Kansas City Royals v Houston Astros

Inside Ned Yost’s head on odd use of closer Greg Holland

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Scene 1: March 31, 2014. Opening Day. The Royals and Tigers took a 3-3 tie into the bottom of the ninth inning in Detroit. Reliever Wade Davis put runners on first and third with one out with a walk and a single. Royals manager Ned Yost brought in closer Greg Holland — with the game tied on the road — to wiggle out of the jam. Instead, Holland served up a walk-off RBI single to then-Tigers shortstop Alex Gonzalez.

Scene 2: April 26, 2014. The Royals and Orioles took a 2-2 tie into the bottom of the tenth inning in Baltimore. Reliever Danny Duffy loaded the bases following a hit batter and two throwing errors on bunts. Though Holland had been warming up, Yost brought in Louis Coleman. Coleman recorded a strikeout before serving up a walk-off RBI single to first baseman Nick Markakis.

Scene 3: April 27, 2014. The Royals lead the Orioles 9-2 going into the bottom of the ninth inning in Baltimore. Yost brought in Holland to protect the seven-run lead. Ostensibly, Yost was giving his closer work because he hadn’t pitched since Friday. Though Holland allowed a run, the Royals walked away with the easy 9-3 victory.

The folly of Yost’s bullpen management is obvious to most observers but Yost vowed to never use his closer in a tie game on the road again. Via Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star:

“That’s the first time I’ve ever used my closer (in that situation),” Yost said. “Because I really wanted to win that game on opening day. But don’t look for me to do it. I’m not going to do it. Because I’ve got confidence in everybody down there.”

The Royals may never take that lead for which Yost is saving Holland. That means, as is evident from the April 26 game, the Royals will lose games with their best reliever sitting in the bullpen. But Yost’s comment is perplexing even beyond the obvious strategic shortcomings.

Yost says he “really wanted to win” on Opening Day, so he used his closer. Thus, by his own logic, using his closer in a tie game on the road gave his team the best chance to win. That he didn’t do it on April 26 means he was either lying or not putting his team in the best position to win. Either situation is not a good look for him.

As many point out when the bullpen management debate arises, Yost is just one of a gaggle of managers who use — and miuse — their closers in the same way. It’s hard to place all of the blame on him when 99 out of 100 managers would do exactly the same thing in his position.

Marlins acquire starter Dan Straily from the Reds

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 3: Dan Straily #58 of the Cincinnati Reds throws a pitch during the first inning of the game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Great American Ball Park on September 3, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by John Sommers II/Getty Images)
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The Miami Marlins have acquired starting pitcher Dan Straily from the Cincinnati Reds. In exchange, the Reds will receive right-handed pitching prospects Luis Castillo and Austin Brice and outfield prospect Isaiah White.

For the Marlins, they get a solid starter who logged 191.1 innings of 113 ERA+ ball last year. Straily has moved around a lot in his five big league seasons — the Marlins will be his fifth club in six years — but it was something of a breakout year for him in Cincinnati. The only troubling thing: he tied for the league lead in homers allowed. Of course, pitching half of his games in Great American Ballpark didn’t help that, and Miami will be a better place for him.

Castillo is 24. He split last season between high-A and Double-A — far more of it in A-ball — posting a 2.26 ERA over 24 starts. Austin Brice is also 24. He pitched 15 games in relief for the Marlins last year at the big league level with poor results. He seemed to blossom at Triple-A, however, after the Marlins shifted him to the pen. White was a third round pick in the 2015 draft. He played low-A ball as a minor leaguer last year, hitting .214/.306/.301.

A mixed bag of young talent for the Reds, but stockpiling kids and seeing what shakes out is what a team like the Reds should be doing at the moment. For the Marlins: a solid mid-to-back end starter who may just be coming into his own.

Have Hall of Fame Voters actually made the PED thing More complicated?

Sammy Sosa
Associated Press
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The story coming out of this year’s Hall of Fame balloting is that the BBWAA voters are finally easing their antipathy toward players with performance enhancing drug associations.

Jeff Bagwell — the subject of unconfirmed PED rumors — made the Hall! Pudge Rodriguez, who was named in Jose Canseco’s book and who had a . . . curious physical transformation around the time PED testing came online, made it on the first ballot! Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, whose PED use was well-documented, saw their vote totals advance above the 50% mark, making their future elections look more likely!

It’s an interesting development, and one I’m obviously pleased with, but I wonder if the BBWAA’s new approach to PED guys, while far more forgiving than it used to be, has actually become more complicated in practice.

I ask this because I look way, way down the ballot and I still see Sammy Sosa scraping by with around 8% of the vote. I ask this because I still see Gary Sheffield at 13%. I ask this because when Mark McGwire was on the Today’s Game ballot in December, no one really stumped for him at all. I ask this because, even though Bagwell and Mike Piazza got in eventually, they still had to go through a lot of hazing first and I suspect, if they hit the ballot for the first time again tomorrow, the same arguments and delay would occur with respect to their cases.

In light of that, what I suspect has happened has not been a wholesale surrender of the anti-PED voters. Rather, I think it has been a transformation. One in which a moral test — did he use PEDs or not? — has been discarded as a threshold question and a scientific/physiological test — would he have been great even without the PEDs? — has replaced it. In essence, voters are becoming “PED discounters” in the aggregate. Making calculations as to whether a guy was, in their mind, a creation of PEDs or not.

Such an approach explains these new voting patterns as well as those in recent years.

  • Ivan Rodriguez may have been called out by Canseco and may have noticeably shrunk over an offseason, but his calling card was his defense behind the plate and voters, I suspect, have told themselves that such a thing is not PED-aided.
  • Bonds and Clemens may have been PED users, but each of them was undeniably talented and, if you discount for the PED use, hey, they’re still all-time greats.
  • Sammy Sosa’s case rests disproportionately on homers and, as everyone knows, PEDs = instant dingers, so no, he’s not gonna cut it.

And so on.

As I said, I’m glad that the strict moral test — did he use or not? — is losing its hold on Hall voters. But I do not think the “did PEDs make him who he was test?” is a good approach either. Baseball writers are in no better a position to assess the physiological and performance enhancements caused by pharmaceuticals than they are to be judges of character and morality. Given the identities of players confirmed to be PED users, the old eye test implicit in these cases is famously faulty (Neifi Perez, anyone?). The idea that PEDs only affect home run totals — and not, say, the ability for a player to take the abuse of the catcher position for 21 seasons — is crude and ignorant.

I suppose it’s naive to expect voters to completely disregard PEDs in their assessment of players. It’s a bell that cannot be unrung. But while we may, thankfully, be moving away from a moral test with respect to drugs, it’s been displaced by a scientific test that is no more reasonable in practice.