Here’s how the Royals win: The starting pitcher goes six innings and hands a lead to the guys at the back end of the pen. These days, that’s Joakim Soria, Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis.
If the starter gets in trouble in the later innings of his appearance, Luke Hochevar might come in to put out the fire. Those four guys protect the lead, and then Salvador Perez gets to dump ice water on somebody.
But what if the starting pitcher leaves the game and the Royals are losing?
That’s when Ned Yost is likely to go to guys like Chien-Ming Wang, Peter Moylan or Scott Alexander. (The other time you might see those guys is when the Royals have a big lead, but that hasn’t happened much lately.)
So it’s a very big deal for the Royals to have a lead when the starter leaves the game; with a lead you throw your best relievers, without one you throw somebody else.
So how’s that formula been working?
On June 1, Danny Duffy throws six innings, leaves the game up 5-3 and Soria, Herrera and Davis each throw a scoreless inning. The Royals use their winning formula to beat the Rays 6-3.
Then the Road Trip from Hell starts.
One June 2 Yordano Ventura pitches six innings and after giving up a single in the seventh, hands a lead to the Royals pen. But because Wade Davis isn’t available, things get out of whack. This time the ball goes to Hochevar, Herrera and Soria. The usually reliable Royals defense makes mistakes and, with a little help from his friends, Soria blows the save.
The snowball starts rolling.
On June 3, 4 and 5 the Royals starting pitcher cannot hand a lead to the Royals pen. The Royals offense isn’t scoring enough, and the starting pitcher isn’t pitching well enough to hand a lead to the best relievers in baseball. Ned does not want to waste quality innings from the best relievers in a game the Royals are likely to lose, so guys like Wang and Alexander are getting the ball and the situation rarely improves.
The one that got away when Ned didn’t follow the formula
On June 6 Danny Duffy throws six scoreless innings, and the Royals are up 1-0. Then, for some reason, Ned Yost decides to stray from the formula; he got his six innings and a lead, but Ned doesn’t go to the pen, he sends Duffy back out for the seventh.
Having covered Ned Yost since 2010 I’ve figured out a couple things: If he’s questioned about pulling a starter who’s throwing well, he’ll say that’s what you do when you have the best bullpen in baseball. If Ned’s questioned about leaving a starter in the game too long, he’ll say that’s what good pitchers do; they go deep in games.
But a starter who has thrown great for six innings can give it all back in just a few pitches. Three pitches into the seventh, Duffy gives up a home run to Mark Trumbo, and the game’s tied 1-1.
Now Ned does another notable thing: He leaves Duffy in the game. When a starting pitcher gives a manager a good outing, the manager will usually protect the starter; he won’t put the pitcher in the position of losing the game.
Nevertheless, letting the left-handed Duffy face the left-handed Chris Davis made some sense; Duffy had already struck out Davis once, and in the seventh inning Duffy does it again. But then Ned lets Duffy face Matt Wieters. Wieters hits a home run and the Royals are down 2-1.
Once again, the best bullpen in baseball will not get the ball with a lead.
So it’s pretty clear Ned screwed this one up, right?
The postgame press conference
Unlike the rest of us who can wait until the dust clears and then decide what should have been done, managers have to make decisions before they know how they’ll work out. And unlike the rest of us, managers have to attend a postgame press conference and explain their decisions.
(Y’know, now that I think about it, we’d all do fewer dumb things if we had to attend a press conference at the end of each day and explain just what the heck we were thinking. I’d be hard pressed to justify about 75 percent of the decisions I make on a daily basis.)
But back to Ned.
If Ned Yost pulls Duffy with a low-pitch count after throwing brilliantly for six innings and then Luke Hochevar gives it up in the seventh, we’d be happy to criticize Ned for being a by-the-book manager, mindlessly sticking to a formula and unable to think on his feet.
But when Ned goes away from the formula and lets his starter go out for the seventh inning and that doesn’t work out, you get articles like this one. (BTW: Hochevar gave up an unearned run and an inning later Kelvin Herrera gave up a homer, so maybe going to the pen earlier wouldn’t have changed the outcome.)
The losing continues
On June 7, 8 and 10 (the ninth was an off day) the Royals starting pitchers cannot get a lead to the back end of the pen guys. Hochevar, Soria and Davis are used just so they can get some work, but they never have a lead to protect.
The sixth inning of Saturday’s game
On June 10 the Royals finally have a shot at getting things back in order. Danny Duffy throws five scoreless innings and the Royals are up 2-0. If Duffy can make it through the sixth, a Royals starting pitcher will hand a lead to the back-end of the Royals pen for the first time since June 2.
Hochevar is warming up just in case, and you’d like to think Ned would have gone to him if Duffy got a runner or two one, but Duffy sucks it up and strikes out the side.
The ball then goes to Soria for the seventh, Herrera for the eighth and Davis for the ninth. The Royals winning formula works again and they beat the White Sox 4-1.
So what have we learned?
First, if you give me too much time, I’ll write an article that’s way too long. If this had been Monday morning, I would have cut this thing in half.
Second, pay attention to the score when the Royals starting pitcher leaves the game and who comes out of the bullpen. (And now that I’ve written that down you’d think I could’ve started with it and saved us all a lot of time.)
Anyway… have a nice Sunday, and let’s hope when Yordano Ventura leaves the game the Royals are winning – because I’d rather not use over 1,300 words to explain why they lost.