First, let’s start with some base-stealing basics:
By LEE JUDGE
The Kansas City Star
A major league base stealer takes an average of 3.4 seconds to steal second base. If the base runner has a lead of 12 feet—which is about average—that means the base runner is, on average, covering 2.29 feet every tenth of a second. (Get used to it—I’m going to use the word "average" a lot in the next couple paragraphs.)
It takes the average major league catcher 2.0 seconds to get the ball down to second base. That’s often referred to as a catcher’s "pop time" and that means from the time the pitch pops in the catcher’s mitt to the time his throw pops in a middle infielder’s glove is 2.0 seconds.
So the big variable is how long it takes the pitcher to deliver the pitch to the catcher: if the pitcher gets it there in 1.4 seconds—about average—there’s going to be a very close play at second base. If the pitcher gets the pitch there in 1.5 seconds there’s a good chance the base runner will be safe and if the pitcher gets the ball there in 1.3 seconds there’s a good chance the base runner will be out. So you can see what a big deal it is for the pitcher to get the ball to home plate as quickly as possible.
The way a pitcher does this is by slide-stepping—barely picking his front foot up off the ground and sliding toward home plate. They might also "pinch" or "quick step" which is a move somewhere between a slide step and lifting the knee all the way up. But here’s the problem: pitchers who get their front foot down earlier often have a problem with their arm being late; it’s still on the old schedule. That changes the release point and that makes the pitch stay up in the zone—a more hittable location. Start paying attention to this and you’ll be amazed at how many big hits are given up out of the slide step.
And that brings us to Saturday night’s game.
Cleveland starter Scott Kazmir was using a big leg kick to deliver his pitches. In the first inning when he had Alcides Escobar on third base and Billy Butler on first, Kazmir was taking his time getting the ball to home plate—I had him timed at more than 1.7 seconds. I wouldn’t swear by my timing, but there was no doubt he was slow to the plate because he was still using the big leg kick.
In the second inning Jeff Francoeur walked and now—for the first time in the game—Kazmir had a base-stealing threat standing on first. Kazmir went to the slide step, but, like I said earlier, pitchers will sometimes leave pitches up in the zone when they slide step. Kazmir left a 91-mph fastball up in the strike zone and Salvador Perez left the same pitch up in the right field seats.
Without Frenchy on first Kazmir doesn’t use the slide step and if he doesn’t use the slide step maybe he gets the fastball down in the zone and if the fastball is down in the zone maybe the Royals don’t take a 2-0 lead on Salvy’s homer.
The most relieved man in the ballpark
That describes Eric Hosmer. The Royals had a 3-0 lead going into the ninth inning and Greg Holland came in to close. With one down and a runner on first, Lonnie Chisenhall hit a grounder to Eric. Hos tried to do too much and took a shot at the double play. It was going to be a hard one, the ball wasn’t exactly smoked and Eric was going to have to work around the runner. Hosmer got too quick trying to get the ball out of his glove, lost the handle and everybody was safe. In the club house afterwards Eric said he just should have taken the sure out.
Drew Stubbs struck out, but then Michael Brantley tripled, driving in two runs. The tying run was now standing on third and Hosmer was kicking himself over at first. There was nobody in the entire ballpark pulling harder for Greg Holland to get the final out.
Holland saved Hosmer with a strikeout of Jason Kipnis.
The only reason the Royals were still ahead after Michael Brantley’s triple was Eric Hosmer’s bases loaded walk in the seventh. Cleveland manager Terry Francona brought in left-handed reliever Rich Hill to face Hosmer and Hill threw Eric nothing but curveballs. If you’re looking for a bright spot Eric stayed back and took pitches that he was chasing last season. (More on that in moment.)
The reason Hosmer was facing a lefty with the bases loaded had to do with Alcides Escobar. With Alex Gordon standing on third Esky stole second base. Billy Butler was at the plate and with first base now open the Indians pitcher, Bryan Shaw wasn’t all that serious about challenging one of the best DHs in the American League. Billy walked and that set up the Hill-Hosmer matchup.
Esky can’t steal that base unless Hosmer is hitting well, it took the bat out of Billy’s hands—but Hosmer is hitting well. (Like I said, more on that in a moment.)
Once again Ervin Santana was kind of awesome—another seven shutout innings.
After the game Jeff Francoeur walked by on his way out the door and I mentioned that things seemed a little different than last year. Frenchy said: "Pitching is everything." The Royals are 12-8 and in first place—I ain’t arguing.
Hosmer goes oppo
Ask George Kottaras—who played there—and he’ll tell you Boston’s ballpark makes left-handed hitters better. They come to the plate, see the Green Monster 310 feet away and know that if they stay closed and hit the ball the other way, they can turn a routine fly ball into a double by banging it off Fenway’s Park’s 37-foot high outfield wall.
I’d heard this before and it made me curious: Eric Hosmer was hitting .242 when the Royals went to Boston. Eric’s seven for 19 since then and six of those hits went to the left of second base—is Eric Hosmer doing a better job of hitting the ball the other way and did it start in Fenway?
I asked Eric and basic answer is this: he doesn’t want to think about it.
"You mean if I stand here talking to you long enough I could put you in a slump?"
Actually, he was right—I totally get where Hosmer’s coming from. You can talk your way into a slump: you’re hitting well, you start analyzing why you’re hitting well and what was natural and easy becomes mechanical and hard. Eric said he thought over-analyzed his swing last season and doesn’t want to make the same mistake in 2013. I understand and when guys are scuffling and they’re getting asked about their swing every night, I’ve made it a policy to back off—they’ve said what they have to say a dozen times and until they start hitting again, there’s no new news—just a rehash of what we already know.
So if Hosmer doesn’t want to talk about it, go find his hitting coach. I asked Jack Maloof if Eric was doing a better job of hitting the ball to the opposite field—going oppo—and Jack said Eric was doing a better job of staying on the ball. If the pitcher can get Eric to come around an outside pitch—hit the outside half—Eric will probably hit the ball weakly to the right side. If Eric can stay inside the ball—hit the inside half—Eric has a better chance of hitting the ball hard.
I don’t know if Eric Hosmer is hitting the ball better because he went to Fenway and started taking the ball to the opposite field and neither does he—but it’s interesting to think about.
(Besides the bases-loaded walk, Eric just missed a double down the left-field line, smoked a ball off Scott Kazmir’s leg that went for an E6 and hit a missile to short for a line out—all the balls were on the opposite –field side of the mound.)