Judging the Royals

A pre-game scouting report

Updated: 2013-04-28T21:53:12Z

By LEE JUDGE

The Kansas City Star

Before Sunday’s game one I asked Billy Butler how Cleveland’s Justin Masterson would pitch him. Most of the time hitters know what the pitcher will try to do—it then becomes a game of execution. If Billy knows Masterson is going to try to get him to hit a sinker into the ground, the real question is whether Masterson will keep his sinker down. If Masterson leaves one up, can Billy execute a good swing and hit it hard while keeping the ball in the air?

We watched video of Masterson’s delivery and Billy pointed out the Cleveland right-hander’s arm angle: he drops down and slings the ball at the plate. That’s a very tough angle for right-handed hitters to deal with and the numbers show it: during his career righties have hit .223 off Masterson, lefties, .290.

The pattern continued in this game: the right-handed Royals hitters went 3-13 with one walk, the lefties 5-13 with three walks.

Game notes

In his first at-bat Billy swings at a 2-2 sinker down and grounds into a 6-4-3 double play.

In his first at-bat Jeff Francoeur gets a sinker up and doubles.

Jarrod Dyson gets sinker slightly up and in the middle of the plate and doubles.

Mike Moustakas walks three times during the game and throws in a single for good measure. When guys see the ball well they get more selective, when they get more selective they start hitting the ball hard and taking their walks. Both Moustakas and Eric Hosmer have been taking walks lately, which is a good sign.

In the fifth inning a slow developing double play gives Lonnie Chisenhall –the runner on first base—a shot at pivot man Chris Getz. Remember: in a double play situation a slow roller means the pivot man may get taken out— if the runner trying to break up the double play hustles.

In the bottom of the fifth Alcides Escobar gets a sinker up and homers. The pattern is pretty simple: ball down, the Royals tend to make outs—ball up it tends to get hit hard.

In the seventh inning Chris Getz has an infield single and then goes first to third on a great read of Alex Gordon’s single to centerfield. That allows Chris to score when Alcides Escobar hits into a fielder’s choice.

Alex Gordon breaks up the double play attempt and extends the inning.

In the eighth inning Asdrubal Cabrera hits a ball down into the right field corner and stretches it into a double. The throw by Jeff Francoeur was there in time, but on the left field side of second. Down by seven runs, stretching a single into a double isn’t a great decision. Cabrera got away with it, but not by much.

Luke Hochevar came in to pitch the last two innings and struck out five. Has anyone ever considered making this guy a starter?

Hochevar going two innings in game one means another reliever will be available for game two.

And speaking of starting pitchers: another strong outing from a Royals starter. Jeremy Guthrie pitched six and two-thirds and didn’t give up a run.

Moose behind the plate

If you were paying attention to the warm-up pitches between innings Saturday night, you might have noticed an unusual sight: at one point, Mike Moustakas was warming up Ervin Santana. George Kottaras is often down in the bullpen helping warm up relievers and some of the guys on the bench help out by coming out to warm up the pitcher whenever Salvador Perez makes the last out of the inning and has to put on his equipment.

I noticed it was Moose catching when a throw back to the mound sailed into centerfield. Then a pitch got past him. After the game I asked him about it and he said when one of the position players has to warm up the pitcher, the pitcher will take it easy and throw straight four-seam fastballs: put the mitt up and they’ll come close to hitting it. Recently Mike went out to warm up Kelvin Herrera, but was wearing a catcher’s mask and a pullover and Kelvin didn’t realize it was Mike. Kelvin let loose with the real deal—upper nineties with movement—and almost gave Mike a heart attack.

We see catchers handle ungodly pitches—mid-nineties with action and think nothing of it. That’s only because they’re so good, they make it look simple—but it ain’t that simple.

Just ask Mike Moustakas.

Pitcher delivery times

Yesterday we talked about pitcher’s delivery times and how they need to get the ball to home plate in less than 1.4 seconds—if they don’t people are going to steal bases. We also talked about how speeding up a pitcher’s delivery might also cause him to leave a pitch up in the zone. Saturday night doing something to stop the base runner (Jeff Francoeur) might have helped the hitter (Salvador Perez). So how about ignoring the base runner and just getting the hitter?

According to base-running coach Rusty Kuntz, that’s a great plan if you’re Nolan Ryan. If you’re taking 1.8 seconds to deliver a pitch to home plate, a fast runner on first is going to be standing on third two pitches later. Now you better have strikeout stuff because if the hitter puts the ball in play, the run is probably going to score.

So most pitchers have to worry about delivery times—they can’t afford not to. Rusty said that now that they’re drug testing and fewer players are using performance enhancing drugs, they’re hitting less home runs—the stolen base is becoming more important. Pitchers better have a way to stop base runners.

I asked Rusty what he would advise pitchers to do and he said find a delivery that has you under 1.4 seconds and use it all the time; that way you don’t have to adjust your release point every time you go from a full leg kick to a slide step. He thinks it would especially benefit relievers. If pitchers don’t find a way to stop the running game, they might just get run out of the game themselves.

Delivery times and the closer

According to Elliot Johnson, closers don’t worry about stopping the running game as much because they do have strike out stuff. As Elliot put it, "The bidding starts at 95 and goes up from there." Apparently, guys who throw that hard don’t have to worry about base runners—they don’t have them that often.

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