Judging the Royals

A good pitch

Updated: 2013-04-04T00:57:02Z

A guy gives up a bomb, then stands by his locker and tells the media that it was a good pitch. I hope I’ve made it clear by now that I have less and less regard for my own opinion, but I’ve heard big-league ballplayers say it couldn’t have been that good a pitch—it left the yard. Nobody’s going to publicly dump on a teammate—nor should they—but a broken-bat single that barely clears the infield gives the pitcher a reason to say he made a good pitch; the hitter just got lucky.

Balls that land in general admission are, generally speaking, not good pitches. Luke Hochevar gave up a home run to Alexei Ramirez on a ball down around the White Sox shortstop’s knees; a pretty good pitch—it was low—but clearly, not low enough.

Hitting conditions were generally lousy—it was cold and the shadows came into play in the later innings—but the White Sox beat the Royals 5-2 on four home runs. The Royals weren’t the only ones dealing with lousy hitting conditions; it was just as cold when the White Sox were at the plate.

Look on the bright side: Ervin Santana did not pitch great, but he worked quick and threw strikes. Anyone who is panicking at this point needs to take a deep breath: the Royals are not going 0-162.

Game stuff

• Alcides Escobar went back on a pop fly and Alex Gordon came rushing in to make the catch. Outfielders have priority over infielders: outfielders are coming in on the play and have everything in front of them; infielders are going back on the play and can’t see where the outfielder is—plus, the throw after the catch will be stronger if it comes from the player moving forward. I’m assuming Gordon called Escobar off, but Escobar didn’t hear him because of the crowd. Alex stepped on Esky’s foot, but, after limping around a bit, Esky appeared to be OK.

• Adam Dunn took Santana deep in the second inning. I met Dunn down when I was in Arizona, and however big you think he is, he’s bigger in person. He’s listed at 6’6” 285 pounds and that doesn’t begin to describe the amount of space he takes up when you’re standing next to him. I’ve been told that Adam has no two-strike approach: his job is to swing for the out his rear end and hit it into the cheap seats 30 times a year. He’s now got 29 homers to go. (He also seems like a very good dude.)

• I can’t remember who said it—Rex Hudler or Ryan Lefebvre—but apparently the new hitting philosophy is that the Royals should look for their pitch until they have two strikes and then, once they have two strikes, look to drive the ball into the opposite field gap. That sounds an awful lot like the old hitting philosophy, but the point is this: before they have two strikes the Royals hitters might be looking to hit the ball out in front of the plate and pull it; once they have two strikes they should let the ball travel deeper and try to take it the other way. Guys like Adam Dunn can say to hell with two strikes and keep trying to pull the ball, but guys without that kind of power might want to choke up with two strikes and get the ball in play.

• In the fifth inning Jeff Francoeur did just that: he let it rip twice, but once he was down two strikes, went the other way and almost hit the ball out of the park to right field.

• In the seventh inning, with two runners on and down by two, Jeff did the same thing: he took a massive hack to start the at-bat (hit a three-run bomb and the Royals are in the lead) but White Sox pitcher Jesse Crain saw that Francoeur was trying to hit the ball out in front and finished him with two off-speed pitches.

• The only walk Santana gave up was to Adam Dunn. Dunn had hit a home run in the second inning and Santana walked him the next time he came to the plate. Bottom line: big-league pitchers can throw strikes a lot more often than they do—but guys with power make them nibble. If you can’t hit ball out of the yard, pitchers generally come right after you.

• Which is why Hochevar’s walk of Gordon Beckham in the seventh inning is a bit frustrating: Beckham is a lifetime .245 hitter and his 162-game average is 15 home runs—so he’d got some pop—but Beckham’s hitting ninth for a reason.

• Alex Gordon almost made an incredible catch of Dayan Viciedo’s two-run home run in fourth inning. Alex timed his leap perfectly, leaned over the bullpen gate and had the ball go off the tip of his glove. If the home run was one inch shorter, Gordon catches that ball and he keeps two runs off the board.

• In the fourth inning Santana got Paul Konerko to two strikes and then came inside. I’ve been told Konerko used to be a dead-pull guy, but, as he’s gotten older, is willing to go the other way with two strikes. So once they got him 0-2, Santana and Salvador Perez went in on him. Apparently, Konerko adjusted, because he pulled the ball and just missed a home run. After that, Santana went away and struck out the White Sox first baseman.

• This is what they mean when they call baseball a game of adjustments: the Royals adjusted to what Konerko was doing with two strikes: he was going the other way, so they went inside. Konerko adjusted to what the Royals were doing: with two strikes they were pitching him inside, so he started pulling the ball. Then the Royals adjusted to Konerko’s new approach: if he was going to pull inside pitches, they’d go back to the outer half. This kind of cat-and-mouse game is one of the most enjoyable parts of baseball.

• In the sixth inning with nobody out and Alex Gordon on second, Alcides Escobar was trying to move him over to third base by hitting the ball to the right side of the infield. In that situation if the hitter can hit the ball to the right side of the field, the runner can move up—the ball is hit behind him. If the pitcher can get the hitter to pull the ball on the ground, the runner on second will have to freeze—the ball is hit in front of him. So right-handed hitters are trying to hit the inside half of the ball and pitchers are trying to get a righty to hit the outside half of the ball. With a right-handed hitter at the plate, look for pitchers to go inside or throw off-speed stuff. With a lefty at the plate, look for pitchers to go hard, down and away.

• In that situation—nobody down, runner on second—not every hitter is trying to move the runner over. Ask yourself if the run is meaningful. Also pay attention to who’s at the plate: if it’s an rbi guy, they may say the heck with moving the runner over—go ahead and drive him in.

One last thing

The Royals last chance came in the seventh inning: Eric Hosmer was on third, Lorenzo Cain was on second and Miguel Tejeda was on first. There were two down and Alcides Escobar was at the plate. On a 1-1 pitch, Matt Lindstrom threw a 96-mph sinker at Escobar’s knees. It was called strike two, but catcher Tyler Flowers felt the need to pull the ball back up into the zone. If Flowers thought the pitch was a strike, why pull the glove up? The count went to 1-2 and Escobar was upset. Then—not able to take a borderline pitch with two strikes—Esky flew out to right field. The scorebook shows the Royals threat ended with an F9, but the at-bat turned on the pitch before that.

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