Thursday was a surprisingly full day when it came to Royals baseball news. First, the Royals looked impressive in their 4-1 victory over the Minnesota Twins in the first game of the four-game home stand. Furthermore, it was nice to see the MLB debut of Royals farm journeyman Humberto Arteaga, even if it came at the expense of Adalberto Mondesi hitting the 10-day IL due to an injured groin.
However, one of the most interesting stories to break of the day did not involve the Kansas City Royals, but rather, the New York Mets, as we see below in the following tweet from Jon Heyman:
For those who aren’t aware, Eiland served as the Royals pitching coach from 2011-2017 and mentored one of the best overall pitching staffs in baseball from 2013-2015. During that span, the Royals ranked 5th in the MLB in team ERA (3.56) and accumulated 270 wins, the fourth most in the league. And those numbers translated into postseason success: the Royals won two AL Pennants, and a World Series title in 2015. While the Royals pitching staff regressed a bit in Eiland’s last two years in 2016 and 2017 (their 4.42 team ERA ranked 18th in the league over that span), Eiland contributed heavily to the Royals success: the Royals speed, defense and timely hitting needed the strong staff and lockdown bullpen to win a World Series in 2015.
Eiland’s recent firing from the Mets presents an interesting dilemma for the Royals: do they immediately let go of current pitching coach Cal Eldred, who has seen the Royals pitching staff struggle the past two seasons? (Between 2018 and 2019 so far, the Royals ranked second to last in term ERA at 4.96, ahead of only the Orioles.) Do they bring back Eiland in an attempt to recapture the old glory of 2013-2015? Or do they keep the course and allow Eldred to finish the season out of loyalty?
It will be interesting to see what Dayton Moore decides to do in this scenario, because if Eldred does go, Yost could be the next one in line if the Royals fortunes don’t turn.
Which begs us as Royals fans to ask the question: should Yost’s time be up in Kansas City?
The Kansas City manager currently in Kansas City is a complicated one not just for Moore, but owner David Glass as well. There are many reasons to keep Yost: he is the Royals’ all-time winningest manager, the longest-tenured manager in Royals history, and is one of only two Royals managers to have captured a World Series title. When it comes to postseason success, Kansas City is not exactly Boston or New York when it comes to sports championship history, so Yost has certainly done his part on the field to give long suffering Kansas Citians the postseason accolades they have craved for decades.
Furthermore, there are a lot of personal reasons to like Yost. He is affable with the media, interacts warmly with the fan base, and for the most part, it seems like he has a great relationship with the players. He finds a nice balance between being patient with his roster and ripping into them when the time merits. That is not exactly easy to find around the league. Some managers are too volatile (Ozzie Guillen). Some are too laid back or mild-mannered, and allow problems to fester longer than they need (Tony Pena and Felipe Alou). For the most part, Yost has been able to be in between both of those camps over his 10-year tenure, much to the Royals benefit.
However, while there are on-field and off-the-field reasons to keep Yost in Kansas City, one has to wonder how much weight that should give Yost when it comes to extending his tenure as the Royals’ field manager. When one strips away the glow of the 2013-2015 time span, and the glory of the Royals World Series win and the parade in downtown Kansas City, then Yost’s future is a lot harder to predict after 2019.
Of course, Yost isn’t solely to blame here. He can only do so much with the roster he is given, and Moore certainly deserves his due and proper when it comes to the Royals lack of success post-2015 (I will look at that later). But let’s take a look at what Yost can control, and how he stacks according to other managers in the league.
Yost has been known as a free-wheeling manager on the basepaths and the numbers back that up. Rate + is a whole number that basically compares what a manager does and how he stacks against other managers around the league. The higher the Rate +, the more he does it compared to his competition. The lower the Rate +, the lower he does it compared to the competition. Over his 10 years tenure with the Royals, Yost has accumulated a Rate + of 105 when it comes to stealing 2nd, and a 127 Rate + when it comes to stealing 3rd, thus showing that he is willing to be riskier than his colleagues when it comes to swiping bags.
