On Monday the Royals held a news conference and before it was over, Ned Yost said this: “My greatest strength isn’t running the game. I’m OK at it. But I’m not great at it.”
Because it’s the most obvious thing they do, running a game — deciding when to pull a pitcher, when to steal, when to bunt — is how most of us judge managers.
We don’t think about the rest of a manager’s job: organizing spring training, dealing with the media, the front office, the coaching staff and running a happy clubhouse.
A guy might not be great at running games, but still be considered a good manager because he excels at the other parts of his job.
Some of those “managing” decisions you didn’t like weren’t Ned’s
Most of us never played sports beyond high school and back then it was very clear the coaches were in charge.
In the big leagues, not so much.
At the highest levels of baseball, players are given an extraordinary amount of freedom. Most Royals players have the green light to steal or bunt on their own.
For a while Alcides Escobar made a habit of bunting for a hit when there was a runner on base and no outs. If bunting for a hit didn’t work, but the runner advanced, Esky’s batting average wouldn’t go down because it would be scored a sacrifice bunt.
Fans were screaming about Ned bunting in the first inning, but it wasn’t Ned’s decision.
If a guy abuses the green light too often he can lose it, but keep in mind when you see a Royals player bunt or attempt a steal, it might not be Ned’s idea.
Surrounding himself with smart coaches
After Ned admitted he wasn’t the world’s greatest tactician, he said he thought his strengths had to do with handling the personalities inside the clubhouse. That being the case, Ned pointed out he was smart enough to surround himself with coaches who helped him make in-game decisions and that includes his bench coach.
A bench coach hovers by the manager’s ear and makes suggestions.
He might point out the other team has two left-handed hitters coming up in the next inning and now would be a good time to get a left-handed reliever warming up in the bullpen, or the good-bat, bad-glove right fielder has probably had his last trip to the plate and now would be a good time to send out a defensive replacement.
On Monday the Royals announced bench coach Don Wakamatsu would not be returning to the team. That raises some questions and the first one is just how big a role Wakamatsu had in making game decisions.
If you want to understand what’s happening with a team, watch the dugout.
When Bobby Valentine was managing the Boston Red Sox you could tell he was in trouble because wherever he stood, he was standing alone. His coaches stayed away from him like he had the bubonic plague: Bobby V was on a sinking ship and none of his coaches wanted to go down with him. Watching the dugout, seeing who is talking to who, can tell you a lot about a team.
And if you watched the Royals dugout over the past few years, you didn’t see Ned and Wakamatsu spend a lot of time conferring.
The guy you most often saw next to Ned was Pedro Grifol, so keep that name in mind when you think about bench coach candidates.
And once a bench coach is named, pay attention to how often he and Ned are talking during games: that will tell you how much input the new bench coach is having on running the game.
Different players require different coaches
Some coaches are great at working with veterans, but not so crazy about teaching fundamentals to rookies. Next year the Royals will have a bunch of young players so they better have coaches who enjoy working with kids. The Royals say they’ll look for coaches who fit that description.
And if the Royals are going to take a step back in 2018 — if winning is going to take a back seat to developing — Ned’s people-handling skills might be more important than being a great tactician.
A guy doesn’t have to be great at running games to be a good manager.