Ned Yost’s team won despite his managing in Game 3
Pitchers make bad pitches, and hitters hit them hard … or they don’t. Pitchers make good pitches, and hitters don’t hit them hard … or they do.
We can analyze good pitches and bad pitches, good swings and bad swings, and sometimes we do. I don’t; I don’t have the patience for .gif-making. But people do it, and when done well it’s compelling. It’s just not easy to do well, and frankly a little of that sort of thing goes a long way.
There’s another way to parse the proceedings of a baseball game: Poetry. Fifty years ago, certainly one hundred years ago, nearly all the best baseball writers were poets. I mean, they weren’t technically poets. Actually, some of them did dabble. But mostly they were just men – yes, all of them were men, not that I’m endorsing the practice – who, as boys, had been weaned on Shakespeare and Dickens and assorted other noted practitioners of the King’s English.
There’s not much poetry any more. Not in baseball writing, anyway. Which leaves the usual blow-by-blow accounts, the well-crafted “Gee whiz I can’t believe what I just saw” … and at this time of the year, micro-analysis of every single questionable move the managers make.
Funny thing, it used to just be the losing managers. But now, thanks to the wonderful, magical worlds of Twitter and live-blogging, we get to micro-analyze the (ultimately) winning managers, too. Which really opens up things a lot!
Granted, it’s still difficult to micro-analyze the winning managers after they’ve won, if only because (quite frankly) a fair percentage of people just don’t want to hear about it. We’re still, even well into this Moneyball century, quite often hung up on results. If the manager won, then he must not have made any mistakes? Or even if he did make a mistake or two along the way, who cares? It’s all good, bro.
Well, yes. It’s all good until the next game. But a manager who makes a mistake in one game is likely to make the same mistake in another game. And if he doesn’t win that one, then we’ve really got something to talk about. Especially if we saw it coming beforehand.
Which inevitably, ineluctably, inescapably brings us to Ned Yost.
For Game 3 in the National League grounds, Yost rejiggered his lineup, and did that nearly as well as he could have.
The single most important thing a manager does is choose which players should play. He nailed this one. Well, he almost nailed it. More on that in a moment. But after writing out his lineup card, and leaving aside the utterly conventional tactics that have been locked in for some months, Yost screwed up Game 3 six ways to Sunday, and he’s lucky nobody’s going to remember.
Well, maybe not six ways. But at least three ways, maybe four.
1. Jeremy Guthrie bats for himself
After five innings, the Royals were ahead 1-0 and Jeremy Guthrie was throwing a shutout. But he’d hardly been brilliant, with not even a single strikeout. With Guthrie leading off the sixth, Yost could have started the inning with a perfect leadoff man: lefty-hitting Nori Aoki. Instead, Guthrie grounded out. The Royals would, however, score two runs later in the inning.
2. Mike Moustakas bats for himself (v1.0)
In that same top of the sixth, the two runs having already scored, Mike Moustakas came up against Javier Lopez. Was there a right-handed pitcher warming up in the bullpen? I failed to notice, but probably. Still, as I wrote before the game, Moustakas against a lefty like Lopez or Jeremy Affeldt is a mismatch. If there was a right-handed pitcher warming up, there are two good reasons for not yanking Moustakas for a pinch-hitter: You’re going to lose the platoon edge when Bochy summons the righty, and of course you’ve lost Moustakas’s bat (and glove) for the rest of the game. We can probably give Yost a pass on this one.
3. Jeremy Guthrie pitches for himself
This is obviously related to No. 1, and it’s the combination that’s so powerful. Guthrie hadn’t given up a run, but he also hadn’t been tremendously effective. Granted, nearly every other manager in the majors would have let him start the sixth inning … but if you’ve got faith in your pitcher, why do you yank him after he gives up a couple of singles to start the sixth? What changed? Either you believe Guthrie’s your best pitcher in the sixth inning or you don’t, and two singles shouldn’t change that.
4. Kelvin Herrera … just, the whole stupid thing
Where do we start? Replacing Guthrie with Herrera is defensible. Not double-switching isn’t as defensible, since Herrera’s spot would come up fourth in the top of the seventh. Wishing Jarrod Dyson would make an out in the seventh so Herrera wouldn’t have to bat isn’t as defensible. Letting Herrera bat for himself with a runner aboard isn’t as defensible. Letting Herrera pitch to Hunter Pence, leading off in the bottom of the seventh is defensible. Letting Herrera pitch to lefty-hitting Brandon Belt isn’t as defensible. With three straight left-handed batters coming up – first Belt, then Travis Ishikawa and Brandon Crawford – not going immediately to lefty Brandon Finnegan isn’t as defensible. Finnegan finally did come on to face Ishikawa, and retired both him and Crawford to end the inning. But Herrera had thrown 27 pitches.
To summarize: Yost allowed Guthrie to bat, and Guthrie recorded exactly zero outs afterward; Yost allowed Herrera to bat, and Herrera recorded exactly one out afterward. This is what we sometimes refer to as “poor roster management.”
Yost never used a pinch-hitter in the entire game, even though the Royals never entered an inning with more than a one-run lead, and had three solid bats on the bench. On multiple occasions – two if you count just those aforementioned pitcher at-bats, or four if you count the times he let Moustakas face a lefty reliever – Yost essentially conceded outs, as if they don’t really matter at all.
But none of that mattered, because Finnegan and Davis and Holland were, as usual, untouchable. Yost played for exactly three runs, and that’s exactly how many the Royals needed (and got).
But please don’t confuse this with smart managing. Aside from replacing Herrera with Finnegan, which was probably done only because Herrera had thrown 27 pitches, Yost didn’t do anything he doesn’t always do. He didn’t respond to the specific game situations, or do anything different to increase the Royals’ chance of winning. He had his plan, and he didn’t deviate an iota from it.
And it worked. This time, it worked. Next time, it might work. But I sure wish I’d been sitting next to Earl Weaver and watching Game 3. Because I do love creative profanity. Sometimes it’s almost like poetry.