However, does that correlate into success, i.e. more runs? I decided to look at Fangraphs’ statistic BsR (Baserunning) which encompasses all categories related to baserunning. And unfortunately, the numbers don’t look good, as over his tenure the Royals accumulated a negative-16.9 in BsR, which ranks 20th in Major League Baseball over the 10-year span (2010-2019). Hence, while Yost has helped exhilarate Royals fans with multiple swipes on the basepaths, it can be argued that it not only hasn’t had much of a positive effect on winning, but it may have actually contributed to the Royals’ challenging seasons over Yost’s tenure.
Yost is pretty old school when it comes to this category. While still using the same Rate + stat from Baseball Reference, Yost used the sac bunt more than average in comparison to other MLB managers, as his Rate + has been 116 as manager of the Royals. Surprisingly, he hasn’t always rated highly in Rate + when it comes to the Sac Bunt, for during his tenure with Milwaukee, he posted a Rate + of 84. That being said, he only had a difference of 0.2 in terms of rate percentage from Milwaukee (1.9%) to KC (2.1%), which may be indicative of how the league is trending (managers bunted more during Yost’s Brewer days), and Yost isn’t quite adjusting as quickly (though he is to a point: his 42 Rate + this season in Sac Bunts would be the lowest of his career as a manager).
Granted, these numbers need context, as a NL manager would have a lot higher subbing stats naturally than an AL manager. A NL team has to hit the pitcher and has no DH, after all. However, Yost is pretty conservative when it comes to pinch hitting, as he has a PH/G + rate of 78. Originally, Yost was more free-wheeling when it came to pinch hitting early in his tenure with the Royals, as he had a PH/G + over 80 for four of his first seven seasons. However, since 2016, it has not only been under 80, but it has dipped to a low of 54 this year.
The basepaths are a different story, as Yost has a PR/G + of 102 over his Royals tenure. This year, despite the poor record, Yost is even more aggressive when it comes to using his bench to pinch run, as he has a PR/G + of 168, one of the highest rates over his career as manager of the Royals. This is surprising because we associate Yost’s love for speed with the glory days, not this rough season.
In terms of pitcher substitutions, Yost is around average when it comes to how many pitchers he uses a game. Over his 10-year Royals tenure, Yost has posted a rate of 3.9 pitchers per game, which translates as a P/G + of 98. What can we assume from this? Well, Yost likes his bullpen, and he’s pretty traditional when it comes to innings pitched and reliever usage: his starters are going to go 5-7, and his relievers will go no more than an inning, preferably. It’s not exactly groundbreaking, but at the very least, it shows that Yost isn’t stretching pitchers longer than they need to.
Should Yost be back in 2020?
Yost is a slightly above-average manager who experienced some nice success from 2013-2015. He’s not really innovative, and he’s pretty old-school, especially when it comes to stealing bases and bunting. His managerial style can produce some exciting baseball, but in terms of consistent productivity in the W-L column? Well that has yet to be proven over his ten years with the Royals.
In some ways, I think the Royals would benefit from a new voice or a breath of fresh air, in the dugout. I don’t think the Royals players are tuning him out by any means, but it’s obvious that this club needs a rejuvenation of sort, and it would be easier to replace a manager than a general manager at this point. Yes, I think a wholesale change would be interesting, and maybe beneficial, but knowing Glass, that probably would not happen. The Royals organization as a whole hates change, which kind of explains how they got bad again in the first place: they didn’t adjust for the future even though he writing was on the wall after 2016.
As a Royals fan, I don’t want Yost or the Royals to not succeed. I would be totally okay if the Royals went on a turnaround and won 70-75 games, which I think would be merit enough to buy Yost one more season. But another 100 loss season in Kansas City would be too much for Yost to survive, and I think for the Royals’ benefit, a new manager would be a step in the right direction in 2020.