As the 2013 season slips away, focus turns to preparing for 2014. Or Year Eight as it will be known. We know many of the principle players will return. Dayton Moore, despite my protestations, will be back. Several of your favorite ticket takers and beer vendors will greet you at The K next year. That leaves one rather large unanswered question.
What happens with Ned Yost?
Yost's contract is up at the end of this season. He was hired in May of 2010 and signed a two-year deal that July. That contract carried an option for the 2013 season. That option was picked up by the team on February 14, 2012. Since that date there has been little to no public acknowledgement about Yost's contract status.
Yost does several things that frustrate me as a baseball fan. The pinch running for Billy Butler like he did last night when he was on first in the ninth with no one out, for example. If the Royals were to get back into that game, it would have taken either a home run or a few well-timed hits. I shudder to think what would have happened had the Royals tied that game and Butler's turn in the order came around again. This is Yost doing what he automatically does. He's been consistent all season. And even earlier. In the eighth inning with the Royals down one or two runs, if Butler reaches base, he's lifted for a pinch runner. Automatic.
The lineups are obviously an issue. In addition to Alex Gordon hitting leadoff, Yost has filled in David Lough, Chris Getz, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Jarrod Dyson and now Jamie Carroll at the top of his order. He's hit Escobar second most of the season. Royal leadoff hitters own a .311 OBP. The number two hitters have a collective .307 OBP. We can rail on Butler and a perceived lack of RBI all we want (and some do) but there just aren't competent hitters at the top of the order.
Every once in a while, Yost will show some creative ability with the lineup. Gordon at leadoff is my favorite example. Hitting Eric Hosmer second this year is another. Inspired. And the wins and losses back up this assertion.
Look at it this way: the Royals two best stretches of baseball came when Yost put Gordon and Hosmer at one and two in his lineup. The Royals record when Gordon and Hosmer are at the top of the order? 21-10. Yeah. Twenty-one wins in 31 games. You know why? Because offense in baseball can be boiled down to getting your best players to the plate more than your worst players.
There was a stretch back in mid-June where the Royals lost three in a row with Gordon and Hosmer hitting at the top of the order. Gordon in particular was cold, going hitless over those three games. Yost gives Gordon a day off (replacing him at the top with Escobar) and then the following day, pushes Hosmer down in the order and puts Escobar second. It seemed a tad reactionary. But that's Yost.
Situationally speaking, Yost does seem to love the bunt too much for my taste. Royal hitters have attempted to sacrifice 41 times this year, fourth most in the AL. Escobar and Getz account for more than half of those attempts. If you follow me on Twitter you know the rage that overcomes me when the Royals bunt in the first or when they move a runner from second to third with no outs. Wasteful as hell, but it's consistent with a manager who puts an out machine like Getz or Escobar at the top of his order. There's a lack of understanding about the value of base runners, but again, Yost isn't a lot different from any other manager.
Yost sometimes will leave his starters in the game a few hitters too long, but generally seems to have a decent feel for when he needs to go to his pen. It may have cost his team a game or two, and I don't have any numbers to back this up, but it just seems like he's found a good balance this season.
I know his bullpen management has come under scrutiny, but I don't really have a huge issue with how he handles his pen. Every manager wants to have a guy for the seventh, a guy for the eighth and the closer for the ninth. Yost thought he had that coming into this year. Sometimes plans don't work. He's taken heat in the past for trying to play platoon advantages where they didn't exist with Tim Collins, but this year, Collins actually does own a platoon advantage against lefties. He's used Luke Hochevar in primarily low-leverage situations and we can see in his stats how that's worked out. Some will point to the early August game against the Mets that went extra innings where Greg Holland didn't throw a pitch, but Yost used his closer by the book in that situation. I'm not saying it's correct, but THE BOOK calls for the manager to "save" his closer in case his team gets the lead. It's a dumb way to use your best pitcher, but the way Yost handled his pen in that game is no different than any other manager would have handled his pen.
The knock on Yost as manager in Milwaukee was he was a choke artist. The guy who lost his mind as the losses piled up while the Brewers were knocking on the door of the postseason. He can help develop the kids, according to the party line, but when the time comes to actually contend, you'll want someone else in charge. Yost says he learned from what I'm sure was an incredibly difficult experience. It's too bad the Royals don't have enough talent on the roster this year for us to find out for sure.
One thing I do know is that Dayton Moore should not be allowed to hire another manager. He flopped big time on the Trey Hillman hire and for his next hire, swung the pendulum all the way back to select a true Baseball Man. While Yost was an uninspired pick, I have a feeling most hires would be. However, in the back of my mind, I could see Moore going outside the box again like he did with Hillman. A longshot perhaps, but one that is a little unsettling.
Yost does some things that frustrate me, but he seems like an average, run-of-the-mill major league manager. I'm thinking he's back next season, on a one-year deal with maybe an option for a second. This ties Moore and Yost together and makes a ton of sense for a team that needs to get beyond the babystep culture Moore has installed with his Ten Year Process.
As I said earlier, you know where I stand on Moore. Yet I can't be blind to the reality that ownership is behind Moore and he will definitely return (and will probably get an extension himself at some point in the very near future.) With that being the case, it seems just as definite to me Yost will return for next season.