Q&A: Ned Yost, Lineup Construction in KC

When Ned Yost fills out his lineup card, he sees a future that is more promising than the present. His Kansas City Royals are near the bottom of the American League in runs scored, but five of the nine starters are 25 or younger, and none is older than 28. Several have all-star potential.

The former Milwaukee Brewers manager — now in his third year at the helm in KC — has more than the future in mind when he puts together his batting order. He’s also looking to optimize his team’s chances to score runs. Yost discussed his approach to lineup construction during a recent series at Fenway Park.


Ned Yost: “I try to stay consistent in my lineup construction. I try to set a lineup and keep it there as long as I can — as long as we’re getting production out of each individual spot. I don’t believe that it is productive to have a floating lineup. I don’t want guys coming into the locker room thinking that because they went 0-for-4 the day before, they’re going to be hitting eighth. Or that because they went 4-for-4, they’re going to be hitting third. I think it takes pressure off of them to know that they’re going to consistently stay in a spot.

“When I construct my lineup, I want a high-on-base-percentage guy leading off. I’m looking for a guy that gets on base. Alex Gordon fit that bill for us tremendously well over the course of the year. I think that Alex, though, changes his approach in the one-spot and focuses more on on-base percentage. Alex is a run producer. He’s a guy who has the capacity to hit 30 home runs a year. Ideally, I would like him in the middle of our lineup somewhere.

“We don’t have a prototypical leadoff hitter. [Jarrod] Dyson has a lot of speed, so if he gets on, he can steal second, he can steal third. And he can steal the tough base. He can do it when guys know that he’s going to run. He can steal on a pitchout. But as far as on-base percentage, he doesn’t walk enough and he hits too many balls in the air to utilize his speed. That said, right now he and [Lorenzo] Cain fit the bill at number one.

“[Alcides] Escobar is a perfect two-type hitter. He’s walking more, but what I like about him in the two-hole is that he’s very situational. He can bunt, he’s our best hit-and-run guy — we can do a bunch of things with him. Plus, he’s hitting close to .300. When he starts evolving into the next level, and phase, of his game as a hitter — and his approach has already refined to the point where he’s been more productive — he’ll learn to take more walks and his on-base percentage will rise. He’ll be one of the premier offensive shortstops in the league, I believe.

“Ideally, I want my number-two to get on base a lot. I kind of like my number-two hitter taking away some of the emphasis on the leadoff guy’s on-base [percentage]. And if my leadoff hitter can hit the ball out of the ballpark — if he has that mentality, and Alex Gordon does — when the lineup comes back around, you have a guy up there who can put the ball out of the park.

“We have Gordon in the three-spot right now. Ideally, that’s going to be [Eric] Hosmer. The three-spot is where you put your best hitter. In time, I think that’s going to be Hosmer. Right now, he’s going through some things, but eventually that should be where he hits.

“The four-spot is generally my best power hitter, and the fifth spot is my best RBI guy. Billy Butler is the four-spot now, not only because of his power going up, but because he is a phenomenal on-base guy. He’ll take a walk, he can hit the ball to all fields and he’s got power to all fields. And he’s a bona fide .300 hitter.

“I want a guy that I can count on at five. In this lineup, if I have a situation where I need someone to drive in a run, the guy I want at the plate is Salvador Perez. The reason is that he puts the ball in play. He doesn’t strike out much. He finds a way to put the ball in play, and that‘s very, very important.

“You get a guy or two on, and you have your three, four and five coming up. That guy in the fifth spot is kind of your last line of defense in terms of driving in runs. Generally, he’s a higher-on-base-percentage guy who can put the ball in play. A lot of times, he’s also your second leadoff hitter over the course of the game. At least that’s been my experience.

“I’m not saying that I value on-base over power in the five-spot. I’d rather have power and the ability to put the ball in play. Salvador doesn’t necessarily walk as much as he will — once he grows into a mature hitter — but he puts the ball in play. In RBI situations, I’m looking for guys who can do that. I’m not looking for a guy to strike out.

“I like — and we don’t really have it here — a guy with speed in the nine-hole. That way, when the order turns back around, you don’t have any slugs down there. Right now, it’s not ideal for us.

“I view the nine-hole guy as a second leadoff hitter. I’d like a guy with a higher on-base percentage. I think we’ve maybe had more production out of the nine-hole this year than anybody in baseball, because of that mind set. I like to get something going at the bottom order if I can.

