Judging the Royals

They weren’t that bad, they’re not this good

Updated: 2013-06-17T20:12:53Z

By LEE JUDGE

The Kansas City Star

The Royals have now won 10 of their last 12 games; that’s an .833 winning percentage—nobody stays that hot throughout a season. Immediately before this streak started, the Royals had lost 15 of 18; that’s a .167 winning percentage—it’s also very unlikely that a team will stay that cold over 162 games.

Ballplayers strive to keep an even keel; they’ve got six months of baseball to get through and emotional ups and downs aren’t helpful—many fans and media members aren’t so calm. Look at this way: if your team is terrific, you’re still going to see 60 to 70 losses over a season. If you’re team is horrible, you’re still going to see 60 to 70 wins. Being a baseball fan is not for the faint of heart.

All teams have streaks; good teams have shorter losing streaks and longer winning streaks, bad teams have the opposite. Fans—and general managers—generally have no idea where teams will wind up and that’s part of the fun. A team that spends a ton of money can flop and, once in a while, an underdog outperforms expectations. It’s like a soap opera and every day is a new episode. When things are going well, enjoy it. When things are going bad, endure it. I’ll leave you with a baseball saying that fans can also use: "You’re never as good as you think you are, you’re never as bad as you think you are."

The truth lies somewhere in-between.

Game notes

First inning: Ned Yost has said Wade Davis struggles with consistency at times and that appeared to be the case in the bottom of the first. Wade gave up two singles, a double and two walks before he finished the inning and left the mound, down 2-1. He also threw 35 pitches—about twice what is normal for a single inning. Ideally, the starter goes at least seven innings and hands the ball off to the set-up man and closer. Throw 35 pitches in the first inning and—unless you have a couple of quick ones—you’ll be lucky to make it through six.

Second inning: Mike Moustakas singled up the middle to start the second and was still at first base two outs later. I didn’t understand what happened next: Moustakas broke for second on an 0-2 count with Alcides Escobar at the plate. I don’t know how slow Rays pitcher Roberto Hernandez is to home plate, but it wasn’t slow enough: Mike was thrown out easily. Here’s what I don’t understand; Moustakas is not a base stealer, you don’t use a hit and run with two outs and Wade Davis had just thrown 35 pitches in the previous inning. Getting caught stealing let Hernandez off the hook in 13 pitches—I would have thought you’d want to delay Davis returning to the mound as long as possible. Maybe when the Royals get back, someone will explain that one to me—maybe there’s something I’m missing.

Third inning: Evan Longoria hit a groundball to Moustakas at third base and Mike could be seen double-clutching on his throw. When he does that he’s usually waiting on Eric Hosmer: the ball has been hit hard to third and Mike has to wait for Eric to make it over to first base before he can let go of this throw.

Fourth inning: Billy Butler doubled to start the inning and David Lough tried to do the right thing; as long as the run matters, the next guy tries to hit the ball to the right side. That way, if it’s an out, the runner can move to third, or, if the ball gets through the infield, the runner might score. Lough lined out, but it was still good situational hitting that should be noticed and appreciated.

Fifth inning: With the score 2-1 Jeff Francoeur homered to left field on a 3-2 slider. After the homer, George Brett could be seen talking to Francoeur and when that happens, we’re all free to speculate on what’s being said. My guess is George was saying the same thing to Jeff that he said last week when I was standing there: see what happens when you don’t try to hit a homer? (In a 3-2 count it’s pretty unlikely that Jeff was loading up to do damage.) George wants guys to take good swings and let the home runs happen.

Sixth inning: It appeared Alcides Escobar cost the Royals a run. With two outs, Jeff Francoeur on second base and Escobar on first, Alex Gordon singled to right field. Jeff attempted to score and the play at home looked to be close. Francoeur scored and Escobar stopped at second.

You can’t see what TV doesn’t show you, but I wondered about the throw and the cutoff man in the infield. The replays of Francouer scoring showed Escobar in the background, standing flat-footed a few feet to the left-field side of second base, watching the play at the plate. I never saw a completely clear view, but it did not appear the cutoff man—I think it was James Loney—faked a cut to freeze Escobar. And even if he had, Escobar should have been advancing to third. The score was 3-2 at that point and Francoeur’s insurance run was a big deal. If Escobar had drawn a throw away from the plate—remember, it was going to be close—trading an out for a run would have been a good deal. And it didn’t look like anyone was planning to cut the throw anyway. By not advancing, Escobar might have cost the Royals a run when reliever Jake McGee threw a wild pitch—Escobar only advanced to third base instead of scoring.

Seventh inning: As the early pitch count suggested, Wade Davis made it through six innings on 106 pitches. After the first inning, Wade never had more than one base runner in an inning. Aaron Crow came out to replace Wade at the start of the seventh to face the eight and nine-hole hitters. Aaron got pinch hitter Jose Lobaton, but shortstop Yunel Escobar singled. Lefty Tim Collins then came in to face the leadoff hitter Matt Joyce (a left-hander) and Ben Zobrist (a switch-hitter). Collins got Joyce on an outstanding play made by catcher Salvador Perez when Joyce chopped the ball down off home plate.

