Judging the Royals

Trout safe on fishy call

Updated: 2013-05-25T06:35:41Z

By LEE JUDGE

The Kansas City Star

Mike Trout is quick—Salvador Perez is quicker. Unfortunately, second base umpire Marty Foster didn’t see it that way. After watching the replay, it’s fair to ask if Foster saw it at all.

Seventh inning, score tied 2-2. Luke Hochevar walked the Angels centerfielder, Trout, to start the inning. Ned Yost brought in Aaron Crow to face Albert Pujols and Trout ran on the first pitch. The average major league catcher takes 2.0 seconds to deliver the ball to second base. The Royals catcher, Salvador Perez, can do it in 1.8. In fact, Salvy is so quick that when he first came up to the big leagues he had trouble with the umpires behind him—they couldn’t get out of his way in time. Now the umpires are aware of how quickly Perez can get out of his crouch and throw, so they stay out of his way.

The Angels Mike Trout has a bit of a reputation as well: he’s one of the fastest players in the league. So this was a bit of a showdown—and it was a showdown Perez won. Of course, pitcher’s delivery times matter as well, but Aaron Crow did his job; he shortened up his leg kick and got the ball to home plate in good shape. Perez came out of his crouch and threw a strike to second base—the ball beat Trout easily. In fact, Trout knew he was beaten; that’s why he tried a "swim move."

When a runner knows he’s going to be out, he might resort to sticking out one hand and when the infielder reaches out to tag it, pulling that hand back while trying to reach around the tag with the other hand. It looks like the base runner is swimming and that’s where the move got its name.

But the swim move didn’t work.

Before Trout touched the base, Chris Getz caught the ball and tagged Trout—on the wrist, forearm, elbow, bicep and shoulder. Getz basically tagged the upper-third of Trout’s body. If they’d been playing football Getz would have been called for pass interference. If they’d been playing basketball Trout would have been sent to the free-throw line. If they had been standing on a street corner Getz could have been arrested for mugging.

Marty Foster apparently didn’t see any of that and called Trout safe.

After that call: Pujols walked, Mark Trumbo singled, Trout scored, Pujols and Trumbo moved up to second and third on Josh Hamilton’s fly ball, Pujols scored on Howie Kendrick’s fly ball and Trumbo scored on Alberto Callaspo’s double. Count the outs and if Trout had been called out and everything else had remained the same, the Angels don’t score at all.

Over the past 18 games the Royals have had enough problems of their own, they didn’t need to lose one because of a bad call. Angels win 5-2.

Game notes

First inning: With the bases loaded and two outs, Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick hit a ball deep in the hole between Miguel Tejada—playing third—and Alcides Escobar at short. When the ball left the bat the only question seemed to be if the Angels would score one run or two. If the ball got through the infield, the Angels might score two, if Alcides found a way to knock the ball down and keep it from going into the outfield, the Angels would score one.

Then Alcides caught the ball.

Now the question became where would he have a play; Esky had to go so far in the hole to make the stop that a short throw to third or second base seemed unlikely to beat a runner—so he jumped in the air, spun and threw the ball all the way to first base. It seemed impossible when the ball was hit, but the Royals got out of the inning without giving up a run. (Salvador also blocked several balls in the dirt with a runner on third—that helped.)

Second inning: Billy Butler took his first of two walks in this game. If Butler does not get pitches to hit, there’s nothing he can do. If he chases pitches out of the zone in an effort to put up numbers, things will get even worse.

Third inning: Alcides Escobar made another diving stop, but the runner was Mike Trout. When guys can get down the line an infielder has no time to dive, get up and make a throw. When you see a highlight play, check the runner—slow runners make for great plays. Trout scored on a wild pitch.

Later in the inning Miguel Tejada tied the game with a bomb to left. If you’re thinking Miggy should be the starting third baseman, remember: by the time you read this he’ll be 39. May 25th is his birthday.

Fifth inning: With two outs and the tying run on second base, Chris Getz singled on a two-strike changeup. (Remember, that—it’s going to come up later.) Also remember that the ball just narrowly missed being caught—it wasn’t and Getz was temporarily a hero. If his hit had been a few inches higher, he would have been out. Success and failure may not live in the same house, but they are next-door neighbors.

Sixth inning: Ned Yost has said he wants to use Luke Hochevar in higher-leverage situations and he got the chance. The game was tied 2-2 when Luke came in and gave up a home run to Chris Iannetta. Luke can throw in the mid-nineties and Yost thinks he can be another power arm at the back of the bullpen. With Kelvin Herrera scuffling, that means they have to find someone to fill that role—even if it’s temporary.

