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Bruce Chen is the Royals #1 pitcher. No really, I'm not kidding. (Credit: Peter G. Aiken-US PRESSWIRE)

Is Ned Yost the Worst Manager in the Major Leagues?

Anytime things don’t go as expected, we all look for a reason.  Why did it happen?  Who is to blame?  The Royals 2012 season is no different.  Mission 2012 hasn’t been a complete disaster (with the exception of 12 straight losses in April that took all the wind out of our sails), but it hasn’t been nearly as much fun as we’d hoped either.  We’ve lost games we should have won, we’ve watched the opposition turn a triple play, we witness a new topsy turvy lineup almost every night (why am I hungry for carmelcorn all of a sudden?), and for many of us our frustration has reached a boiling point.

Who should be the scapegoat for another year of disappointing Royals baseball?  Whose head needs to roll as a result of the team’s poor showing?  Dayton Moore? Kevin Seitzer?  How about Rex Hudler?

Should Ned Yost be the scapegoat for what has been a disappointing season so far? (Credit: Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE)

One of the interesting aspects of social media is that it provides a real time peek into the thoughts of hard core sports fans.  Every evening you can sit down at your computer and watch the commentary during the game.  One of the most frequent themes on Twitter has been that Ned Yost is to blame for this disappointing season and that he should be taken to the nearest bus terminal with a ticket to Anywherebuthere Town, USA.  But I say – not so fast.

Before I explain my thoughts, let’s take a peek into the world of social media and look at just a few of the many thousands of comments concerning Ned Yost:

#FireYost has become a popular hashtag.  So is #Yosted.  And fans are right to be upset.   Some of Yost’s decisions this season on the surface appear to be nearly inexplicable.  But let’s take a closer look.

I think the best way to judge a manager is to evaluate what he is doing with the talent he has been given.  For instance (I realize this is a very unrealistic example, but I’m trying to make a point), what if one participant in the Indy 500 was forced to ride a bicycle – how well do you think this person would do and where do you think he or she would finish?  You would expect him to finish last because the race wasn’t fair, he wasn’t given the same sleek expensive race car to drive as all the other competitors.  You know what I’m getting at, don’t you?

The Royals payroll is about $61 million.  That’s about $2.5 million per victory so far this year.  Wins are going for about $5 million each in Detroit and Los Angeles (Angels) this year, and almost $6 million in Boston.  By comparison, if higher payroll means greater talent, then Ned Yost isn’t playing all that badly with the hand he’s been dealt.  The Rays do an awesome job at less than $2 million per victory.

Are the Royals going to bunt again?!? (Credit: Scott Rovak-US PRESSWIRE)

Still, how do you explain all the crazy managerial decisions Yost has made?  There have been times I’ve wanted to tear out what little hair I have left every time I watch Yuniesky Betancourt trot out to 2nd base or yet another failed and ill-advised bunt attempt go awry.

The Royals have been caught stealing more than any other team in the American League except one.  This is pretty remarkable considering 10 teams (in the American League alone) have stolen more bases than the Royals.  Just imagine how bad this statistic would be if Jarrod Dyson hadn’t been playing recently.  Aren’t the Royals young and athletic?  Don’t most of them have average speed or better, with the possible exceptions of Billy Butler and Humberto (why did we trade for him again?) Quintero?  Are the coaches sending the green light at the wrong time?  Are the players using poor technique?

How many times this year have you seen a Royal caught napping and picked off the bases?  Many more times than I care to recall.  Is poor coaching to blame?

There are a couple schools of thought regarding a stable lineup.  Some people say it’s beneficial to a player to always know his role and where he’ll bat when he comes to the stadium.  Yost obviously didn’t attend this school.  Yost believes in juggling the lineup as if it were a bowling ball, a power saw, a flaming torch, and a butcher knife.  Unfortunately, when you play with fire, somebody is going to get burned.

I wish I knew why many of the Royals are slumping at the plate this year.  Is this Ned Yost’s fault?  Last year, Kevin Seitzer was considered to be a hitting guru on the level of Charlie Lau.  This year, Hosmer was unable to hit his way out of a paper bag for six weeks, Alex Gordon is on track for 12 home runs compared to 23 last year, and the team is trending toward scoring about 100 fewer runs than last season.  Is this Kevin Seitzer’s fault?  Is he not providing the same quality guidance and instruction as last year?

