Ned Yost is many things—World Series-winning manager, possessing a sub-.500 career record, even after presiding over the best stretch seen by the Kansas City Royals in 30 years, whose unconventional ways often bamboozle the casual observer.
But, as the key phrase there indicates, he has won a World Series. And he has presided over a near-unprecedented stretch of success during his time in Kansas City. Other failures (or successes) aside, he’ll meet his maker as a lower-grade Kansas City legend, on par with Dick Howser, Len Dawson and Peter Vermes.
I don’t think anyone dislikes Yost as a manager, but I do think some of his success has been confusing. The Royals Pythagorean record since Yost took over indicates a man who has largely managed above his station, ringing at least a couple extra wins out of a flawed squad in every season since 2014.
2014 Pythagorean: 84-78
2014 Reality: 89-73
2015 Pythagorean: 90-72
2015 Reality: 95-67
2016 Pythagorean: 77-85
2016 Reality: 81-81
2017 Pythagorean: 72-90
2017 Reality: 80-82
Four-year Pythagorean: 323-325 (.498)
Four-year Reality: 345-303 (.532)
That first winning percentage there has gotten lesser men fired. The second only gets men fired if they manage a big-market, high-expectation club [play “You’ll Never Walk Alone” for John Farrell here]. Maybe Ned Yost raised the expectations in Kansas City, but the market remains the market.
Did Ned Yost do more with less than any other manager in baseball during the last four seasons? Maybe.
Did Ned Yost enjoy the most talented Kansas City Royals teams of a generation during the last four seasons? Also maybe.
Look, I don’t have the answers to the questions. I barely have the questions. I’ve been going over them for quite some time now in my head and I can’t decide. Only twice during his Milwaukee tenure was Yost able to get his charges to outperform the Pythagorean expectation. Of managers who have won a World Series this century, Yost’s career record is easily the worst—the only other manager to post a sub-.500 career mark is Bruce Bochy, who won three World Series titles and was unfortunate enough to manage some ABHORRENT Padres teams in the late-90s—early-00s. Only Tom Kelly—who led the Twins to a pair of World Series titles and then enjoyed the opportunity to manage some of baseball’s worst teams during a time the Twins were rumored to be under consideration for contraction—has a worse career record among World Series-winning coaches since 1980.
[In not-so-subtle news, some of those contemporaries with titles and better records, like Bob Brenly and Ozzie Guillen, are practically unhireable now.]
The glass half-empty part of me wants to believe that Ned Yost is simply the luckiest SOB in the world and caught lightning in a bottle for an extended period of time. That is an easy belief.
The other part of me thinks that eventually, luck is no longer luck. That coming through when it matters and consistently outperforming expectations—whether great or small—is a managerial trait, albeit one that is impossible to quantify.
I’m not certain Ned is the man for a rebuild. I’m not certain, given his accomplishments, that he should be. And I’m petrified that a loyal organization may be loyal to a fault, turning Ned Yost into a new-age Tom Kelly and allowing the franchise to tread water for 12 years. And yet—I’ve talked myself into it in a lot of ways. Ned’s guys may not always be the best, but they keep being better than the advanced numbers say they should be.
Much of 2018 will depend on how rebuildy this rebuild is. Are we talking frame off restoration? Will all the stars head off to shine in other skies? In April, will we be having heated Slack debates over how to platoon Bubba Starling and Alex Gordon in center? World’s best architects still gotta have, too.
Not that change isn’t coming in Kansas City in other areas as well. Out are pitching coach Dave Eiland, bench coach Don Wakamatsu, assistant hitting coach Brian Buchanan and (likely) bullpen coach Doug Henry. Eiland was a pitching coach with two World Series rings. Wak is a former manager. Will their replacements have the same pedigree?
(And not to rub salt in the wound of what will likely be a sore point, but why was Buchanan on the chopping block but not Dale Sveum?)
For heaven’s sake, even Rusty Kuntz is gone (although that’s more of a personal thing). Why bother to have baseball without Rusty Kuntz prominently involved? Nobody wants to live in that world.
(That was mostly an excuse to reference Rusty’s Wikipedia page, which contains the single greatest line I cannot put into print on anything resembling a family website. Here’s a link; I’ll let you decide which line I’m talking about.)
But for the most part, these are cosmetic changes. Ned’s still in charge of the on-field product, meaning Ned is hiring Ned people (which, as long as he’s still the manager, is what Royals FanFest should be called next season). Will Ned People give the Royals a tangible advantage next season? Or is Ned himself simply a 6-1, 62-year-old lucky rabbit’s foot?