Eighth inning: Escobar doubled, moved to third on a wild pitch and Alex Gordon—who failed to get Esky in from third with less than two outs Saturday—got the job done on Sunday. Alex hit a sac fly to left and the Royals had their fifth run. Eric Hosmer lined out to short and after the game Ned Yost said that Hosmer had hit 11 line drives in the last four games.

Ninth inning: The ninth inning was set up by the seventh and the eighth. When you get into the last three innings the top of the opponent’s order is going to get one more shot at you—make sure they don’t get two.

If the other team doesn’t score, we tend to think things went OK. But say the top of the order was due up in the seventh and the pitcher got the first two guys, walked the third, but then got the number four hitter. In the eighth inning the five, six and seven hitters are due up, but the pitcher walks another guy and gives up a single before getting out of the inning. Even though those three extra base runners didn’t score, they mean your closer is facing the 1-2 and 3 hitters instead of the 7-8 and 9 hitters to get a save.

Lots of games are decided in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings—if we pay attention, we’ll see it.

In any case, I thought it was worth pointing out that Greg Holland got to face the bottom third of the order in the ninth inning. A walk and a home run got Holland to the two-hole before he got the save, but if Crow and Collins had been slightly less efficient, it could have been worse.

A reader’s comment

(As promised, here’s a lengthy response to a website comment received Sunday morning concerning Jeremy Guthrie and his performance on Saturday.)

Lee, one thing I've noticed about Guthrie is that he does not seem to change speeds much. Perhaps that is one reason he gives up a lot of homers - that and he is around the plate a lot? Does he throw a good changeup? I don't recall hearing anyone talk about him having a good changeup the way they talk about Shields'.

My response

I checked MLB.com and while I wouldn’t take any of this to the bank (they sometimes misidentify pitches and my knowledge of big-league pitching is certainly suspect) changing speeds did not seem to be a problem.

Jeremy Guthrie was throwing a fastball in the low to mid-nineties (looks like he topped out at 94), a changeup that varied from the low to upper eighties (although I wondered if some of these were misidentified fastballs), a slider in the low to mid-eighties, a cutter (kind of a half-fastball, half slider) around ninety and a curveball that dropped as low as 73 miles an hour. I then looked at the three home run balls Guthrie gave up, the pitches and their sequence:

Luke Scott: Curveball, 76 MPH, Ball/Changeup, 84 MPH, Ball/Fastball, 93 MPH, Called Strike/Curveball, 74 MPH, Foul/Fastball, 94 MPH, Home Run.

Matt Joyce: Fastball, 93, MPH, Ball/Curveball, 80 MPH, Called Strike/Curveball, 74 MPH, Ball/Changeup, 83, Ball/Fastball, 93, Home Run.

Evan Longoria: Fastball, 92 MPH, Ball/Slider, 81 MPH, Called Strike/Fastball, 92 MPH, Home Run.

They all hit fastballs and if there’s some pattern to when Guthrie throws one, it might have eluded me. The one guy that hit a fastball in a fastball count was Joyce; he was 3-1. Scott was 2-2 and Longoria was 1-1. The one thing I noticed was location: Scott’s fastball was down—but he’s left-handed and some of those guys rake down in the zone—both Joyce and Longoria got fastballs up.

The thing that immediately came to my mind was the ballpark: Guthrie got 14 fly ball outs in his previous start, but it was in Kansas City—Tropicana Field might not be so forgiving. I then checked Guthrie’s splits. (Geez, one guy asks a question and suddenly I’m doing a term paper on Sunday morning—Father’s Day. I should be having my pipe and slippers brought to me—if I smoked a pipe or wore slippers. On the other hand, a Bud Light, a shot of tequila and a pair of flip-flops would make the day complete.) OK, where was I? Guthrie’s splits, right. Well, here they are:

When Jeremy Guthrie gets a groundball he’s given up 30 doubles, no triples and—surprise, surprise—no home runs. Opponents hit .217 off him with a .234 slugging percentage.

When Jeremy Guthrie gets a fly ball he’s given up 110 doubles, 18 triples and 167 home runs. Opponents hit .220 off him, but have a .615 slugging percentage.

The sample sizes are similar; 1,744 groundball plate appearances and 1,681 fly ball plate appearances. So pretty clearly, Jeremy Guthrie does better when he keeps the ball on the ground. Being a fly ball pitcher in Baltimore or Colorado is a good way to get burned; do it in Kansas City and you’ve got a better chance of getting away with it. (By the way, Guthrie’s line drive splits look like this: 799 plate appearances, 150 doubles, six triples and 19 home runs. Opponent batting average of .711, slugging percentage of .986.)

As for your other questions: as I recall Ned Yost has said Guthrie gives up a lot of homers because he throws a lot of strikes and as for the quality of Guthrie’s changeup, you can decide for yourself—next time Jeremy Guthrie pitches, watch the scoreboard; if the pitch is in the mid-eighties, that’s probably a changeup and it should finish down out of the zone.

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