By In Stuff

"He’s either going to win it or lose it"

Craig already had his say about the following bizarre quote from Royals manager Ned Yost — who pulled starter James Shields in the ninth inning Monday with the Royals leading Chicago 1-0, replaced him with closer Greg Holland and watched the Royals lose in extra innings 2-1. But I think I have something a little bit different to say about it.

First, here’s the quote:

“Everybody has their job to do and Shields had done his. He threw eight shutout innings. It was a one-run game. The runs make all the difference. If it was a two-run or a three-run lead, yeah. But in a one-run game, you send him out he’s either going to win it or lose it. You let the closer go out and try to do his job.”

Yost is not always the best at expressing his decision-making process. For instance, I’m not at all sure what the English translation is for “In a one-run game, you send him out he’s either going to win it or lose it.” Wouldn’t that be true for, you know, anybody? And, actually, is it even true? He could give up one run and tie it — might not win or lose it at all.

I think — think — he’s saying that in a one-run game like this there’s no margin for error, so, um, I don’t know, maybe you can’t trust the starter to protect a one-run lead because, you know, he did his job already and he can only win or lose the game, or something. It’s the best conclusion I can come up with.

I should say … I’m not second-guessing Yost’s DECISION here. That’s not fair, especially with it failing. It could have worked. I’m second-guessing his EXPLANATION for the decision. If he had said: “I thought Shields was showing signs of fading in the eighth inning,” hey, OK, that’s the manager’s job to notice that stuff. If he had said, “James had already thrown 102 pitches, and I really didn’t want him throwing 115 to 120 this early in the season in somewhat cold weather,” once more, hey, that’s the manager’s job to look out for his players over a long season.

But this explanation seems utterly baffling. And with the Royals off to a really good start, the choices Ned Yost makes (at least for now) will be watched a lot more closely. He will definitely need to come up with better explanations that this cockamamie thing.


1. James Shields and Cliff Lee have started more ninth innings than any pitchers in baseball from 2010-2012. It’s only 18 games, a small sample size, but it’s all we have to work with. Batters have hit .174 against Shields in the ninth inning over those three seasons. They have slugged .217. He has not allowed a home run. So to say that pitching eight shutout innings is his job, well, I think a short but sweet history would suggest otherwise.

2. Shields had allowed two White Sox hits, both singles, and was poised to face Jeff Keppinger, Alex Rios and Adam Dunn who had gone 0-8 with two strikeouts, with a walk (to Dunn) and a moderately hit routine fly ball being the highlights.

3. Is Yost really saying that if the Royals had been up 2-0, rather than 1-0, he would have let Shields start the ninth? Because, um, that seems to be really, really unsound thinking.

4. Greg Holland, a very talented young pitcher with a great future, has not yet proven himself to be Mariano Rivera.

And, most of all there’s this: Here are some fun numbers for you. I looked from 2010 to 2012 at starters who pitched in the ninth inning. It’s not a huge sample as you might guess — complete games are way, way down. Plus, the numbers are kind of hard to harness — I’m sure smarter people can do a lot more with this. Still, using Baseball Reference’s excellent splits feature, I was able to break it down at least a little bit.

Then, over the same time frame, I also looked at how the top relievers have pitched in the ninth inning — I basically took the 100 relievers with the most ninth innings pitched.

Here’s what the numbers say according to the muddled spreadsheet I put together:

Batting average against starters in the ninth: .224

Batting average against relievers in the ninth: .225

Slugging percentage against starters in the ninth: .340

Slugging percentage against relievers in the ninth: .345

Walks per nine innings for starters in the ninth: 1.79

Walks per nine innings for relievers in the ninth: 3.16

It’s difficult to figure out ERA or runs per nine innings because pitchers come in and out so often during the ninth, leaving behind base runners, allowing inherited runners to score, etc. But best I can tell, starters also have a better ERA and allow fewer runs per nine than relievers.

Now, there’s all kinds of noise in this little study, all sorts of nonsense, all sorts of small-sample size gibberish, and I don’t want to make too much of it, and I don’t want to make it sound like I’m saying starters are better in the ninth than relievers. I’m not. I have no idea.

