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Royals Ned Yost is Not the Village Idiot of Managers

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Oct 20, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost (3) talks with members of the media during a press conference the day before the start of the 2014 World Series at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Ok. It’s time for me to eat crow. Exactly one month ago on September 20, I called Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost the “Village Idiot of Mangers”.

I was wrong.

I had been frustrated by Nori Aoki bunting twice in the first 3 innings to set up DH Josh Willingham—a hitter with a 28% strikeout rate—with an opportunity to drive in a run from 3rd base with a fly ball and one out. I also thought his choice to pinch hit Raul Ibanez in a situation where the Royals needed a single instead of Billy Butler was a poor decision with Ibanez hitting an anemic .167 this season.

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A few days earlier, I had ridiculed Yost’s bullpen rigidity in a parody video here.

Since September 20, the Royals have won 13 of 16 games, including an unprecedented 8-0 run to begin the 2014 playoffs. Though Kansas City failed to win the Central Division title, they swept their way to the World Series winning a wild card game against the Oakland A’s, 3 straight against A.L. West Champs Los Angeles Angels,and 4 straight against A.L. East Champs Baltimore Orioles.

In short, the Royals swept their way to the World Series.

However, Kansas City’s success doesn’t necessarily mean I was wrong. As Oriole manager Buck Showalter likes to say: you can’t evaluate the quality of a decision from the results. In baseball, a manager, player, or front office can make an objectively terrible decision that works out. The ball is round, and guys try to hit it with a round bat. Funny, unexpected things can happen that no one could have reasonably predicted.

Sometimes, those weird bounces can rescue a baseball decision-maker from their own stupidity.

What makes me wrong is that Ned Yost has learned from his mistakes in the playoffs.

Aug 11, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Yordano Ventura (30) delivers a pitch in the first inning against the Oakland Athletics at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

One month ago, I called for Yost’s head because I was afraid his tactical mistakes would ruin any chance the Royals had of winning a short series against playoff opponents. Part of my reasoning was that Yost would continue to make rigid decisions and not adjust to the strategic differences between the playoffs and the regular season.

Coming into the playoffs, Ned Yost was the most rigid manager in baseball in terms of maintaining reliever “roles”. The “HDH” trio of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland had mostly been restricted to their “role” as the “guy” for the 7th (Herrera), 8th (Davis), and closer (Holland).

Over the last 8 games, Yost has changed his spots. He has used his HDH trio 32% vs. 14% in the regular season, and has extended their use into the 6th inning.

In game 2 of the ALCS, Yost asked both Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis to go 2 innings, which helped the Royals win a 10th-inning game 8-6 after starter James Shields struggled to last 5 innings. Yost has also refrained from repeating his mistake of throwing a starter like Yordano Ventura into a role with which he was not familiar. He’s settled on Brandon Finnegan and Jason Frasor as his bridge to HDH, and isn’t afraid to pull a struggling starter before he’s gone 6.

Yost has also adapted his roster to the playoffs, shortening his bullpen in favor of more bench players. He left the struggling Aaron Crow and Scott Downs off his roster, and added speedster Terrance Gore and versatile utility player Christian Colon, which has given him more options.

The result was that Yost had the depth to run the Oakland A’s out of the playoffs using players like Jarrod Dyson and Gore, along with the players to handle the defense after making those substitutions.

While I still do not think Yost is a “smart” tactical manager, he’s far from the complete liability that made me call for his head. In fact, Yost has done a good job in the playoffs.

And, more important than managerial tactics, Yost has his team in a great mindset during the playoffs. The Royals’ mental edge has—in no small part—contributed to Kansas City’s historic playoff run. While much of it has to do with their now-iconic 4-run comeback against the Oakland A’s, we have to presume a lot of the resilience that allowed that win came from the tone Yost set in the clubhouse.

Let’s just hope Yost can keep it up against San Francisco’s universally-praised manager Bruce Bochy in the World Series.

If he can, we might even see a sweep—but I’m not counting on it. Between Ned Yost’s new and improved decision-making, plus the mental edge the Royals have gained from their playoff run, I’m picking the Kansas City Royals to beat the 2-time champion Giants in 7.