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Ned Yost almost broke the Intentional Walk Rage System last night

May 9, 2014, 10:36 AM EDT

Ned Yost and his flexible thumb Getty Images

All intentional walks are detestable. This is my personal philosophy, not unlike the way “Know Thyself” was the personal philosophy of Socrates. But even as a strict anti-intentional walk fundamentalist, I understand that some intentional walks are more infuriating than others.

So I came up with a point system to determine just how much I will despise an intentional walk. I call it my Intentional Walk Rage System (IWRS).

Question 1: What inning was the walk in?

If it was in the ninth inning or later, it scores one point on the IWRS. And then, for each inning earlier, you add one point. So an intentional walk in the eighth inning scores two points, in the seventh scores three points and so on.

Question 2: Did the walk bring up the opposing pitcher or a particularly weak hitter?

If yes, then it scores zero points. If no, add three points. Remember, the higher the IWRS score, the bigger the rage.

Question 3: Did the walk give your team the platoon advantage or force the opposing manager to go to his bench?

If yes, score it zero points. If no, add three points.

Question 4: Does the extra baserunner matter?

By this I mean, if the extra runner scores, will it have some impact on the game. For instance, bottom of the ninth, score tied, runner on third, if you intentionally walk the next batter, his run does not matter. The runner on third would win the game. If the baserunner does not matter, subtract a point from the total. If he does, add three points. I am not opposed to using a sliding scale (sometimes the intentionally walked runner represents a run that SORT of matters, but not really).

Question 5: Are you setting up the double play to get out of an inning?

If yes, add zero points. If no, add three points.

Question 6: Are you intentionally walking someone SOLELY to avoid a great hitter?

If no, add zero points. If yes, add 4 points. There’s little that ticks me off more than a manager ordering an intentional walk just to avoid a good hitter. It’s bad strategy, it’s anti-competitive, it shows no confidence in your own pitcher and it’s cowardly.

Notice, all of my questions can be asked BEFORE the walk is issued. We are not talking here about whether the walk “works” or “blows up.” In baseball, stupid decisions work often. Great decisions fail often.

OK, so there is a zero point intentional walk (generally, ninth inning or later, less than two outs, winning run on third base, intentionally walking someone to give your team a chance of getting out of the jam). This would be an intentional walk i can tolerate. It’s still detestable. But tolerable.

On the other side of the spectrum, there is the 25-point intentional walk — the highest possible score, the perfect intentional walk — the sort of walk that makes me want to hold tight to my “Weaver on Strategy” book and cry for the downfall of humanity.

Thursday night, while I was watching Johnny Manziel awkwardly drink water as NFL teams kept pretending he wasn’t there, we almost had the 25-point walk. The fact that the walk was ordered by Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost was just a bonus.

Ned Yost utterly baffles me. He baffles me because, best I can tell, he believes what he believes … today. Tomorrow, yeah, he might believe something else. Those small-ball managers like Gene Mauch or the pitcher-changers like Tony La Russa or the grit-and-heart managers like Ron Gardenhire might be infuriating but you KNOW they deeply believe in a certain way of playing baseball. That matters. Sometimes, conviction trumps all, especially when it comes to sports strategy. The difference between a good and bad lineup in baseball, for instance, is so small that if a manager deeply believes in a non-optimal strategy (like putting a .300 on-base percentage guy in the leadoff spot) there’s a decent chance it will not hurt the team much, especially if that leadoff hitter is widely respected in the clubhouse.

But what drives me nuts is a manager who today believes one thing, tomorrow believes a second thing, the next day goes back to the first thing, the day after that believes something else entirely. In this, you not only lose the strategic edge (which may or may not be trivial) you also leave your players kind of bemused. If you hit the .300 OBP guy everybody likes at leadoff, they might stand behind you. If you hit the .300 OBP guy at leadoff one day, pull him the next because he doesn’t get on base enough, put him back in the leadoff spot because your gut tells you he’s about to get hot, take him out again because he doesn’t get on base … you leave EVERYBODY ticked off.

Ned Yost is like this. He’s a “gut” manager, meaning he not only makes odd decisions because they feel right in the moment but, heck, tomorrow he might do something entirely different because his gut boomed a different rumble.

Because of this, I have no idea how Yost feels about the intentional walk. Last year, Yost’s Royals allowed the second fewest intentional walks in the American League — only Boston had fewer. The year before that, however, they led the American League in intentional walks. The year before that, they were near the top, his last year in Milwaukee the Brewers were near the bottom.

The guy’s all over the map, and it’s not only with intentional walks. Sometimes he will use a closer in a tie game on the road, sometimes he won’t. Sometimes he will sacrifice bunt in a certain situation, the next time around he will not. It’s maddening. I’m not saying the Yost should act the same way every single time — of course he should adjust to the moment. But in the end, what do you stand for as a manager?