I’m just saying that since 2010, starters who had pitched well enough to start the ninth inning tended to pitch well in the ninth inning too. I don’t think that’s a surprise. It seems almost certain to me that the Royals best chance to win on Monday was to send Shields back out for the ninth inning. He had dominated for eight innings, he had only thrown 102 pitches, to an outside viewpoint he looked good in the eighth, I think it’s highly unlikely that bringing in a new reliever who had pitched the day before was the team’s best shot at victory.

Again, I’m not saying the decision was wrong. I’m saying that I would like to know why Ned Yost did it …and his explanation does not clarify things at all. If he did it for health reasons, because he noticed something, or for sound reasons he would rather not make public, hey, that’s part of the game too.

But he did not offer any of that in his explanation. And if he did it because he believes in push-button managing with a starter having his job, a closer having his job, a setup man having his job, a lefty specialist having his job, well, that’s not great. The Royals have a pretty good team here. Ned Yost has gotta raise his game.

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46 Responses to "He’s either going to win it or lose it"

  1. Ethan Cooper says:

    “has not yet proven himself to Mariano Rivera”

    I assume there’s a missing “be” here, but I like the idea that all would-be closers must complete some kind of trial to win Mariano’s approval before they can save ballgames.

  2. Bryan says:

    I think when he says “he’s either going to win it or lose it”, he means that with Holland in there, Shields could get a no decision?

    • cbthepoet says:

      I agree. With all due respect Joe, I think you’re taking the “win or lose” thing a bit too literally. It seemed clear to me he meant that Shields had done his job and the game would be won or lost with Holland on the mount, as that’s the closer’s role – to finish what the starter had…um… started. I also seriously doubt Yost was looking at Shield’s 9th inning opposing batting average when he made the decision. He seems a bit too old school for that.

  3. mboling says:

    Yost is an idiot manager. There’s a reason Milwaukee got into the playoffs after firing him.

  4. Frank says:

    I think the biggest favor a manager can do for the other team is remove a pitcher who is pitching effectively. The reliever may have a proven track record, but who knows whether he will pitch as effectively THAT DAY. We know the starter is pitching effectively THAT DAY. Pitch count and “roles” have come to overrule common sense.

    • KHAZAD says:

      I agree 100%. The more times you change pitchers, the more likely you are to find one that doesn’t have good stuff that day. He could have started the ninth with Shields and had Holland ready if there was trouble, but part of his push button style is a penchant for clean innings.

      The closer the game and the better the pitching, the more likely Yost is to make some kind of move just to feel like he is doing something, whether it is changing pitchers, or (my favorite Yost pet peeve) ordering a bunt after a leadoff double.
      Most of the time when he “does something” it increases the teams chances of losing.

    • Mark says:

      Yeah, it’s percentage baseball run amok. But then again the last team on the planet that is going to do anything progressive or forward thinking is the Royals. The fact that Yost is as old school as they come AND can’t speak simple English makes it all the more frustrating.

  5. Unknown says:

    I do think what he meant was there’s no margin for error. It goes along with the statement that he might have sent Shields back out there if the score was 2-0.

    I think he didn’t want to risk a tiring shields losing the win on one bad pitch. If there had been a 2 run lead he would have left him in the game so long as the tying run never came to the plate.

    I don’t necessarily agree with that, but I don’t think people should be ripping him for it. It’s a defensible position.

  6. This statement is going to picked over, but I think what he really meant was that if he sent Shields back out there for the 9th that he wasn’t going to go get him — it was going to be his inning. Shields was sitting at 102 pitches, and he didn’t want to risk running him up to 130. If it had been a 2 or 3 run lead, Yost would have more flexibility to go to the bullpen.

  7. Kwaz says:

    Why did you omit OBP from the SP vs RP in the 9th inning comparison list?

  8. Jaime says:

    Are the numbers for relievers who are in save situations? If not then blowouts would mean you have the last man in the bullpen raising the averages. Wouldn’t it be easier and fairer to compare to Holland’s numbers or projection.

  9. Tracey says:

    Why do we care what managers and coaches say publicly? Their job is to win games, to make decisions that contribute to winning games. They’re never really going to give us insight into their thought process, between the complimentary pressures of covering their own backsides and keeping the competition guessing about their future actions. Judge them by their choices, not their words.

