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As Ned Yost inducted to Royals Hall of Fame, a lesson for Matt Quatraro

Ned Yost wasn’t always a lock for the Royals Hall of Fame, what can new manager Matt Quatraro do to achieve the same end?

Former Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost waves to the crowd before a retirement ceremony for former Kansas City outfielder Lorenzo Cainbefore an MLB game between the Oakland Athletics and the Kansas City Royals on May 06, 2023, at Kauffman Stadium, in Kansas City, MO.
Former Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost waves to the crowd before a retirement ceremony for former Kansas City outfielder Lorenzo Cainbefore an MLB game between the Oakland Athletics and the Kansas City Royals on May 06, 2023, at Kauffman Stadium, in Kansas City, MO.
Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Tonight Ned Yost will be inducted into the Royals Hall of Fame. This, of course, wasn’t always a sure thing. People were calling for him to be fired as late as September 2014. Later, even, as Yost’s demise appeared inevitable after he summoned Yordano Ventura to enter the game as a reliever. Ventura promptly gave up the lead before Yost pulled him and substituted in more traditional, and very successful, reliever Kelvin Herrera to stop the bleeding.

Ultimately, the Royals came back to win that game, and eventually the 2015 World Series. Yost was eventually granted an opportunity very few managers ever get. Fewer, even, than those who are selected to Team Hall of Fames, I would expect. He was allowed to retire on his own terms rather than being fired.

The saying goes that, “Managers are hired to be fired.” Yost, however, was able to buck that trend. What can current manager Matt Quatraro do to best improve his chances of achieving the same goals of winning a World Series, earning enough accolades to earn a spot in the Royals Hall of Fame, and eventually retiring on his own terms?

Yost’s legacy

It’s important to remember that the calls for manager Ned Yost’s firing were not entirely undeserved. Even in 2013 and 2014 when the team was playing well, he seemed to make bizarre managerial blunders. He was so famous for them that Kansas Citians coined a new term, “Yosted,” which meant making a bizarre, easily avoidable mistake.

In early 2014, he allowed notorious light-hitting Alcides Escobar to bat for himself in a game with the game on the line despite having a pinch hitter available on his bench. He defended the position by noting that if the Royals were ever going to win, Escobar - and the rest of the team - would have to figure out how to perform in high-pressure situations.

Another mistake by Yost was to summon reliever Aaron Crow in the sixth inning of an important game against the Boston Red Sox in September of 2014. Crow promptly allowed a grand slam to Daniel Nava and the Royals lost. Ned Yost defended this decision by insisting that the sixth inning was Aaron Crow’s inning and the seventh was Kelvin Herrera’s.

What do these two incidents have in common? Not much, besides the fact that they’re both infamous to Royals fans. The first “mistake” ultimately appeared to work out in the Royals’ favor; Escobar won ALCS MVP honors in 2015 and hit a lead-off, inside-the-park home run in Game 1 of the World Series that same year. Aaron Crow was ultimately left off of all of the 2014 postseason rosters, traded to the Marlins for journeyman pitcher Brian Flynn that off-season, and never pitched in the big leagues again.

As the Royals blasted through the 2014 post-season and then earned the best record in the American League in 2015, people began to soften toward Yost. “Yosted” was still a term that was used with frequency, but the meaning became “to make a bizarre decision that works out” instead. When Yost inexplicably selected the notorious free-swinger Alcides Escobar to be his leadoff man, the team instantly started winning games and all anyone could do was shrug and say that they had been Yosted.

Yost, who had always been criticized for his cantankerous attitude, instead became beloved for it. He might be a crank, but he was the crank in charge of a winning team, which meant he was our crank.

Most curious of all, however, was that he went from a manager who was constantly criticized for his bullpen decisions to one for whom his bullpen choices were rarely mentioned at all. Some people credit Ned Yost for learning and adapting during the 2014 playoff run, but that was almost certainly a change in circumstances more than approach. There was, however, one huge difference in that 2015 bullpen as compared to previous years.

In 2015, only one pitcher who pitched more than 10 innings of relief had an ERA in relief appearances over 3.83: Jeremy Guthrie had a 4.76 ERA in 17 innings of relief. Here’s the list of other pitchers with more than 10 innings in relief:

  • Greg Holland
  • Wade Davis
  • Kelvin Herrera
  • Luke Hochevar
  • Ryan Madson
  • Chris Young
  • Franklin Morales
  • Brandon Finnegan
  • Jason Frasor
  • Kris Medlen
  • Joe Blanton
  • Yohan Pino

That’s 12 different relievers. Three of them had ERAs under 2.00. Six more had ERAs under 3.00. So I ask you, did Ned Yost get better at managing his bullpen or did his bullpen simply become impervious to mismanagement? If you get positive results no matter who you call on, you’re going to look pretty smart.

That brings us to Matt Quatraro. In 2023, the Royals have had 18 relievers pitch more than 10 innings, so far. Only four have an ERA under 4.00 in relief. Two of those are gone (Aroldis Chapman and Amir Garrett,) one is actually a starter who has appeared as a bulk man multiple times (Alec Marsh,) and the last one is Austin Cox. Nine of those relievers, fully half, have an ERA of 5.35 or higher. If you get negative results no matter who you call on, you’re going to look pretty dumb.

It turns out that being a Major League manager is an incredibly difficult job. Not because you have to make difficult choices in the heat of battle but because you really have very little control over the outcome of games that you are blamed for losing but rarely praised for winning. You’ll note that I didn’t say that everyone came around to praising Ned Yost for his bullpen usage, they just stopped talking about it altogether.

This isn’t to take anything away from Ned Yost. It’s just to refocus on what he was actually good at. He was terrific at ignoring criticisms from us, the unwashed masses. He was also very good at backing his players, keeping their morale high, and keeping them working together. These things are all vastly more important than choosing which guy comes out of the bullpen. There’s a reason we all think we know better: it isn’t difficult.

Matt Quartraro was brought in the help improve the communication of analytics. But that’s in addition to the job that an MLB manager has always had. He’s there to manage his guys and to take the heat from the fans when they don’t perform. If he can do those things well, the rest of it won’t matter.

The things he can learn from Ned Yost are things that we will probably never be able to fully see or quantify. If the team wins, it will be because they are better than their opponents. Some of that will be because of coaching, though that will likely be the work of hitting and pitching coaches rather than Quatraro. Most of it will be because the team will be comprised of more talented players than their opponents at a given time. But if Quatraro can keep his guys happy and working together, he should eventually have a chance to try and get a piece of what Ned Yost got (and deserves.) Success and affection.