Judging the Royals

A walk and an error

Updated: 2013-05-08T04:56:51Z

By LEE JUDGE

The Kansas City Star

In a 3-3 game Royals reliever Tim Collins walked Adam Jones to lead off the bottom of the eighth inning. Bad move on two counts, may be three: leadoff walks are the worst kind (the opposition has all three outs available to move the runner around the bases), Jones can run a little bit (averaging 13 stolen bases a year) and Collins takes a while to get the ball to home plate (Tim’s got a pretty big leg kick). If Jones stole second, the Orioles would have the winning run in scoring position and three outs to get it home.

Collins then struck out lefty Chris Davis and Matt Wieters was due up.

The Orioles’ catcher is a switch-hitter, but hits around 100 points lower from the left-side, so Ned Yost wanted to turn him around by bringing in a right-handed pitcher. Set-up man Kelvin Herrera and closer Greg Holland are used late in the game when the Royals have a lead, so if Yost didn’t want to use them in a tie game, that left Luke Hochevar with an 0.84 ERA, Aaron Crow with an 1.08 ERA or J.C. Gutierrez and his 6.14 ERA.

Ned went with Luke.

Hochevar has been mostly very good since moving to the bullpen and Yost has said he wants to slowly move Luke into "high-leverage" situations and this was one—or at least more of one than pitching with a seven-run lead. The Royals believed Jones was running, so they had Hochevar throw over to first base; the throw hit Jones in the back, it got away from Eric Hosmer and Jones got up and made it to second base. Hochevar then threw a fastball down in the zone to Matt Wieters and he sliced it down the left-field line, hitting chalk. Jones scored from second (he might not have if he’d still been on first) and the Orioles had the run they needed to win the ball game.

After the game Ned Yost seemed to blame the leadoff walk more than the throwing error for the loss. But without both, the Orioles probably don’t score.

Game notes

First inning: The Orioles scored three runs off Ervin Santana. Coming into the game, opponents had hit .356 off Ervin in their first at-bat, .190 in their second at-bat and .150 in their third at-bat. It would be interesting to know first-inning/home and away splits—maybe someone has that somewhere—because big-league teams have been known to make sure the visiting bullpen mound is different than the field mound. That difference can mean a visiting pitcher has to adjust to the field mound and that gives the home team an edge.

Santana has a great slider, so hitters might want to hack early in the count; put the first hittable fastball in play and avoid Santana’s "out" pitch. Several Baltimore players tried to do just that.

If you were watching the game you know Santana did not get the call on a check-swing strike against Matt Wieters. The Orioles’ catcher subsequently doubled and drove in two runs.

Third inning: Miguel Tejada threw out Adam Jones when he dove for a ball, caught it, spun around and threw from one knee. One of the best plays you’ll ever want to see—and a play that can’t be practiced. I’ve been around professional ballplayers for a long time and one of the things that makes these guys special is hand-eye-coordination; most of them aren’t as big as NFL or NBA players, but they can do some phenomenal things when it comes to hand-eye coordination.

Sixth inning: When you’re at a game live you can see the whole field and that allows you to see things away from the ball. On TV you can only see what they choose to show you, but you get a very good look at the pitcher, hitter and catcher. Pay attention to the catcher’s mitt and you can see where the target is set and how much the mitt has to move to receive the pitch. If the mitt moves up and toward the middle of the zone, that’s generally a bad thing.

In the sixth you could see Salvador Perez tap his mitt on the ground and that’s the signal for the pitcher to bounce the pitch—most of the time you’ll see this done with two strikes. And the pitcher has to trust the catcher’s ability to block a pitch. There are some catchers who just won’t do it with a runner on third.

Seventh Inning: After the rain delay the Orioles brought in relief pitcher Brian Matusz. With two down, Alex Gordon tied the game with a 2-run home run over the right field wall. Camden Yards’ right-field foul pole is 318 feet away from home plate. Gordon’s home run probably would have been a long out in Kauffman and demonstrates why home run totals are suppressed here in Kansas City. There’s a reason the all-time record Kansas City record is 36 home runs and has stood since 1985.

