strength for the second consecutive year. According to the Bill James Handbook, Yost had a “Quick Hook” 51 times last summer. That’s tied for the fourth most in the AL, which makes all kinds of sense, given the relative weakness of the rotation as compared to the strength of the bullpen.
Not that the manager always jumped the gun when going to the bullpen. He would give his starters some length. Yost had a “Slow Hook” 42 times, which was right in line with the league average.
As good as the Royals bullpen, Yost did seem to find the proper balance as to usage. He used relievers on back to back days 90 times, which was well under the AL average of 104 times. As much as Yost preferred to have defined roles, he seemed to do a strong job when he needed to move beyond – or around – those roles. Of course, that’s ignoring his refusal to use his closer on the road in a tie game. There are 29 other managers in baseball who do the exact same thing. Until someone arrives to blow up the notion of The Closer, this is a non-issue.
Yes, this is a stat that is found in the Bill James Handbook. Yes, Yost issued only 10 intentional walks all summer, again, by far the lowest in the AL. League average was 26 IBB.
This is a bit of a grey area because we know that so often Royals hitters are allowed to do things like bunt on their own. Generally, it’s ok that the manager trusts his players enough to give them the freedom, but sometimes players take advantage and attempt to give themselves up far too early in the game, or in a situation where giving away the out is actually throwing the odds back in favor of the opponent. I really wish Yost would have a “Don’t Bunt!” sign to enlighten some of his players with lower baseball IQs.
Over the years, Yost has developed a reputation as a guy who can’t wait to order the sac bunt, but as we’ve written about, that’s an unfair characterization. Last season, Royals attempted 45 sacrifice bunts according to the Bill James Handbook. Baseball Reference has them at 48. Either number is just slightly above league average.
What the Royals love to do is run. They attempted 138 steals last year and were successful 75 percent of the time. That’s right around where you want to be at the break even point. They’re successful enough that their running isn’t hurting the team, but they’re not so successful as to gain an advantage.
Overall, Yost doesn’t distinguish himself from his peers with his in game tactics such as bunting or steals.
If you’re looking for ways Yost stands apart where you would say, “Jeez, that guy is really great at what he does,” keep looking. It seems like Yost’s strength as a manager is finding a system or a role that works for a player and then taking his hands off. Of course, there’s the intangibles to consider as well. He’s a different manager from his days in Milwaukee where now, he seems to keep things in the proper perspective to keep the clubhouse steady. It’s clear his players love him and it’s clear he loves his players. It’s a highly functional and productive relationship. He may not use pinch hitters, or bunt like a madman, but he has the proper feel for his team. That may not win him any awards, but that will will you championships. That’s probably just fine with Yost.
Just in case you’re busy thinking this is a hit piece on our newly-beloved field marshall, let me give you a word of advice: Stop. This isn’t a criticism. How could that be? He won the World Series. I know. I was at the parade. This is simply to point out that Yost is the ultimate paint by numbers manager. He gets credit for finding roles where his team (if not his players… cough… Escobar… cough) was able to thrive. His HDH bullpen formula was a hit for five months. When the Royals lost that, the seventh and the eighth innings were a little more anxious. Why? Because Yost never hit on a guy who would pair with Herrera in whatever inning. Again, not necessarily a criticism of his managerial style, more an observation that by taking one of his three best relievers out of the mix created an unstable bullpen.
Yost is the right guy in the right place at the right time. He’s the winningest manager in franchise history and has led the team to consecutive World Series appearances. He may not distinguish himself with his tactics, but it’s clear his team responds to his leadership and his style. It’s also clear he has learned how to utilize his players in a way they can succeed as a team.
Someday, his statue will be just beyond the fountains. And it will be much deserved.