In his relatively brief time as Royals manager, Ned Yost has been pretty clear about his managerial philosophy and how he likes to run a game and run a team. Ask Yost why he didn’t pinch-run for Billy Butler when he represented the tying run in the eighth inning of the Angels series and he’ll tell you he would’ve done it in the ninth, but the eighth was too soon an inning to risk losing his best hitter. Ask Yost if he’ll use Joakim Soria in the eighth inning and he’ll tell you that’s extremely unlikely, the set-up guys have to get the job done before the ninth.
One topic I’ve found Yost to be very steadfast on is the lineup. He doesn’t like moving guys around too much and he prefers the lineup to be set, more or less. Yost also says he doesn’t like to move guys in and out because of a minor slump, choosing instead to follow the advice of his mentor, Bobby Cox: “when you’re ready to make a lineup change, wait another week.”
Knowing Yost’s philosophies on managing and lineups makes his handling of Mike Aviles rather curious, at least on the surface. After beating out Wilson Betemit for the everyday third-base job, Aviles got off to a slow start, hitting .115 with three errors over the first six games (five at third base), Aviles was benched over the weekend, as Betemit started all three games in Detroit. That doesn’t make sense, you might say. How could Yost, a manager whose been pretty clear about sticking with guys even when they struggle, jettison Aviles after only six games? However, I see what Yost is doing and it makes perfect sense to me.
Yost didn’t decide to sit Aviles based on six games. I think Yost’s been evaluating whether Aviles can play third for over a month. Aviles got an opportunity to play third base pretty much every day during spring training, especially since Betemit was limited early with an elbow injury. It was pretty clear Aviles was going to struggle there. He seemed to have difficulty adjusting to the shorter reaction time a third baseman has and it wasn’t always easy for Aviles to make the plays that should be routine at the hot corner. Yet, I think Yost was willing to give Aviles a shot to open the season at third because of his bat. Aviles has hit pretty much everywhere he’s been and, at the end of last season, showed a little more pop than he’d shown in the past. You could argue Betemit would have been a better option for everyday duty at third, but Betemit isn’t great defensively either and he has more experience coming off the bench than Aviles does.
So, the season starts, Aviles continues to struggle defensively and adds putrid offense to the mix as well. Part of the problem with being a suspect defensive player, as Aviles has been throughout his career, is when you aren’t hitting, there’s little reason for you to be in the lineup. Every hitter goes through slumps, of course, but those slumps are much more noticeable when you aren’t fielding well either.
I think the message Yost is trying to send to Aviles is that, if you want to play, you need to field your position well. Aviles isn’t the only Royals player whose gotten off to a slow start offensively. Kila Ka’aihue (.176), Matt Treanor (.211) and Alcides Escobar (.200) haven’t exactly set the world on fire at the plate, but they’ve all played outstanding defense. Therefore, you can live with their slumps a little while longer. In a nutshell, I think Aviles got benched because of his defense, not because of his offense.
To me, the best place to put Aviles is second base. From what I’ve seen, his footwork on the double play still needs work, but his range and quickness play the best there. Going into spring training, I thought the Royals best infield would be one with Aviles at second and Betemit at third. Chris Getz is better defensively than Aviles, but I don’t think he’s so much better to make up for the lack of offense he’s shown in his career thus far. But, it seems like the Royals decided early in camp that Getz was the guy at second. He and Escobar played together up the middle almost exclusively during spring training while Aviles saw very little time at second, which seemed odd to me.
One more note on defense: I’ve heard many people talk about Aviles’ “defensive slump” to start the year. That’s baloney. Defense never slumps. Sure, even the best defenders will have bad games or boot a ball every now and again. However, solid defensive players don’t have several games in a row in which they struggle with the glove, like Aviles has. So, don’t let anyone goad you into thinking Aviles – or anyone else – is in a “defensive slump.” Aviles just isn’t very good with the glove at third and the best place to play him would be second base. Regardless, it appears that, if Aviles wants to play every day, his glove work needs to improve.