On September 14, 2014, Ned Yost lost a baseball game for the Kansas City Royals. Before the Wild Card game or any of the postseason success, the Royals on September 14, 2014 were not guaranteed a playoff spot and were manned by a manager who had previously been fired in a playoff race by the Milwaukee Brewers.
That night, Yost inserted the mediocre right-hander, Aaron Crow, to face righty-killer Daniel Nava with the bases loaded. Nava hit a grand slam and the Royals lost. These trio of Tweets from former Royals beat writer Andy McCullough paint an exasperating picture of Yost's bizarre decision-making process:
Daniel Nava told reporters he looked out at the bullpen, expecting a lefty to come into the game. He was surprised to face Crow.— Andy McCullough (@McCulloughTimes) September 14, 2014
Ned Yost said he chose Aaron Crow for the sixth because he wanted a strikeout. Crow strikes out 5.0 batters per nine.— Andy McCullough (@McCulloughTimes) September 14, 2014
Asked why he didn’t just use Herrera in that spot then, Yost said: "Aaron Crow’s inning is the sixth inning. Kelvin’s is the seventh."— Andy McCullough (@McCulloughTimes) September 14, 2014
So, to recap: Nava himself was surprised he didn't see a lefty, and Yost's reasoning for using Crow was twofold, both parts indefensible: he wanted a strikeout (Crow was bad at that), and based on his previous usage Kelvin Herrera did not pitch the sixth inning (not a requirement anywhere in the rulebook).
Our own Shaun Newkirk reluctantly called for Yost to be fired:
Simply put, Ned Yost needs to be fired. I don't think any solution or reasoning now can overcome the continual employment of Ned Yost. If I were Dayton Moore and I heard Yost make the above comments, I would have immediately walked to the clubhouse with Yost's final check and some severance merchandise.
This is an unbearable moment that can't be chalked up to Ned being folksy or charming or even his alternate personality in Frank. Everything leading up to this moment has been blow upon blow to the pride, intelligence, and eagerness of Royals fans, but that disgraceful quote, which truly personifies the old-time managerial style and total disregard by an organization to fulfill their fanbase's earnest wishes, is a final straw.
Thankfully, the Royals did not fire Yost, and Shaun's call was not answered. The Royals won the American League pennant in 2014, the World Series in 2015. Both were won partly through Yost's aggressive bullpen usage (even though his curious decision to use Yordano Ventura in relief in the Wild Card Game happened). Yost learned his lesson.
But something about this sort of sticks: Yost makes decisions based on internal logic that doesn't really make sense at worst, and at best seems forever a student of the 'old-school' philosophy of management no matter the data available. That sticks with a person.
Last night, storms were rolling in to the Kansas City metro. Everybody knew about it.
Latest report from grounds crew is heavy wind gusts expected at Kauffman at 8:45 with rain following at 8:50. Royals up 3-1 bottom 4— Joel Goldberg (@goldbergkc) August 20, 2016
This is a big, big block. It was fooling nobody. Ryan Lefebvre repeatedly said on the broadcast that the back edge of the storm stretched all the way to Manhattan, Kansas. Lo, the radar shortly after the delay:
The first step here: Yost ought to know this; hopefully he did. If Yost did not know about the weather, then considering the rules regarding regulation games it is a laughable neglect. Alternatively, Yost did know and it did not affect his decision making. I'm not really sure which is worse.
To set the stage: Edinson Volquez was pitching. The Minnesota Twins were at the tail end of their second time through the order. The Royals were ahead 4-1. Volquez needed three outs. Here's how it went:
- Eddie Rosario double
- Juan Centeno double, Rosario scores, 4-2 Royals
- Danny Santana strikeout, one out
- Brian Dozier single, one out
- Brian Dozier stolen base
- Jorge Polanco double, Centeno scores, Dozier scores, 4-4 all, one out
- Rain delay
To investigate further, we need to know what the rulebook says about rain delay and/or suspension. Here it is:
For the Royals, 7.01(c)(2) is the important one. Basically, a game can be called complete if the home team (Royals) were leading after the top of the fifth was completed.
Let's assume Yost knew the rain was coming, and when, and that it would be an epic, hours-long delay. Yost would also presumably know the Major League rules regarding regulations games.
So why did Yost leave Volquez in there?
Volquez has been bad this year. Before tonight, his ERA was 4.95, and his strikeout rate, walk rate, and home run rate have all been worst than last year. It's not a fluke. This year, Volquez gave up an OPS against of .749 against batters the second time through the order, .779 a third time through. He has given up an OPS against of .858 in the fifth inning. The Twins, as an offense, have scored 4.6 runs per game, above league average. Volquez was facing this Twins offense the second time through and into the third time through in the fifth inning.
Let's marry those two ideas. Yost (again, presumably) knows that the Royals only need to get through the top of the fifth inning to net a win. Yost (again, presumably) knows that the Volquez is a bad starter who struggles multiple times through the order and in the fifth inning and later. Yost knows that even if Volquez coughed up the lead, he wouldn't be able to use him after the rain delay.
So why did Yost leave Volquez in there?
Yost had a bevy of options. He could have started by immediately locking it down with a Herrera appearance. He could have used Matt Strahm to shut down the lefties Rosario and Centeno. He could have inserted Peter Moylan to face Dozier and Polanco when it got that far rather than seeing Volquez go through the order again with clear control issues.
Of course, Yost did none of those things. He knew the score, he knew the rules, and when presented a golden opportunity to tie up a five-inning game and keep the Royals in the hope for a playoff spot, Yost watched Volquez throw it away, opting to "trust his starter" in the face of all statistical evidence.
I'm not calling for Yost's job; that would be stupid. He has earned respect, and he has learned from his mistakes. Managing a big league team is also more than tactical decisions, and Yost has done a phenomenal job of working with the players to create a good clubhouse environment. Yost is the winningest manager in history and, if the Royals this year stay above .500 this year, will have overseen four consecutive winning seasons for the first time in Royals history since 1975-1980. Kansas City's best managerial option now is Yost.
But Yost has not earned an immunity to criticism. The Royals' playoff odds, while growing immensely over the past few weeks, remain very low. Fangraphs' playoff odds put the Royals at 2.2%, Fivethirtyeight puts the Royals at 8%, and Baseball Prospectus puts the Royals at 3%.
Ned Yost needs to be on his game at all times from now on. Kansas City has no margin for error. Sure, some managerial decisions don't work out; just like in poker, you can still get beat with a great hand. But Yost can single-handedly put his team into a greater position to win with good decisions. Yost didn't do so last night, but the Royals still won regardless. Hopefully, Yost makes a better decision next time. It could have gone far worse.