“I want to create an offensive sequence. In Milwaukee, for years, our top six hitters were OK, but then we’d get to seven, eight, nine and any offensive sequence that we had would end. We’d always have to restart our sequence back at the top of the order. Once we got beyond six, it shut itself off.

“I always try to create my lineup so that I can have offensive sequence up and down the lineup, so that there aren’t any holes. I want us to be able to start a rally, and continue a rally, anywhere throughout these nine spots. My weakest hitter won’t necessarily be in the nine-hole. He might be eight or even seven.

“Hosmer is hitting eighth right now. One reason he’s down there now is to split our lefties. I always try to protect [Mike] Moustakas and Hosmer — our two main lefties — from the other team being able to bring in a lefthander. I want them to think twice about bringing in a lefty to face both of them. I do that by putting [Jeff] Francouer — who has been more productive throughout his career against left-handed pitching — between them. Same way with Gordon and Dyson. Of course, I have Dyson in a spot where I can pinch hit Cain, so that doesn’t concern me as much. But, overall, I try to protect our lefties against left-handed pitching more than the righties.

“Platooning isn’t something I’m big on. I primarily do it to provide rest. For instance, tomorrow we’re facing a lefty and Moustakas will probably sit out. Hosmer might sit out. But it’s just to give them a break. Normally, like the other night against David Price — or against other tough lefties — right now I want these guys facing pitchers like that. I want them to get the experience that they need, so that when we get into a position where we can contend, they’ve got that under their belts.

“I don’t mind a platoon if it strengthens our lineup. Our idea was to bring [Johnny] Giavotella up and platoon him with [Chris] Getz at second base. Right now we have Dyson and Cain, who we could platoon in center field. Escobar is solid. Gordon is solid. Butler and Perez are solid. Moustakas and Hosmer are solid. These are all guys that I look at, down the road somewhere, as being potential, perennial all-star players. They’re going to be playing every day.”

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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. His first book, Interviews from Red Sox Nation, was published by Maple Street Press in 2006. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

24 Responses to “Q&A: Ned Yost, Lineup Construction in KC”

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  1. KidA says:

    Having watched Yost in Milwaukee for years, the idea that he doesn’t believe in floating lineups is… well… a total lie. Maybe he’s learned from his time in Milwaukee, but I doubt it.
    He consistently tried to play the “hot hand” even against the wrong hands of platoons, and once famously told the Brewers owner (when he was questioned why righty Kevin Mench was starting against a RHP instead of Geoff Jenkins)… “Because he’s hitting about .350.”

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  2. TX Ball Scout says:

    My head hurts. I have little hope for KCR.

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  3. Captismo says:

    Before anyone starts by criticizing Yost for some of his managerial decisions, just realize we are fortunate that he agreed to do this interview and we would like to continue to have these interviews without interviewees stopping for lack of appreciation.

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    • chuckb says:

      I agree with you. Yost probably felt that fangraphs wouldn’t exactly be the friendliest website and yet he did the interview anyway. Kudos to him.

      I also think that we can learn a lot from this interview about a typical manager’s mindset. He’s certainly not alone in his view about lineup construction.

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    • chuckb says:

      That said, you can also see why Dayton Moore likes him.

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  4. Mike N says:

    I think most of the things he says make some sense.

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    • Slappy says:

      Umm….Yost is an idiot. He bunts way to early and way to much, continues to play Francoeur, bullpen utilization and SP decision making is idiotic, etc. Oh, and yes, he’s used about 30 different lineups this year.

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      • Mike N says:

        I didn’t say most of the things he DOES make sense. I agree re. the bunting. The Frenchy thing is at least as much on Dayton Moore, in my view.

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      • hawkinscm says:

        It’s going to be more than 30 lineups by far, and every other manager does the same thing.

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  5. Rufus R. Jones says:

    “We don’t have a prototypical leadoff hitter. [Jarrod] Dyson has a lot of speed, so if he gets on, he can steal second, he can steal third. And he can steal the tough base. He can do it when guys know that he’s going to run. He can steal on a pitchout. But as far as on-base percentage, he doesn’t walk enough and he hits too many balls in the air to utilize his speed. That said, right now he and [Lorenzo] Cain fit the bill at number one.”

    So….why do Dyson and Cain fit the bill at number one? Because they are fast, and he can’t get it out of his 1970’s head that a fast guy has to lead off.

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    • Aaron (UK) says:

      It doesn’t really take sabermetrics to explain it, either, does it?

