In a recent Baseball Tonight Podcast, Buster Olney stated that Ned Yost deserves consideration for Manager of the Year because of the success he’s had with all the young Royals. This wasn’t the first time it was mentioned, either. In February, Sporting News predicted he’d be Manager of the Year. They felt comfortable predicting a winner before any manager had done anything to scrutinize because the award has little to do with managerial decisions. The manager does not have to be good; the story does.
The story usually fits one of following formulas before a manager is considered for the award.
1. The team must vastly improve on their record from the previous season.
2. The team makes up ground late and fast in the playoff race.
3. (bonus) The manager has a manly jaw.
Bob Melvin won the American League award last year for the Oakland A’s. The team won the division after analysts predicted a middling semi-contentious team. Davey Johnson won the National League award last year for similar reasons at the helm of the Washington Nationals. Neither one of those managers were bad, but they won the award because their teams fit an expected formula, not because their managerial acumen granted a competitive edge.
Joe Madden first won the award because the Tampa Bay Rays went from 66 wins in 2007 to 97 wins in 2008. It fit the first formula. He won it again in 2011 because of the second formula. The Rays were nine games out of the wild card spot on September 3 and they came back to earn a playoff spot. He didn’t win because of the frequent defensive shifts or his deftly handled bullpen; he won because of a comeback. Everyone loves a comeback story–they make movie montages about comebacks.
Ned Yost’s case rests on a mixture of appealing narratives. If the Royals miraculously earn a wild card spot and win the play-in game, Yost is a lock for the award. He might win it unanimously. Even if the Royals don’t take a wild card spot, a few favorable story elements could be enough to push him to the top. The Royals have not had a winning season in ten years. They’ve had, by far, the worst decade in sports. They’ve had a longer playoff drought than any active professional sports team (in any sport). That should help with the sympathy vote. The Royals made up 8 1/2 games in the wild card race in 18 days, staying in the race into the final week of the season, which gives the impression that he has done something intangible to encourage winning. Ned Yost also has a manly jaw.
In-game, for the most part, managers follow a set of unwritten situational rules (stern lefty/righty matchups that ignore individual strengths, pinch runners in late innings for slow players in a tie game, etc.). These decisions almost never have an impact on the outcome of the game, good or bad, because individual player performance and natural variance destroy the plans of mice and men.
For instance, Ned Yost frequently uses Jarrod Dyson to pinch run for slow players in late innings. Dyson has pinch run for the Royals twelve times this year (once for an injury to David Lough, so that one doesn’t really count). Skim over the twelve instances summarized below.
April 6th, Dyson pinch runs for Billy Butler with two outs in the eighth. Dyson steals second. Salvador Perez grounds out. Royals lose 3-4. No impact on game outcome.
April 8th, Dyson pinch runs for Billy Butler with one out in the eighth. Royals are up by two. Dyson is caught stealing (although it was a bad call). Royals win 3-1. No impact on game outcome.
April 25th, Dyson pinch runs for Billy Butler with no outs in the eighth. Royals down by one. Dyson steals second, moves to third on grounder, scores on a sacrifice fly to tie the game. Huge game impact. Royals win 8-3 in ten innings.
May 5, Dyson pinch runs for Billy Butler in the bottom of the ninth with two outs. Hosmer lines out to end inning. Royals win 6-5 in ten innings. No impact on game outcome.
June 30th, Dyson pinch runs for Billy Butler in the top of the ninth. Royals up by one. Dyson is caught stealing. Royals win 9-8. No impact on game outcome.
July 26, Dyson pinch runs for Billy Butler in the top of the ninth with no outs. Royals up by one. Dyson steals second. Three successive singles and an error render the decision irrelevant. Royals win 5-1. No impact on game outcome.
August 4th, Dyson pinch runs on third base for an injured David Lough. He scores on a wild pitch. Lough would have scored, too. Royals win 6-2. No impact on game outcome.
August 20th, Dyson pinch runs for Billy Butler in the bottom of the ninth with no outs (despite not being the tying run). Royals down by two. Dyson steals second. Pop fly, pop fly and strikeout end the inning. Royals lose 0-2. No impact on game outcome.
August 22nd, Dyson pinch runs for Billy Butler in the bottom of the twelfth inning with no outs. Royals down by one. Dyson steals second. Lough strikes out. Getz lines out. Bonifacio flies out. Royals lose 3-4. No impact on game outcome (but a good decision).
August 23rd, Dyson pinch runs for Billy Butler in the bottom of the ninth. Royals down by three. Dyson steals second. Maxwell singles he and Hosmer home. Bonifacio and Escobar fly out to end the game. No impact on game outcome.
September 20th, Dyson pinch runs for David Lough in the bottom of the eighth with two outs and bases loaded ( I didn’t even notice, I thought he was a defensive replacement). Royals up by one. Groundout ends the inning. Royals win 2-1. No impact on game outcome.
As you can see, the in-game decisions that a manager makes are often irrelevant. When Yost played for the tie when down by one, he made a solid tactical decision. When Yost played for the win in a tie game, he usually made the wrong call (It leaves the team without its best hitters in extra innings and decreases the chances of scoring). In-game variance and player production decided 92% of the games in which Yost pinch ran Dyson. Only once did it make any difference on the game’s outcome. Lucky for Ned, it was positive.