Don't look now but (as Aaron Gleeman writes) the Royals are winning with Ned Yost:
Last night the Royals staged a late-inning rally to complete a three-game sweep of the Mariners, giving them 10 wins in the past 13 games and a 27-23 mark in 50 games since Ned Yost replaced Trey Hillman as manager.
Kansas City is still just 39-46 overall, which is merely the 21st-best record in baseball, but that puts them only eight games back in the thoroughly mediocre American League Central and suddenly has Yost talking about actually winning the division. Seriously.
Even in baseball's weakest division it's tough to take the Royals' too seriously as contenders until they actually get above .500, but Yost going 27-23 after Hillman went 12-23 this season and 152-207 during his three-year tenure deserves some notice.
It does. And it's worth mentioning that Yost is doing it with essentially the same personnel that Hillman had, not only this season but last season as well. The Royals' big offseason acquisitions were Jason Kendall, Scott Podsednik, Chris Getz, and Rick Ankiel. Kendall and Podsednik have been just adequate (at best), while Getz and Ankiel have spent most of this season playing poorly or not at all.
On the other hand, the Royals are 12th in the league in ERA. Among the starters, only Zack Greinke (no surprise) and Bruce Chen (surprise) have been particularly useful. The bullpen's been good, though. After many years of terrible struggles, Royals relievers currently rank sixth in the league with a 3.89 ERA (the Yankees are eighth, the Red Sox 13th!).
How much of that is Ned Yost, I just don't know. But it's always seemed to me that a manager can have a great deal of influence over the bullpen, because he has so many difference options in a game's later stages. In Hillman's two full seasons as manager, the Royals ranked 10th and 14th in relief ERA. Today, with no great infusion of talent, they're sixth. And I'm not convinced that's just good luck.
I'll say this, too ... While Yost doesn't do everything that I would do, he does seem a somewhat better judge of talent than Hillman was.
Trey Hillman loved Willie Bloomquist. I get that. Willie Bloomquist would play a dozen positions if there were a dozen positions, and he runs well and sometimes he shines his manager's shoes without even being asked. I'll bet I would love Willie Bloomquist, too, were I a manager. His name is Willie.
But Hillman did more than love Willie Bloomquist. Hillman played Willie Bloomquist. Last season, Hillman gave Willie Bloomquist 468 plate appearances, which was far, far more than Willie Bloomquist had ever been given before. (Hillman also gave Mike Jacobs 478 plate appearances, but let's not dwell on that.)
Now, I should mention that Bloomquist's playing time was down under Hillman this spring, and has been down just slightly more under Yost. And Yost, naturally enough, does love Bloomquist. I just don't get the impression that he fetishizes Bloomquist the way Hillman did.
Yost also seems to have recognized that Mike Aviles belongs in the lineup, somewhere.
Of course, the Royals aren't good enough to win their division; just reaching .500 will be a major accomplishment. Particularly considering that they are, by most accounts, willing to trade a few of their better players this month for prospects. I'm not sure, though, that they can't continue to play decently. Even if they trade Jose Guillen and David DeJesus (as they probably should), they can always call up Alex Gordon and Kila Ka'ahuie from Omaha, where both continue to rake.
The Royals won't be truly competitive until they find at least one starting pitcher who can back up Greinke. But getting rid of Trey Hillman was probably a necessary first step.