      So he can steal, but doesn’t get on all that often? Try batting him in front of a poor singles hitter (i.e. at 7 or 8) so that he can score from 2nd when the two of them manage to string together back-to-back singles. Don’t waste your sluggers’ power by having someone who doesn’t get on base enough in front of them.

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    • Dirtbag says:

      I’ve always thought that in a manager’s mind, the prototypical leadoff hitter has three characteristics: 1) Good at getting on base, 2) speed, and 3) lacks power.

      The problem is that many managers will settle for batting a guy leadoff if he has two of those three characteristics, even if the characteristic they lack is #1.

      That’s just nuts.

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      • hawkinscm says:

        Correct, having power for a leadoff hitter will only make Yost want to move him down in the order. However, Yost believes two other things that contradict his practice. He wants a little better hitter in the 9 hole (so there is better chance for someone to be on base when #1 comes up again) and he very much believes that if you score first, you have a better chance of winning (the numbers bear that out for obvious reasons). I won’t comment on the mistake in logic for the scoring first thing, but only that it is standard for Yost to contradict himself. If you want to know what his philosophies are, it is best to observe what he does, not what he says.

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  6. StatsNut83 says:

    Kind of a brutal review from the bleachers of Yost and his managing style. I thought his analysis was pretty logical and well thought out. I disagree on who his best power hitter will be, I think that is Moustakas. Butler has taken a long time to develop and will continue to be good and may hit for better average, but I think Moustakas will have quite a bit higher HR total over his career.

    With Dyson and Cain, speed is what you want at the top of the order…as long as there is a high OBP that goes with it, which he noted. He may be hoping plate discipline and the high OBP is developed with these two young players.

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    • chuckb says:

      There is absolutely no reason to need speed at the top of the order, StatsNut. If anything, as “The Book” pointed out, you need speed toward the bottom of the order where your singles hitters are. It doesn’t matter how fast one runs home on a homer and you don’t want guys getting thrown out in front of your best hitters anyway. Dyson and/or Cain should be hitting around 6th, not 1st.

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  7. payroll says:

    This could just as well be Ron Gardenhire, who readers might recall, has gotten historically bad production out of his 2 hole for quite a while. There was a stretch last year where Gardy’s 2 hole had a worse OPS than the majority of teams in the NL 9 spot. Oh, but he (Casilla, Tolbert, whoever) could sure bunt!

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    • Escobar has the third-highest OBP on the team among players with 250 or more PAs, and it is 16 points higher than league average.

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      • chuckb says:

        That’s true but he only mentions OBP as an afterthought. Instead, he states that he’s in the 2 hole because he’s good at bunting and hitting-and-running.

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  8. Eminor3rd says:

    This is hilarious. In almost every paragraph he directly contradicts something he JUST said. What is he talking about? lol

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    • StatsNut83 says:

      I think there is a lot of “this is our goal for how we want this player to develop….” and a lot of with ideal personnel “this is what we would do.” I think he did a great job explaining where their current players are at, what skill set they think they have and how they want them to develop into a certain player, while also including how they’re currently handling things. Good article and interview. As a Sox fan the team that really scares me in the AL Central are the Royals right now (as far as in years to come)…they have TONS of young talent and if half of them develop how they want it and they bring in some veteran leadership it could be scary.

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  9. KCDaveInLA says:

    This article was a good read (and I’ve never had any problems with the way Yost puts his lineup together), but it was like asking the captain of the sinking Titanic what kind of scotch is available on the top deck. Until KC figures out that having the “ace” of your staff collapse 3 out of every 4 starts isn’t going to cut it, there is no point to any of it.

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  10. tmorgan1970 says:

    Well, he probably does have the #4 and #5 spots right. Truth be told, he just doesn’t have enough hitters to fill in quality players at 1-2-3. Gordon’s his best leadoff hitter AND best #3 hitter until Hoz or Tacos gets it together.

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  11. Jake Squid says:

    I think that every manager, GM, owner and fan would like to be able to create a lineup, “so that there aren’t any holes.” But that ideal lineup has nothing to do with lineup construction and everything to do with roster construction. Unless you create holes by consistently starting guys who should be defensive subs, I guess. But even there roster construction can overcome your managers worst tendencies!

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  12. ChrisCEIT says:

    I would like to preface this by saying that Yost almost certainly believes that a lowered OBP Gordon in the 3 hole is better (that’s a whole issue in and of itself), but he also enjoys giving inane answers in lengthy post game interviews.

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