Judging the Royals

Three moments that mattered

Updated: 2013-04-25T04:36:55Z

By LEE JUDGE

The Kansas City Star

Bottom of the third: In the top of the third inning the Royals took a 4-1 lead and Wade Davis headed out to the mound for the bottom half of the inning. When your team has a big inning, ballplayers believe the next half inning is huge: if your pitching and defense can come up with a "shutdown inning" and keep the other team from scoring, the other team starts to think about losing. If the other team battles back and scores some runs of their own, they believe they’re still in the ballgame and things are far from over.

The Tigers scored two runs in the bottom of the third to make the score 4-3. Things were far from over.

Bottom of fourth: With one down and runners on first and second base, Torii Hunter hit what looked like a possible double-play ball. The ball went between Mike Moustakas’ legs for an error and the Tigers went on to score four runs in the inning. Gold Glove first baseman Keith Hernandez once said anytime he wasn’t moving forward on a groundball he thought he was in trouble. Moving forward—even slightly—puts a ballplayer on the balls of his feet and brings the glove forward and down.

Mike Moustakas wasn’t moving forward.

Top of fifth: With the bases loaded and one down, Lorenzo Cain—currently hitting .350—was at the plate with a 3-2 count. Whenever there’s a runner on third with less than two down, the batter needs to find a way to get the ball in play. It’s a chance to score a run without a hit.

Detroit pitcher Max Scherzer threw a nearly perfect fastball, down and away. Cain struck out looking.

Afterwards Jeff Montgomery said this game reminded him of the old Royals: too many walks, a defensive letdown and finding a way to lose—although he did point out that the Royals played much better after the fifth inning. If there’s any other consolation it’s that Max Scherzer didn’t look that much better than Wade Davis: even though Scherzer got the win, he gave up five earned runs in five innings.

A sloppy game on both sides.

Don’t let ever let up

Pitchers need to bear down on every pitch, but there’s a natural tendency to let up at certain points in a ball game. One of those danger points is after two quick outs—watch for it and you’ll see how many rallies start when the inning is almost over. It happened to Wade Davis in the second inning: after getting Victor Martinez and Andy Dirks, Davis gave up a single to Jhonny Peralta, walked Alex Avila on four pitches (Avila’s hitting under .200) and then gave up an RBI single to Omar Infante.

Another danger point is right after the pitcher gets a tough hitter or, in Detroit’s case, two tough hitters. Pitchers focus on Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder and they should; but if a pitcher lets up once he gets past the Tigers’ three and four-hole hitters, Victor Martinez is waiting. Even though Martinez is hitting under .200, if a pitcher loses focus, falls behind Martinez and gives him a quality pitch to hit, he can do some damage. Wade Davis fell behind Martinez in the third inning 1-0 and gave up an RBI double, then fell behind Martinez in the fourth inning 3-1 and gave up an RBI single.

Pay close attention to what happens after the pitcher gets two quick outs or gets past a tough hitter.

Game notes

The Royals walked eight batters and two of them scored. Eight walks means the defense spent a lot of time standing around in the cold, watching the pitchers not throw strikes. I don’t think standing around in the cold is the only reason Mike Moustakas made an error, but it didn’t help.

Despite Mike’s error, the Royals are a whole lot better on defense. But as Ned Yost pointed out in spring training, having a good defense doesn’t help if you don’t throw strikes.

Jim Leyland had his infield in early in the game. When you see a manager bring his infield in early, it means he thinks the game will be low-scoring and cutting a run down at the plate is a big deal. In this case, Leyland was wrong—the final score was 7-5—but with the lousy weather, a low-scoring game seemed like a good bet at the time.

In the sixth inning Jeff Francoeur was out on a 6-3, but Jhonny Peralta’s throw was off-line. Prince Fielder had to come off the bag, catch the ball and tag Jeff as he went by. Frenchy didn’t slide, but that’s the only time sliding at first base is recommended: if the first baseman come off the bag moving toward home plate, the runner slides on the foul side of the bag to avoid the tag.

Why pitchers dig Salvy

Omar Infante led off the fifth inning with a triple and never scored. Luis Mendoza faced the top of Detroit’s order: Austin Jackson, Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, but finished the inning with Infante still standing on third base. During the inning Mendoza threw eight breaking pitches in the dirt and Salvador Perez blocked every one of them.

If Luis Mendoza does not trust Salvador Perez to block those pitches, Luis can’t throw his nastiest stuff. Trusting Salvy to keep the ball in front of him allowed Mendoza to throw his breaking pitches down in the zone—if Luis didn’t trust Perez he’d have to give the hitters something a little more hittable.

Moose’s slump

In Wednesday morning’s Kansas City Star, Mike Moustakas said he thought his .158 batting average was the result of getting out on his front foot too soon. Ned Yost called it "drifting" and here’s what that means: when a hitter swings the bat, his weight shifts from back to front. If the weight shift comes too soon, the hitter has nothing behind his swing when it’s time to make contact with the ball.

The other thing that can happen is a backside collapse. Picture a stack of children’s blocks on a table. Now imagine quickly pulling the bottom block toward you; the top block would fall away from you—that’s similar to what happens to a hitter’s swing. The hitter moves to his front foot too soon and the backside—the barrel of the bat—collapses. Now the hitter has a loop in his swing and he’s going to have a hard time keeping the barrel above a pitch up in the zone. Check out Mike’s "Hot Zones" on the ESPN website and you’ll see he’s not hitting pitches at the top of the strike zone. If his bat head is collapsing and looping—and nobody’s told me that, but they’ve been on the road for about six months so I’m having to wing it—that would also explain why Mike’s hitting weak pop flies: he’s under the ball.

At times it looked like the Tigers were attacking Mike up in the zone and until he can stay on top of those pitches, they’ll keep doing it.

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