Back to the intentional walk. Yost ordered Danny Duffy to intentionally walk Robinson Cano in Kansas City’s 1-0 loss to Seattle Thursday night. Let’s put it into the IWRS formula.

Question 1: What inning was it in?

It was the third inning. Ugh. What American League situation could POSSIBLY call for an intentional walk in the third inning? So before we even get going, this is already a seven-point intentional walk, meaning it’s already an outrage.

Result: 7 points.

Question 2: Did the walk bring up the opposing pitcher or a particularly weak hitter?

No. It obviously did not bring up a pitcher, since it was an American League game, and it decidedly did not bring up a weak hitter. It brought up Corey Hart, who was the Mariners designated hitter and cleanup hitter, a guy with a career 115 OPS+ and a lifetime .297 batting average and .500 slugging percentage against lefties. The Royals pitcher, Danny Duffy, is a lefty.

Result: 3 points.
Total: 10 points.

Question 3: Did the walk give your team the platoon advantage or force the opposing manager to go to his bench?

No. Duffy walked Cano (a left-handed hitter who hits thirty points lower against lefties) to face Corey Hat (a righty who hits 30 points HIGHER against lefties).

Cano against lefties: .289/.340/.446
Hart against lefties: .297/.369/.518

My system — drawn up when I was a little bit calmer — only allows me to add three points to this decision. If not for that, I would add a million-billion-jillion-shmillion points.

Result: 3 points
Total: 13 points

Question 4: Does the extra baserunner matter?

Yes. The game was scoreless at the time and it was only the third inning. Cano’s run mattered a great deal.

Result: 3 points.
Total: 16 points

Question 5: Are you setting up the double play to get out of an inning?

No. There were two outs when the walk was ordered. Or, to put it another way. there were TWO BLEEPING OUTS WHEN THE INTENTIONAL WALK WAS ORDERED.

Result: 3 points
Total: 19 points

Question 6: Are you intentionally walking someone SOLELY to avoid a great hitter?

Yes. This walk was ordered for one reason and only one reason — to avoid Robinson Cano. In the third inning. With two outs. With a lefty on the mound. This is big one Elizabeth! I’m coming to join you!*

*This is a Sanford and Son reference. I normally do not identify silly pop culture references but I am growing more and more aware that I am well above the median age in America and that’s an old show.

Result: 4 points
Final total: 23 points.

It’s almost the perfect intentional walk, “perfect” meaning “most detestable walk possible.” If Yost had ordered this atrocity in the first inning, it would have been perfect.

This walk was so atrocious that it forced Danny Duffy, a promising young pitcher, to spew nonsense after the game. What’s he going to say? “My manager is a looney bird — i mean walking Cano in the third inning? Really? Am I that bad a pitcher? But, hey, I’m too young and inexperienced to overrule him.”

No, he’s not going to say that. Instead, he’s going to say, “Cano’s a great hitter. You don’t want to let him beat you.” He has to say that. I commend him for saying that. You say what you have to say to back up your manager. But he has to know that those words are entirely nonsensical. If Cano can “beat you” in the third inning of a scoreless game then, basically, you should never pitch to him. Ever.

But, like I say, Duffy basically HAD to say that. Yost, on the other hand, spewed absurdities on his own.

“I think (Cano) is one of the top hitters in the American League. You take your chances with Corey Hart, even though he’s a good hitter too.”

No. You don’t. You absolutely don’t. You absolutely trust your young left-handed pitcher to get Cano out in the stinking third inning. You absolutely don’t put your young left-handed pitcher in a platoon disadvantage with an extra runner on the base in a tie game.

But the craziest thing of all: If this situation came up next week, there’s every chance that Yost WOULD NOT walk Cano. His gut might sing a different song.

By the way, in the ninth inning of this same game, Yost ordered a horrendous sacrifice bunt attempt with a man on first and the Royals down a run. There’s an age-old axiom in baseball that you play for the tie at home, play for the win on the road. I’m not sure that axiom makes a lot of sense either, but it goes without saying that Yost decided to play for the tie on the road because that’s how Ned Yost rolls. Today, anyway.

  1. mikhelb - May 9, 2014 at 4:31 PM

    What? No points for an intentional walk to load the bases? No points for what happened after an intentional walk? This week the Yankees ordered an intentional walk with two outs to avoid facing a hitter, then the baseball gods struck and they gave 4 consecutive umpire-aided bases (the game where JoeG was ejected vs the Angels). Anaheim ended up winning the game due to the bases (I more than once saw the Yankees lose a game by ordering an IBB only for their relievers to lose the strike zone and lose on a walk off walk (Farnsworth and Proctor in fact).

    There should also be points for ordering a new reliever to issue an IBB to the first batter he faces, double if the batter was not a PH.

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