Recap: The Orioles jumped ahead but only by a run, Jeremy Guthrie was better than expected, the Royals erased the lead in the middle innings, jumped out ahead in the sixth, their defense and bullpen shut things down from the seventh on, and the Royals are up three games to none. In a postgame press conference, Guthrie took to wearing a taunting shirt based on the worst, I mean really the worst pop song of the year. He can get away with it because the Royals are about to go to the World Series and everybody except the Orioles and a few Angels fans is happy about it. Considering it was a 2-1 game in an LCS, it wasn’t all that interesting of a game. Lorenzo Cain made a nice catch. Mike Moustakas made a nice catch. Some more people on Twitter made Wil Myers jokes. Home sweep home, how sweep it is, ain't glove the sweepest thing, from the outhouse to the penthouse sweep. That’s the recap. Forgive me if I’m not inspired to do more, strict-recapwise.
— keithlaw (@keithlaw) October 10, 2014
has thus far failed to bark. In the prediction portion of our series preview, I grudgingly consented to picking the Orioles, explicitly based on the margin between a good manager and a (perceived to be) bad one. So three games in, has Yost been outmanaged? By how much? And has it cost the Royals?
While watching Game Three, I kept track of every situation where a Yost decision was either explicitly or implicitly made—i.e., he went with a pinch-hitter; or, he didn’t, but we know that he might reasonably have. Here they are, along with a very unofficial assessment of the move at the time; and a record of how it turned out.
1. Royals start Jeremy Guthrie instead of Jason Vargas or, on short rest, James Shields or, on a near-lifetime of rest, Danny Duffy.
Assessment: Throw out Duffy, for whom we are probably at a massive informational disadvantage against Yost. And probably throw out Shields, who would have had to start on short rest again, in Game Six, for the Royals to avoid having to go to a fourth starter sometime in the series*–and thus for it to add any benefit to him starting here. Which means we’re talking about Guthrie in 3 and Vargas in 4, or vice versa, which means that this doesn’t really matter until Game Seven, when one of the two would be in line to start a potentially decisive game. Okay, so that neuters this one pretty good, but even if we’re down to Guthrie and Vargas and the order of those two names, this is still an odd decision, all the way around. The Royals started Jason Vargas, not Guthrie, in the ALDS, and he pitched well, so what changed? I refuse to believe Internet Person’s hypothesis that “Yost does like to start players against their former teams.” Guthrie was the Royals’ worst starter by ERA, worst starter by peripherals, and entered the season as their worst starter by PECOTA projections—which means he sure as heck ain’t going to project to outpitch any of them now. Oh, heck, Mike Petriello covered this so we don’t have to, but basically: Yost could probably find a reason for this move, but you can’t, not one that we should take seriously.
Result: Guthrie made it through five innings, threw a ton of pitches, walked as many as he struck out, but escaped with only one run against him. He threw a few good pitches. He probably didn’t pitch that well, but it didn’t hurt the Royals. That it was Guthrie—a pitcher nobody takes seriously—probably made it easier for Yost to pull him after five, and arguably helped the Royals.
Grade: Oh, for Pete’s sake, don’t make me grade these moves. Let’s say it was a questionable move that didn’t cost the Royals.
2. Royals don’t pull Guthrie in the second inning
Assessment: Not that anybody was suggesting it, but he could have: A run was in, and Guthrie had just gone deep double/deep double/walk. If Danny Duffy were truly available, you could see the case for going to him; thank Guthrie for almost getting through the order once and keep him and his Orioles-taunting shirt the heck away from TV cameras. But, again, we don’t know nothin’ about Duffy, and with two more games until the next off-day, I wouldn’t have recommended wearing out every one-inning guy in the bullpen.
Result: Guthrie immediately got it together. He didn’t allow another run, or two baserunners in any other inning. Let’s call this one: Predictable, perhaps a bit passive, but didn’t cost the Royals.
3. Royals don’t pull Guthrie after the fourth inning
Assessment: He had thrown 83 pitches by the end of the frame, which included a walk and a line out. The fifth would see the lineup turn over, so Guthrie would be facing at least two batters a third time. Again: Things we don’t know about Duffy are a factor, but even without Duffy, the Royals know they’ve only got two more innings until The Nickname TBD Boys. Even with a fairly short bullpen—which included Duffy, grrrr—you’d think Tim Collins or Brandon Finnegan and Frasor could handle the fifth and sixth, though you might start getting nervous about extra innings if all three of them are required here. I’d have gone Finnegan (two lefties coming up in the inning) and then Frasor. The limitations on the bullpen make it not an overwhelming decision.
