Judging the Royals

Royals manager Ned Yost: Can we blame him for not making the playoffs?

Royals manager Ned Yost is stubborn as the day is long, which has its advantages and disadvantages during the course of a major-league season.
Royals manager Ned Yost is stubborn as the day is long, which has its advantages and disadvantages during the course of a major-league season. jsleezer@kcstar.com

After I wrote that the Royals missed the playoffs by nine wins, a couple readers brought up Ned Yost. If the Royals missed the playoffs by nine wins, they said, we can blame him.

Let’s take a look at Ned and his managing.

Ned Yost’s limitations

Examining a person’s strengths and limitations can be instructive, and that’s why some big-league teams use this system. It forces you to admit that someone isn’t all bad or all good and prevents you from making black-and-white, overly generalized statements.

So let’s start with Ned’s limitations.

The most obvious part of managing is the x’s and o’s, so fans tend to judge a manager on his in-game decisions. When a pitching change or bunt or steal don’t work out, fans tend to see it as bad managing.

Maybe it is, maybe it’s not.

It isn’t a manager’s job to be perfect; that’s impossible. It’s a manager’s job to sift through available options and pick the one with the highest chance of success. If one option has a history of succeeding 40 percent of the time and the other option has a history of succeeding 60 percent of the time, it’s a no-brainer: Go with the 60 percent option.

But the 60 percent option also has a history of failing 40 percent of the time, so if you find yourself in one of those four-out-of-10 situations it doesn’t mean you made the wrong choice; it just didn’t work out this time.

Nevertheless, critics believe Ned struggles with in-game decisions.

In the past, Ned’s job was greatly simplified by having at least three lockdown relievers in his bullpen. If the Royals went into the seventh inning with a lead of three runs or fewer, everybody knew Herrera had the seventh, Wade Davis had the eighth and Greg Holland had the ninth.

In 2016, though, Ned did not have Holland, Ryan Madson, Jason Frasor or Luke Hochevar, and he lost Davis for some extended stretches. Without a pen full of lockdown relievers, a manager has to play mix-and-match: find good matchups for the reliever and have the next guy ready.

This is a big part of the job description for an American League manager, and this is also where Ned is often criticized. At times, he seemed to want to manage like he still had lockdown guys who could handle any hitter they faced.

And that brings us to Joakim Soria. Ned kept running Soria out there like he was a lockdown guy, and in 2016, Soria just wasn’t.

But Ned kept saying he had faith in him.

So when we look at this manager’s limitations, being stubborn is on the list.

Ned Yost’s strengths

He’s stubborn.

Every fan, sports-talk radio host and political cartoonist with a baseball blog has advice for the manager. A manager who lets himself be blown back and forth by the hot air we dispense is going to find himself in trouble, so being stubborn — sticking to his guns — can also be a manager’s strength.

In 2011, critics wanted Ned to pinch-hit for Alcides Escobar in late-inning situations. Ned refused, saying Esky needed to experience those situations if he was ever going to succeed in them ... and Ned was right. So the same stubbornness and faith in his players that got him in trouble with Soria paid off with Escobar.

(By the way, Soria was 1-for-8 in save opportunities this year; Kelvin Herrera was 0-for-7 in the 2015 regular season. Finish the year holding a trophy and all is forgiven.)

OK, so people who criticize Ned for his in-game decision making might have a case, but as I said earlier x’s and o’s are just the most obvious part of managing.

Now it’s time to talk about the less obvious parts.

Ned gives extraordinary freedom to his players and coaches. He calls very few bunts or steals; the guys out on the field can see things nobody else can, so Ned encourages them to make their own decisions. Sometimes that backfires, but sometimes it pays off.

After Eric Hosmer tied Game 5 of the World Series with that crazy dash to home plate, assistant GM J.J. Picollo said if Hosmer didn’t play for the Royals, he might have stayed at third.

If the manager wants to control everything and second-guesses every move that doesn’t work out, players and coaches are going to be very conservative; they don’t want to get in hot water. Ned says the Royals teach their players to play, and then let them play.

So the faith in players that kept Ned running Soria out there is the same faith in players that allowed Hosmer to score from third on a ball that never left the infield.

Can we blame Ned’s managing for failing to make the playoffs in 2016? Sure, but we should also credit Ned for winning a World Series in 2015.

Everybody’s got strengths and limitations.