Ninth inning: Lorenzo Cain led off with a double and when the ball left Salvador Perez’ bat, it looked like it would fall in for a single. That would have put two men on base, brought the tying run to the plate and given the Royals a shot in the ninth—but Mike Trout raced in and caught the ball before it landed.

Have I mentioned he’s fast?

Anyway, outfield coach Rusty Kuntz once told me the most important factor in whether or not a ball will be caught in the outfield is elevation; hit the ball high enough and someone will get there. Salvy’s was too high and the Royals never got the tying run to the plate.

How veteran pitchers take advantage of young hitters

Here’s a situation Kansas City fans have seen too often recently: the Royals do a good job getting runners in scoring position, but then can’t drive them in. A weak pop-up, grounder or strikeout and the runner is stranded—a potential run is wasted. Why? They were having good plate appearances. What changed once a runner got in scoring position?

Maybe it was the pitcher.

Talk to guys who have been around a while and they’ll tell you that veteran pitchers—or catchers—take advantage of a young hitter’s emotions. They might throw fastballs in fastball counts until a runner gets in scoring position, but once that happens, they often adopt a different strategy. They know a young guy wants to prove himself and do something big in a big situation; the hitter’s pressing to do well and that means he’s squeezing sawdust out of the bat.

So, with runners in scoring position, veteran pitchers go soft: they throw changeups, sliders and curveballs in fastball counts. So if the hitter is looking for a fastball in a 2-0 count with the bases loaded and gets a changeup, he’ll either swing and miss or hit the ball weakly.

Sound familiar?

It should. When the Royals had the bases loaded in the second inning against the Oakland A’s Tommy Milone, Elliot Johnson got a first-pitch changeup, popped out to the first baseman and helped Milone get out of the inning without giving up a run.

In Monday’s game against the Astros Lorenzo Cain started the game with a walk, Alex Gordon singled and with a runner in scoring position, Billy Butler got a first-pitch changeup, rolled over and hit into an inning-ending double play. In the second inning of the same game Eric Hosmer singled, so did Jeff Francoeur and with a runner now in scoring position, Miguel Tejada got a first-pitch changeup, fouled it off and wound up striking out.

But wait, isn’t Tejada a veteran?

Yup, and that’s probably why Miggy figured out what was happening, went to the plate looking for that first-pitch changeup in his next at-bat and hit it out of the park. You might be able to keep pulling the same trick on some of the kids, but a veteran might figure you out.

Once you’re alerted to the pattern—going soft when a run is in scoring position—and start looking for it, you see it over and over again:

Thursday night against the Angels with Chris Getz on third base and one down, Alex Gordon got a first-pitch changeup for a swinging strike, a fastball that was fouled off (if the pitcher thinks you’re looking fastball he might throw you one, but in a less than hittable location), and then four changeups in a row. By the time he’d seen four of them, Alex adjusted enough to hit the ball to second base and drove Getz home.

In the fifth inning of the same game Lorenzo Cain doubled and Salvador Perez got another first-pitch change, popped the ball up, but got enough of it to dump the ball just beyond the infield. With runners now at first and third Mike Moustakas got a first-pitch change, a fastball that was fouled off, a curve and another change. That strategy almost worked; Moose grounded the changeup into a fielder’s choice, but got the call on what might have been an inning-ending double play.

OK, so with a runner in scoring position, what’s the right strategy for young hitters?

They call hittable fastballs "cookies" and a young hitter needs to recognize when the cookie store is closed. (Someone else’s line.) Unless the guy on the mound is also a young guy with too much testosterone in his system, the hitter is probably not getting a fastball in fastball count when there are runners in scoring position. So hitters should identify the pitcher’s second-best pitch—or at least his second-best pitch that night. What secondary pitch is the pitcher throwing for a strike? That’s probably the pitch you’re going to see in a big situation with runners in scoring position. Keep sitting on a fastball when you’re not going to get one and you’ll have weak some swings. Go to the plate looking for the changeup and don’t miss it when you see it.

The league has adjusted to some of the Royals young—and not so young—hitters. It might be time for the hitters to adjust back.

(If all that sounded like smart analysis, be aware that all those thoughts came from a variety of veteran ballplayers—they get the credit. If it sounded dumb and you don’t buy it, I must have explained it wrong. Either way, pay attention to the radar gun readings and the hitters’ swings: if they look balanced and right on the pitch, they were probably looking for that pitch. If the hitter was off-balance and out on his front foot, he was looking hard and got something off-speed.)

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