KC Royals manager Ned Yost made some questionable decisions Wednesday night, that might have contributed to the Royals blowing a 4-2 8th inning lead in their 7-4 loss to the Detroit Tigers. Those decisions have once again raised some concerns about Yost’s tactical acumen.
Let me be clear, I’m rather reluctant to bring up this topic.
Last August, I called for Ned Yost’s head and later regretted expressing that opinion. So I’ll recognize right now that ANY tactical decision a manager makes can come back to bite him, no matter how well-considered they might be, due to outrageous fortune. Baseball is a game where hitters attempt to hit a round ball with a round bat, and fielders try to stop rockets that can be travelling over 100 miles per hour. The ball can bounce funny. Also, the most talented players in the world can make, or fail to make, plays no one expects.
Yet, Ned Yost’s decision-making in the eighth inning of Wednesday’s game is open to legitimate question. The Kansas City Star’s Lee Judge wrote an excellent column covering this issue in depth, which I highly recommend you read. I’ll focus on one specific point in this piece: why did Yost allow starter Edinson Volquez to continue pitching once the first two runners reached base without the KC Royals recording an out?
While Edinson Volquez had a pitch count below 100, and the first two hitters reached base without Volquez surrendering a hard hit ball, he still found himself in a jam with the Kansas City Royals all-world bullpen well rested coming into Wednesday’s game.
Consider, further that starting pitchers suffer a well-known drop-off in results each time they face a hitter. This well-established statistic is known as the “third time through the order penalty” because batter performance spikes upon the third time they face a particular pitcher. This effect isn’t necessarily a matter of pitcher fatigue, but seems to be related to the hitter getting more opportunity to gauge a pitcher’s “stuff” on a given day.
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Edinson Volquez was pitching to Ian Kinsler in that circumstance. Kinsler came into the game hitting .400 against Volquez over his career, while putting up a mere .200 batting average against Kelvin Herrera according to Lee Judge. As Judge points out, Volquez had gotten Kinsler three straight times on Wednesday night before the eighth inning. But, those prior at bats in no way nullify the three times through the order effect.
As most Kansas City Royals fans know, Kinsler doubled down the right field line. And, compounded by some questionable fielding decisions by the usually tight KC Royals defense, the Tigers ended up scoring four runs in the inning. They also tacked on an insurance run in the top of the ninth.
The debacle has led many Kansas City Royals fans on Twitter to worry about Ned Yost’s decision making for a squad that has loaded up for a run at the 2015 World Series crown. Ned Yost also made another curious pitching decision in the 2014 Wild Card game, which resulted in Yordano Ventura surrendering a 5th inning lead to the A’s while making his first career relief appearance in place of starter James Shields.
The KC Royals demolished those questions with their historic eighth inning rally.
Some have even mentioned Alcides Escobar‘s sacrifice bunt in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series against Madison Bumgarner, with a 2-0 count, a runner on first with no outs, and the KC Royals trailing the Giants 3-2 in the bottom of the 5th inning. According to Baseball-Reference’s Win Probably Added metric, calculated by compiling the results of major league box scores going back to 1901, Escobar’s bunt actually IMPROVED the odds of a Giants victory by 3%.
To be fair to Ned Yost, he did say after the game that Alcides Escobar decided to bunt on his own. Yet, Yost is the manager. He still could have taken off Escobar’s green light to bunt under specific situations. Most certainly, he could exercise that authority in Game 7 of the World Series.
In fact, such decisions are part of his job.
Thus, Yost’s questionable decision-making has pulled the lid off the kettle to some simmering unrest. No one wants to think something similar could happen in the 2015 playoffs, but KC Royals fans who have suffered through years of failure can’t help but wonder if something is bound to go wrong on the way to the Promised Land.
Certainly, I’m no fan of Yost’s tactical decisions. I’ve made that clear. But, his strengths in managing a clubhouse, and creating a team atmosphere conducive to winning, obliterate any shortcoming he might have as a field general.
Yes, Ned Yost’s decision-making could cost the Kansas City Royals the 2015 World Series. But the same could be said about ANY player on the roster. Salvador Perez could hack at a pitch out of the strike zone rather than take a key walk. Yordano Ventura could blow up on the mound. Alex Gordon could strikeout in a key at bat (Gordon averages 142 strikeouts per every 162 games as compiled by Baseball-Reference).
Even the best players, and managers, have their shortcomings.
There’s nothing wrong with Ned Yost being human.