  10. Ben Wildner says:

    Yay! I’ve missed old Nedly’s post game pressers “If you knew the game or had any baseball knowledge”

  11. I think we can safely say that he absolutely would have left Shields out there to start the ninth if their was a 2 run lead, . . . b/c he did that exact thing just two days earlier when Jeremy Guthrie took a 2-0 lead into the 9th inning.

    I knew 2 pitches into Holland’s outing that the Royals were in trouble. When he misses with this first 2 pitches, he is probably going to struggle with his location the entire outing. And except Konerko’s AB, he fell behind every hitter. All that said, if Getz (a Yost favorite who plays, one must presume, becaue of this Plus (??) glove) makes a difficult but makeable play for the 3rd out, the Royals still win despite Holland’s ineffectiveness.

  12. Kid Twist says:

    If Ned’s talking, Ned’s lying! His first priority has always been to protect a player’s psych. He treats everyone like a head case.

  13. Kid Twist says:

    If Ned’s talking, Ned’s lying! His first priority has always been to protect a player’s psych. He treats everyone like a head case.

  14. jim louis says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  15. jim louis says:

    I don’t think Ned’s decision to pull Shields is defensible.

    When Shields picked off the runner at 1st to end the 8th, he pumped his fists and the crowd went crazy. Shields, who has only 2 wins despite a 2.05 ERA, had a chance to win a game all by himself. The Royals, already solidly the #2 team in division, coulda sent an early message to the Sox by sweeping them and doing so by beating their ace, Sale. I couldn’t see into the Sox dugout, but I’d guess the batters did cart wheels when they saw that Shields was sitting on the bench in the 9th. Yeah, it’s only 1 game, but maybe it was bigger than that. It’s astounding to me that Ned was unable to feel what I think all Royals fans felt…that Shields wasn’t gonna lose.

  16. Alan Milnes says:

    Interesting how this is distracting from the Umpires blowing a Home Run call even with the benefot of instant replay! Luckily justice was done in the end.

  17. Kansas City says:

    Yost is never going to be good game manager because he is not very bright and does not use/undersand advanced statistics. He also is not going to provide good post game explanations, because he is not bright enough to do so. Remember, he is a guy who was so bad at managerial decisions that the Brewers fired him in the middle of a pennant race.

    Here, I undersood his explanation. He did not want to put Shields in the situation of having to win or lose a game after 8 great innings. Now, that is a stupid way to think. But it is not hard to undersand his stupidity. I had mixed feelings about it. I like to protect pitcher’s arms and having Shields throw 115 or more pitches is a concern. And, there probably is not much difference in win likelihood between Shields or Holland trying to get 3 outs without a run scoring in the 9th.

  18. Jeff Arp says:

    As a former season ticket holder in Tampa who loved watching Shields pitch, I don’t think Yost knows what he got when they picked up Big Game James!

  19. Jeff says:

    I think there are a lot of big league managers who would’ve made that move. I’m not saying it was right or wrong, because I wasn’t watching the game and as Joe points out, it’s easy to second-guess it now that I know the outcome. But I think lots of other managers would’ve done it. I’m a Twins fan, and I know Ron Gardenhire would have.

  20. MGL says:

    If you read through this thread on The Book blog:

    you will see that the it is an “illusion” that starters who are allowed to pitch the 9th (and of course have pitched exceptionally well prior to the 9th) pitch extremely well in that inning as well, suggesting that there is a “carryover effect” (the starter is “on” that day).

    The reason for the illusion is this: For some reason which we are not completely privy to yet (lack of research), the batting line for teams in close games is much higher than in blowouts (you would think it might be the opposite), even after we control for the talent of the pitchers and batters, and other things like park and weather. The difference is enormous. The difference in wOBA between a tied game in the 9th and a blowout in the 9th (lead of 4 runs or more) is 40 points of wOBA.

    Now, starters will pitch the 9th disproportionately in blowout games. Relievers in close games. Exactly what Yost was talking about.

    So that is why it “appears” that starters do so well in the 9th and that they do as well or better than elite relievers. If we control for the score differential, we find just the opposite. Elite relievers in the 9th will do much better than starters, even very good starters. Basically starters who pitch the 9th, even while pitching exceptionally well through 8 innings, still suffer from the “times though the order” penalty (although that too is masked by the fact that it is much colder in the 9th – we only “see” the 4th time through the order penalty in day games and indoor games), and there does not appear to be any predictive value for a starter who has pitched brilliantly through 8 innings and is allowed to pitch the 9th.