Result: Three up, three down for Guthrie. Somewhat questionable move, didn’t cost the Royals.
4. Royals do pull Guthrie after the fifth inning
Assessment: And Jason Frasor comes in. The move Twitter’s been calling for in practically every start this postseason, the aggressive removal of a pitcher who is cruising once he gets through the order twice. For that matter: A move that had at least some echoes of the one that nearly cost Yost his World Series share, when he pulled James Shields in the wild card game. Not that bold, but a little bold.
Result: Frasor threw a perfect inning to get the Royals to the seventh. A good move, rewarded.
5. Jarrod Dyson pinch-runs for Nori Aoki in the sixth
Assessment: This was the fourth game in a row that Aoki reached base in either the sixth or seventh, allowing Yost to do what he always does (put Dyson in as a defensive replacement, shifting Cain to right field to create a superoutfield) while also putting a superior baserunner on first base. In the seventh, it’s an easy call. In the sixth, though, he knows he’s likely going to cost his lineup an Aoki at-bat later in the game. That’s a small detail. The larger one, which Ben Lindbergh made on Twitter, is that we shouldn’t overlook the fact that Yost makes this move at all. Aoki is a good defender! He’s also a good baserunner! He’s probably the best defender to be replaced for defense in many, many years; and he’s probably the best baserunner to be pinch-run for regularly this year. Further, in this arrangement, Cain—one of the league’s best defensive center fielders—has to go play in a corner, like some commoner. Some managers wouldn’t do this. Most, maybe. Why humiliate the veterans, the regulars? Why get fancy and deplete the bench for a move that only upgrades two pretty strong strengths? It’s actually the most awesome thing Yost does, when you think about it.
Result: With the first baseman Pearce holding tight to the bag in case Dyson tried to steal, Dyson didn't try to steal—was ordered not to try to steal—and Hosmer banged a single into the hole, roughly where a first baseman might otherwise stand. He would score the winning run on a sacrifice fly a play later. Further, Cain, having slid over to right field, would make a very good play later in the game. A very good move, rewarded verily.
6. Jarrod Dyson didn’t steal
Assessment: Crud, already mentioned this one. Anyway, you can watch the Statcast video of the play and decide whether you think Dyson’s presence at first (rather than Aoki) made a difference in where Pearce was playing. Plausible. If he’d taken just one fewer step back to the bag, he’s got a shot.
Result: Too complicated for me; might have paid off or might have been nothing. Let’s be generous and give it to Yost.
Assessment: From this point on, the game got really, really simple for Yost. He didn’t have to get anybody warming up, he didn’t have to play lefty/righty, there wasn’t even a baserunner. Yost would probably argue, after a scotch or two, that this is the result of his famous bullpen rigidity: His boys know what is expected of them, they are used to the situation, and thus are in a position to thrive. There wasn’t an opportunity to pinch-hit or pinch-run. It was just cruising with a lead.
Result: Rote move, pays off.
So: Seven moves. Two were questionable, in my estimation, but neither hurt him. Two were very good moves, in my estimation, and both paid off immediately and persistently. One was too complicated for me to assess, but quite likely paid off. Two were predictable and “easy,” and both paid off. All paid off.
So why hasn’t the managerial mismatch come into play in this series? 1) There aren’t that many managerial moves, even in these close games; 2) When there is a “wrong” move, it’s generally not overwhelmingly wrong; clearly, perhaps, but not overwhelming, in the automatic-loss-of-privileges sense; 3) When there is a “wrong” move, it doesn’t always turn out to be harmful; many scary things just float off into the distance—academic, as the great broadcaster Hank Greenwald used to say; 4) A manager who makes a bunch of "wrong" moves makes a bunch of “right” moves, too! So far, those have paid off; and 5) No matter how smart the guy in the other dugout is, he'll make a "wrong" move or two. Like, say, leaving in Wei-Yin Chen to face the Royals’ order a third time,** the turning point in this game.
*Assuming the Royals don’t put it away before that, in which case, who cares, all moot.
**To face a couple lefties, at least, but still. Each lefty singled.
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