Judging the Royals

Ned Yost: the pros and cons of a stubborn manager

Royals manager Ned Yost
Royals manager Ned Yost jsleezer@kcstar.com

Sorry if this comes as a shock to you, but Royals manager Ned Yost has a reputation for being stubborn. And sometimes being stubborn is the right thing to do; just look at the case of Alcides Escobar.

In 2011 critics wanted Yost to pinch hit for Esky in late-inning situations; Yost refused. He said that if the Royals were going to get where they wanted to be, Esky needed to experience those situations so he could learn to succeed when the pressure was on. Pinch-hit for your shortstop late in games and you weaken your defense.

Ned was right and the critics were wrong.

But in 2011 the Royals were still learning to win and Esky was a young player on his way up. The 2011 Royals would finish 71-91, so giving away some at-bats didn’t matter.

It’s now 2016 and the Royals are in a different position; they’re a winning club trying to make the playoffs for the third year in a row — everything matters. And Joakim Soria is not a young player who needs experience; he’s a veteran player who is having a bad year. Getting Soria straightened out can wait.

It’s not a good time to be stubborn.

What did the numbers say?

Here’s the deal with stats: you can pretty much always find some stat that makes your case. Bear with me and I’ll show you what I mean.

On Tuesday night the Royals had a 3-2 lead over the Oakland Athletics with two outs in the top of the eighth inning and the tying and go-ahead runs on base. Lefty reliever Matt Strahm was due to face right-handed hitter Jake Smolinski.

After the game, Yost said Smolinski was hitting lefties for a .315 average, although he had gone 0-for-3 off lefty Danny Duffy, so it kinda depends which lefty we’re talking about. Nevertheless, Ned yanked Strahm and brought in Soria.

The A’s countered Ned’s move by pinch-hitting Yonder Alonso; Alonso had hit .265 off righties. So far, so good; Smolinski hits lefties better than Alonso hits righties. Ned has a case for pitching Soria.

But what about his pitchers’ stats?

Going into the game righties had hit Strahm for an .091 average; lefties hit Soria at a rate of .242. Strahm has actually been more effective against right-handed hitters than lefties, probably because Strahm’s stuff tends to bore in on right-handed hitters.

Clearly, you can cherry-pick the numbers and make a case for whatever you want to do; so what do you do?

Listen to your gut.

Gut instinct

In this age of counting how many times a ball spins on its way to home plate and measuring the efficiency of an outfielder’s route, gut instinct has gotten a bad name. If you believe following gut instinct is a bad idea, go read “Blink,” Malcolm Gladwell’s book on the subject — I’ll wait here.

OK, I’m guessing that you didn’t actually go read the book, so I’ll give you the short version: if you have sufficient expertise in a subject, gut instinct is your subconscious speaking to you. Refuse to listen to that gut instinct and you’re probably about to make a mistake.

So when the bullpen gates opened and Joakim Soria walked out, I’m guessing a whole lot of people’s gut instinct freaked out. (BTW: you don’t get to ignore the “sufficient expertise” clause; the gut instinct of a fan in the upper deck working on this fifth Bud Light is not as good as the gut instinct of someone like Rusty Kuntz.)

Nevertheless; if you have contradictory stats in front of you, but your gut felt more comfortable with Strahm facing a righty than Soria facing a lefty, leave Strahm in the game.

Was it a good pitch?

As you probably know by now, Soria threw a changeup down in the zone and Alonso whacked it over center fielder Jarrod Dyson’s head. Both runners scored and the A’s took a lead they’d never give up.

Afterwards, Soria once again claimed it was a good pitch; but Alonso’s swing said it wasn’t. Pitchers say the hitters will tell you when you threw a good pitch and the hitters are saying Soria is not throwing good pitches.

Here’s what Soria had to The Star:

“The whole season has been weird,” said Soria, whose ERA jumped to 4.19. “It’s been different. Broken-bat hits. Today, it was probably supposed to be ‘no-doubles defense’ and he gets a double right to the middle of the field. Overall, it’s a weird season.”

First of all it wasn’t a broken-bat hit and second it sounds a bit like Soria is blaming his outfield for not playing deep enough in a ‘no-doubles’ defense. Maybe that’s not how Soria meant it, but it could certainly be taken that way.

If you won’t admit what you’re doing isn’t working; you have no motivation to change. You just keep throwing pitches that get smoked and claim they were good pitches.

Ned’s confidence in Soria

In the postgame news conference, Ned defended his use of Soria by saying he has confidence in all his players. That’s great, but that doesn’t mean you can use anybody in any situation; a manager’s job it to calculate the odds and put his players in situations that allow them to succeed.

If Ned has confidence in all his players, why not leave Strahm in to face Smolinski? Because Ned though Soria had a better chance of succeeding.

Ned Yost is stubborn, but when given enough evidence, he has shown the ability to change his mind. But given the Royals situation, if Ned changes the way he uses Soria, it might happen too late to make a difference in 2016.

It’s one of the pros and cons of a stubborn man.