    Interestingly, the score differential affecting the batting line appears to only show up in the 9th inning, and not, for example, the 8th. If we look at starter performance in the 8th, even after pitching brilliantly through 7, we see a large degradation in that 8th inning. That is the “times through the order” penalty at work, and it strongly suggests that there is no “pitcher in on for the day” effect.

  21. MGL says:

    Bottom line is that it is not even close as to which pitcher is expected to be more effective in the 9th. Not even close.

    Shields has a projected FIP of around 3.40-3.50 according to ZIPS, Steamer, Pecota, Oliver, et al.

    And that is overall. In the 9th, he is going to suffer from the “times through the order” penalty, despite the fact that he has been “on” (is pitching a shutout). Let’s even forget about that penalty, since the colder weather masks it anyway, and when we look at closer projections, they are always in the 9th, which automatically reflects the cold weather (and of course closers always get the benefit of “first time through the order” which contributes to their greatness).

    Holland is projected with a sub 3.00 FIP! He is an elite closer. That is much better than any reasonable projection for Shields. So, as I said, it is not even close, unless you believe in the theory that starting pitchers who pitch great through 8 (or 7, or whatever) will continue to pitch great (better than their normal expected performance). Unfortunately, there is no evidence to support that theory and much evidence to refute it. Using the same methods as Poz, look at starting pitcher performance in the 8th inning, where you don’t have the “score differential” effect. It is not good, despite the fact that overall when starters pitch the 8th, they have pitched very well thus far. Even when we look at at starters who have pitched brilliantly through 7 innings, we see bad performance (worse than expected normally) in the 8th.

  22. Posolutely says:

    Attempting to understand the strategic mind of one Ned Yost will only make you crazy, Joe.

    He once told the Brewers owner, when asked why he was starting the RH half of a platoon against a RHP, that it was because the guy was “hitting like .330”

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  24. Unknown says:

    I just wish I could ask Shields (privately) how he felt about it. Obviously if he’s asked publicly he’s going to spout the team line of supporting Yost’s decision, but I’m pretty sure he wasn’t happy.

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  26. mickey says:

    Yost’s decision to change pitchers could be questioned, but also is defensible. But what makes him so exasperating and hard to support are statements like the one he delivered to explain his decision–simultaneously Stengalese as it strayed far away from comprehensibility and yet still with the arrogance and condescending attitude that we depend on from Ned. Not that I expect him to say “Instead of thinking for myself, I took the conventional knee-jerk path of automatically bringing in the closer, and it blew up in my face.” But Neddie, please save your incoherent ramblings and your snotty know-it-all tone for your Georgia hunting buddies.

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  28. Unknown says:

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  29. ndazcom says:

    There’s a childhood saying that only applies to things you don’t want to be. “It takes one to know one.” The same applies to understanding people you don’t want to be, so don’t try to hard. Only an idiot can truly understand an idiot. Same goes for politicians and serial killers.

  30. purebull says:

    i don’t think i could work for ned yost. when he’s put on point, he always resorts to…whatever it is. babbling, rather than explaining.

    it’d be one thing if he were funny, like sparky anderson or casey…but no. that’s not it.

    and his actual decision making? i’d be second guessing him, while working for him.

    i’ve never had any luck with bosses like that.

  31. steak says:

    If Wins and Saves weren’t stats would this have happened at all? Why should James Shields be any more pissed than any other player on the team?

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  33. Pat Dunn says:

    Don’t need any help being convinced that Ned will quickly destroy any margin for error the Royals may have. It won’t take too much. What a shame.

  34. JRoth says:

    Maybe this has been said, but:

    I assume that his point was that finishing a game is a plum for a starter, not a strategic decision. In other words, in a save situation, you use your closer (if he’s available), unless your starter is in there with a cushion, so that he can get some glory without risking much for the team.

    I actually get this reasoning on a team cohesion level, but it begs* the question of who’s a better pitcher for the 9th, James Shields or whatever bum Dayton Moore has put in the role of “closer”. In the very real possibility that your (somewhat) tired starter is better than your (fresh) closer, it actually is a strategic decision. But I doubt Yost ever thought that far.

    *in the pedantic sense

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