After the rain delay Tim Collins came in to replace Ervin Santana, got one out and then walked Nate McClouth. The Orioles’ left fielder then stole second base and Salvador Perez bounced the throw. Collins delivered the pitch with a big leg kick and that takes time. Sometimes a catcher’s throw will look bad, but the real culprit is the pitcher: if it takes too long to deliver the ball to home plate, the catcher sees the runner get a good jump, rushes his throw to make up for the slow delivery and bad things ensue.

Ninth inning: Orioles closer Jim Johnson came in the game and it was easy to see why he had 32 consecutive saves: the dude’s 6’ 6" so he’s already pitching downhill and has wicked movement on those downhill pitches. 16 pitches later, Johnson had 33 consecutive saves.

The Royals better be ahead after eight innings in the next two games or they’re going to have a tough time against Johnson in the ninth.

Camden Yards

The Orioles’ ballpark has some odd dimensions (Google it and you’ll see what I mean) and anytime a ballpark is not symmetrical, ballplayers have to be careful to make sure they’re standing in the right spot. Royals’ right fielder Jeff Francoeur told me that Camden Yards will fool you, so Frenchy makes a mark in the grass so he knows where "normal" positioning is and then moves in relation to that mark.

Outfield coach Rusty Kuntz told me when an outfielder is playing on a field with odd dimensions he has to position himself in relation to the infield, not the outfield wall. Look behind you and move to the spot that seems right and you’ll probably be out of position.

The same thing happens in Kauffman Stadium: the foul poles are 330 feet away from home plate—not unusual—but the wall drops off quickly. I once asked Kevin Seitzer to estimate the distance to the bullpen gates and he guessed 375 feet. Visiting outfielders will look behind them, see the outfield wall a mile away and back up. They’re making the mistake of positioning themselves according to the outfield wall and not the infield. Being positioned too deeply allows balls to fall in front of them and makes the throws back to the infield longer.

As I said in spring training, ballplayers prefer symmetrical parks, but odd quirks give the home team an advantage; they’re used to the oddities.

Reader comments and questions

Lots of reader comments and questions after Monday’s 2-1 loss to the White Sox; here are some of them along with my responses.

How long they intend to keep playing Getz and Francouer?

I have no inside information on front office moves, and frankly, neither do most of the other people you hear speculating. That’s not something the Royals generally share with the media, but if anyone knows something, it’s probably Bob Dutton, Star beat writer.

My understanding about the players' hand-signals to each other is that it may have been instigated at least in part by Miguel Tejada, as a way for players to signal well-done to each other and to have fun and build camaraderie.

I’ve heard it started with the Texas Rangers, but I’ve also heard Tejada was involved in bringing it to Kansas City.

Yost's misuse of relievers is what got him fired in Milwaukee close to the end of a playoff season.

I’ve heard Ned got in trouble for sticking with his starters too long, but I doubt whether either version is completely accurate. I’ve heard the inside story on a few firings and it’s rare that the public knows all the details.

The not running out grounders by a few of our young players - where is Yost or Shields or Gordon or Kendall or someone to read these slackers the riot act before they cost us an out or extra base at an important time?

If I’ve noticed it you can bet the veterans you mentioned have noticed it. If a young player is going to be aired out, it will be done in private and the public will never hear what was said.

I disagree that Shields was a "tired pitcher," as you describe a man who had allowed only two hits. In fact, he looked energized after his pickoff ended the eighth inning. I assume Ned would have left him in if he was still working on a no-hitter. Shields came to KC touted as an iron man, and 102 pitches is not a lot for a man of his experience. If Guthrie can go nine, certainly Shields can, too.

Actually, what I said was critics would be happy to go negative on Ned if he had left Shields in and James had given it up, and part of that criticism would be saying Shields had thrown 102 and had to be tired. But pulling Shields, whether you agree with it or not, had to do with the run-margin: Guthrie was up by two, Shields was up by one. As I said in the original post, I would have let Shields go out for the ninth and pulled him if the winning run came to the plate, but I didn’t think going to the closer in a save situation was a horrible decision.

If I'm J Shields, I have a private chat with Ned.

After the game James Shields said it was the right decision, which is what you’d expect: a player is rarely going to criticize a manager or a teammate publicly. If James said something else in private—and there’s no evidence he did—we would probably never hear it.

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