So how good are these Royals and how much talent does Ned Yost have to work with?  There’s really no way to know.  With acknowledgement that some may disagree with me, the 2012 Royals may have one of the major’s best defensive shortstops in Alcides Escobar, one of the best defensive catchers (when Salvador Perez returns – please hurry), the best defensive left fielder in Alex Gordon, the strongest outfield arm in Jeff Francoeur, possibly the major’s most improved player in 3rd baseman Mike Moustakas, the player with the greatest potential in Eric Hosmer, the speediest bench player in Jarrod Dyson, one of the top hitters in a position loaded with talent, DH Billy Butler, the hardest throwing relief pitcher Kelvin Herrera, and a very capable bullpen. But without decent starting pitchers, there is simply no possible way to know how good this team is.

The pitching anchor of the 2012 Royals is Bruce Chen.  Just let that soak in for a moment.  On opening day this season, we sent Bruce Chen to the mound in Anaheim to face Jered Weaver.  Weaver was an All-Star and 2nd in the Cy Young balloting last year.  Chen’s heater is about 84 mph.   The Royals brought a knife to a gunfight that day and they were shutout 5-0 in a swift 2 hours and 22 minutes, the 2nd shortest game of the season – it was merciful and quick.  This isn’t the way you want to start a season and it set the tone for what was to come.

I don’t blame Bruce Chen.  Bruce is a very likeable guy who gives it everything he has every time he walks to the mound.  But he shouldn’t be in a position where a team looks to him as the stopper.  Chen earns $4.5 million per year.  Weaver earns $14 million.  It’s like sending your funny cousin Joey into the ring to face Mohammed Ali in his prime every five days.  Who would do that?   Why are the Royals doing it?  It’s insane!  How can we blame Ned Yost for this injustice?

I believe it all boils down to pitching.  Pitching is the lifeblood of a baseball team.  Wins and losses begin with the guy who takes the mound in the 1st inning.  Pitching holds the other team down, keeps your side in the game, and provides your teammates with a chance to win.  A baseball team simply cannot be successful without strong starting pitching.

When you watch a team play that has poor starting pitching (aka The Royals), anything else you see on the field is an attempt to make up for this shortcoming.  Everyone else must extend themselves and try to do things they aren’t capable of doing.  They must try to steal when the timing isn’t right.  They constantly bunt in a desperate attempt to move runners into scoring position.  They try to hit 6-run homers when nobody is on base.  The manager flip flops the lineup trying to find a winning combination that will overcome the lack of talent on the mound.  He’ll move the potential All-Star 1st baseman into right field trying to squeeze one more drop of offense out of a team that must overcome a mishmash hodge podge rotation cobbled together from castoffs, 2nd level trades, and Independent Leagues while waiting for the top prospect hurlers in the minors to one day, some day, fulfill their potential.

So, who’s fault is it that the Royals don’t have a major league caliber starting pitching rotation?  In my opinion, it isn’t Ned Yost’s fault.  He can only manage with the team he’s been given.  He doesn’t draft, he doesn’t make trades, it’s not his main responsibility to evaluate talent and bring prospects up from the minors.  It’s his job to coach the team on the field.  No doubt he overcompensates and ends up doing things that look stupid in retrospect, but many of these decision are made in desperation while attempting to surmount the overwhelming pitching handicap the Royals have been saddled with.  All things considered, it simply isn’t possible or fair to call Ned Yost the worst manager in the major leagues, and we won’t be able to make this assessment accurately until and unless the Royals Front Office provide him with a competitive rotation.

You may say the Royals can’t afford to compete in the free agent wars and their small market revenue stream places them in an unwinnable position.  Well, no doubt it makes things more difficult, but I don’t see anyone in Tampa making excuses for their low payroll, and they are winning.  And by the way, they’re winning with an abundance of talented young pitching.  Just sayin’.

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Tags: AL Central Alcides Escobar Alex Gordon Baseball Billy Butler Bruce Chen Eric Hosmer Jarrod Dyson Jeff Francoeur Jered Weaver Kansas City Kansas City Royals KC KC Royals Kevin Seitzer Mike Moustakas MLB Ned Yost Royals Salvador Perez Yuniesky Betancourt

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