Nicknames in baseball are ubiquitous. Although usually players are the ones who are given nicknames by other players or coaches, I offer this nickname for the Royals third base coach: Vance "Vegas" Wilson. In yesterday’s game, in the eighth inning, with the Royals clinging to a two-run lead that seemed precarious after blowing a one-run lead in the ninth inning the night before, Vance Wilson tried to score Kyle Isbel from second base on a single to shallow left field. Isbel was thrown out at the plate. Thankfully, Edward Olivares had already scored from third base on the Lopez single for an insurance run and Scott Barlow had a clean frame in the bottom of the ninth to record his twelfth save. However, that doesn’t absolve Vance Wilson for once again rolling the dice with a baserunner rounding third.
Coaches and managers impact the game in often small ways. A manager can call for a sacrifice bunt, but that happens before the pitch. The batter then decides whether to attempt to bunt the pitch or pull the bat back. A pitching coach can visit the mound and offer advice, but when the game starts being played again, the pitcher ultimately must execute the next pitch himself. But a third base coach who has a runner tagging up at third with less than two outs has a massive influence on a live play. They have been delegated significant power by the manager to decide whether or not to send runners home in order to possibly score runs. The base runner is told to follow the third base coach’s directive. I don’t know about other Royals fans, but I’m starting to feel very uneasy about Vance Wilson’s performance as the third base coach.
The Royals promoted Vance Wilson to its MLB coaching staff entering the 2018 season and he became the team's bullpen coach for two years. Prior to the 2020 season, he became the Royals third base coach, taking over for Mike Jirschele. In that COVID-shortened season, the Royals only had three runners thrown out at home and were 27th in that category. Kudos to Coach Wilson for being conservative and not taking too many chances the first year in his new coaching role. But the next year, Coach Wilson must’ve felt like he was playing with house money as he seemed to get a little reckless in his decision making. In 2021, the Royals tied with the New York Yankees for the most outs at home (22). So far in 2022, the Royals are tied for third by gambling away twelve baserunners that ended up making outs at home.
I’ve been a little league coach at third base and have regrettably sent slow-footed twelve year-olds home when I should have kept them put. But Vance Wilson works for a major league team. One of his main responsibilities is judging when to hold up a runner at third base and when to send them home. Many articles were written about whether or not Mike Jirschele should have sent Alex Gordon home in game seven of the 2014 World Series. It was a judgment call. What we do know is that by Jirschele holding Gordon at third in that game, it gave Salvador Perez a chance to bat and try to drive him home. As we know, it didn’t work for the Royals that time. But the very next year, Mike Jirschele waved Lorenzo Cain around third and he scored, sending the Royals back to the World Series.
The Royals have already fired their hitting coach mid-season. Based on results, they should’ve probably already fired their pitching coach. The front office should also evaluate the third base coach. The data indicates that Vance Wilson’s discernment about when (or when not) to send baserunners home is producing poor results. The team struggles to score runs (only averaging only 3.84 runs per game). They can ill afford taking unnecessary risks by having precious base runners thrown out at home.