Ned Yost and the case of the dopey double switch


Madison Bumgarner looked every bit in Game 5 as a pitcher that could have mowed through Murderer’s Row, let alone the 2014 Kansas City Royals.
He did cut down the latter, by the way, in pitching a 4-hit complete game shutout.

He sure didn’t need any help.

Yet, that didn’t stop Royals Manager Ned Yost from offering all the help he could. The double switch he made late in the game cannot be characterized merely as questionable. Leaving room for explanation would suggest that Yost had a solid, well-conceived plan in mind.
The double switch was indeed dubious, and had a multitude of caustic, cascading consequences we’ll examine a little later. As poor as the move was, it would be generous to give Yost a pass for having to make a National League-type move, on the fly, in a pivotal game with the score close in a situation he’s not used to. If you were looking for generosity, however, you won’t find it here. Instead, it is entirely possible that this move wasn’t conceived in the sixth inning of Game 5, or spawned during the seventh inning either. Its origins stretch back well before the Series began, when Yost set his World Series roster.

Let’s step back.

Christian Colon was left off the roster in deference to Jason Nix, who was chosen because Yost said he was a better late-inning defensive replacement, especially at third. Yost theorized that this scenario would present itself glaringly in the National League park, as the need to pinch hit for Mike Moustakas would surely arise.
Yost chose defense over offense, but as Game 5 was coming to a close, he had yet to trigger a move that would support his choice of placing Nix on the roster.
It took until Game 5 for Yost to find the need to prove his theory right. Or, perhaps he felt the opportunity to justify his decision was slipping away, as the last game in San Francisco was drawing to a close and Nix had yet to get his uniform dirty.

In either case, we all know Ned by now. He scripts things out well in advance. His actions are merely reflexive decisions based on predetermined scenarios and outcomes.
Remember when he had an epiphany that he could actually use his relievers in less than prescribed ways during the playoffs? He’s a creature of his own creations, and is never swayed until things just work out differently. In this case, he was certain that Nix had to enter a game in San Francisco as part of a double switch, and by God, it had to happen soon as Game 5 was drawing to an end.

The incredible double switch.

The Royals just ended batting in the top of the seventh with the San Francisco Giants’ lead still at 2-0. Omar Infante made the last out of the inning.
Kelvin Herrera, who owns the seventh inning relief slot, came in on queue to pitch the seventh. Normally, when Yost is being by-the-book-Ned, Herrera would pitch one inning, the seventh, and then bow to Wade Davis to start the eighth. Certainly, if the score held at 2-0, this would be the case. Right?
Surprisingly, though, Yost put Herrera in Infante’s batting slot and inserted Nix into the game to play second and take James Shields‘ spot in the order, the ninth slot.
In doing so, Yost had just inserted Nix into the second batting spot in the next inning, following Jarrod Dyson.
There are so many things that were wrong with this move that it boggles the mind. In fact, it’s much easier to find all that is wrong than it is to find a sliver of any right reason for the switch.

A cavalcade of consequences.

• By filling the pitcher’s spot, which was second in the order of the next inning, Yost made it clear he wanted Herrera to pitch the eighth, too.
• Yost ended up bringing in Wade Davis anyway in the eighth, who is more used to getting a “clean inning” rather than entering in the middle of an inning.
• There was no reason not to bring Davis in for the entire eighth inning. The next day would be an off day, so there was no need to save Davis.
• Nix replaced Infante for defense at second. Was Ned compelled to get Nix in any way possible?
• Dyson would have been the perfect lead off hitter for the eighth. Yet Yost pinch hit Billy Butler for Dyson to lead off the eighth, putting Billy in neither an RBI spot nor a spot that could tie the game with one swing.

Had Yost just brought Herrera in and put him in Shields’ slot, Yost could have let the speedster Dyson lead off the eighth, then pinch hit Billy in place of Herrera with the hope Dyson found a way to get on base.
Remember, the score was only 2-0. Davis, then, would have been inserted into Butler’s spot.

Bumgarner’s job just got easier. He had no reason to throw Billy anything he could hit. No one was on base as he led off the eighth. Billy struck out looking on a borderline pitch.

Davis, whose normal routine of pitching the entire eighth inning was disrupted, got thumped for two hits and allowed inherited runners to score.

You have to wonder, and we will always be left to wonder, because when the Series is over Yost will go to his ranch and lock the gate and shut himself and any reasonable answers off to all who question. But, with the left-handed hitters in Game 5’s starting lineup going 1-for-11, did Yost wish he had another right-handed bat as an option against Bumgarner? Did he regret not keeping Colon on the roster? Did he regret having to start Moustakas, an over-matched lefty, against Bumgarner when Colon would have been the organization’s offensive alternative?

If so, he sure picked a terrible time to try to validate the soundness of his roster decision. Nix, who hit a collective .120 in 83 at bats with four teams this year, and who had no hits in eight at-bats this year with the Royals including six strikeouts, managed a lazy fly ball to left. And Billy wasn’t put in a position to see a good pitch.

Colon, arguably not as good defensively as Nix, surely was paying attention. His .333 batting average, right-handed bat and ability to play third base was not an option. And Yost, in a mesmerizing move, made sure everyone else was paying attention, too.