Judging the Royals

How bad decisions hurt the Royals in this 6-3 loss

Updated: 2013-06-20T05:23:58Z

By LEE JUDGE

The Kansas City Star

Let’s start at the end: in the ninth inning Eric Hosmer made a bad decision when he tried to advance on Salvador Perez’ groundout to third base. Sal made the second out of the ninth with his groundball to third and the Royals were down 6-3. They had one out left and needed to score a minimum of three runs if they wanted to keep playing. Hosmer was on second base and attempted to advance to when third baseman John McDonald threw the ball to first. Indians first baseman Mark Reynolds returned the ball to third base where former Royal, Mike Aviles, caught the ball and applied the tag on Hosmer—that ended the game. At that point of the game whether Hosmer was on second or third base made no difference; making the final out while attempting to advance a meaningless 90 feet was a bad way to end a ball game.

Salvador Perez also made a bad decision when he swung at that first pitch from Cleveland reliever, Joe Smith. It was not only the first pitch of Sal’s at-bat, it was the first pitch Sal had ever seen from the Indians pitcher. Perez did not represent the tying run—hit the ball into Lake Erie and the Royals would have still been down by one. Perez needed to be thinking about getting on base, not getting a base hit.

Perez and starting pitcher Luis Mendoza may have made three bad decisions in the sixth inning with nobody out, the bases loaded and Carlos Santana at the plate. Mendoza’s bread and butter is a sinking fastball—that’s what Mendoza threw to Santana in the first inning and Santana hit a groundball to first. Get another groundball in the sixth, turn a double play and the Royals would have a chance to get out of the inning with a minimum of damage. Instead of a sinker, Mendoza and Perez went with three breaking pitches in a row—none of them for strikes. With the count 3-0, Mendoza finally threw a fastball, missed and walked in the go-ahead run the Indians were looking for.

When Manny Ramirez played, teams tolerated some of the goofy things he did because he might hit a three-run home run to make up for them. If a late-inning three-run home run is not one of the clubs in your bag, you have to play smart baseball—you’re not going to make up for mental mistakes with game-winning bombs. The Royals can’t afford missed suicide squeeze signs, running through stop signs or bad base-running to end a game.

Indians 6, Royals 3.

Game notes

*Before Wednesday’s game Eddie Rodriguez took the blame for David Lough’s base-running mistake the night before. If Eddie now thinks he should have sent Lough, I’d agree—but that doesn’t absolve Lough of missing a sign and then stopping two-thirds of the way to home plate. Either pick up the coach’s sign and stop, or run through the sign and score—stopping in the base path was not a viable option

*Lorenzo Cain struck out in the first inning on a sinker, in the fourth inning on a slider, in the fifth inning on another slider and then struck out the fourth time in the seventh inning on one more slider. If you keep swinging at it, they’ll keep throwing it.

*Mike Moustakas had another two-hit game including a double pulled down into the right-field corner. Elliot Johnson followed with a single up the middle and Mike started back to the bag, then advanced to third. Going back toward second killed any chance of scoring. Base runners need to look around before each pitch and notice where each defender is standing. If the shortstop was over Mike’s right shoulder and the ball was hit on a line over Mike’s left shoulder, he should be able to advance right away—he knows the shortstop can’t get there. Replays showed the shortstop was almost directly behind Mike, so starting back to the bag on a line drive was probably the right play—it’s possible Mike Aviles could have got to the ball before it hit the ground and doubled off Moustakas.

*Immediately afterwards, with Moustakas on third and one down, Alcides Escobar struck out. Hitters need to find a way to get the ball in play with less than two down and a runner on third. Nobody chokes up any more—maybe they should. When hitters have their bottom hand down on the knob, they have less bat control and it’s harder to lay off chase pitches; Escobar flailed at a slider that broke out of the zone for strike three.

*Eric Hosmer had three hits including a double to right-center. According to TV announcer, Rex Hudler, George Brett has moved Hosmer’s hands back in his stance. In many sports motions, hands have to go back before they come forward—thinking of throwing a ball or a punch. The hands going back store energy, the hands going forward release it. Starting Hosmer’s hands further back in his stance means he doesn’t have to go as far back to get to the right position to come forward and that’s helping him be on time.

Pitch patterns

When we started this project I wondered how soon I would run out of things to write about—turns out I didn’t need to worry. We’re now in our fourth year of following the Royals and each year the information they provide gets a bit more complex. As I learn more, the questions I ask get better and the better questions get better responses.

Those readers who have followed along from the beginning have learned about pitcher delivery times, when the catcher is asking the pitcher to bounce a breaking pitch and why the outfielders play some hitters to pull the ball 2-0 and go the other way 0-2—just to name a few nuggets of information the Royals have provided. We’re all getting a unique look at big-league baseball from the participant’s point of view.

When we were in spring training I went to every practice I could, maybe I’d see something I hadn’t seen before. One day George Brett walked by and said, "You know what I like about you? Every day you come out here to learn something." I’ve known George for 20 years and it apparently took that long for him to find something likeable about me, but he was right; every day I want to learn something—and now I’m trying to learn about pitch patterns.

I’ve got an overall idea of how things work—stay out of fastball counts if possible—but I’ve got the sneaking suspicion that much of the time I’ve got no clue about why a particular pitch was thrown to a particular batter in a particular count. Maybe the catcher noticed the hitter had opened up his front foot slightly because he was expecting an inside fastball; in that case throw him a slider. Maybe the hitter is expecting a fastball and trying to get the bat head out in front of the plate so he can pull the ball into the short part of the park; in that case throw him a changeup. But maybe throwing a particular pitch has something to do with what happened last night, last week or last month.

It’s one thing to get to the big leagues, it’s another to stay. Most of the guys who stay in the big leagues work very hard at keeping their jobs. Part of that work is showing up early, watching video and reading scouting reports. If a guy like Joe Mauer sees that a pitcher threw him a 2-0 changeup with a runner in scoring position two weeks ago, Mauer will know that. If the changeup worked and the pitcher got Mauer out, Joe will probably expect to get the same pitch in the same situation. But if Mauer got a hit on that 2-0 change two weeks ago, Mauer might start thinking about seeing a different pitch should the same circumstances arise. Unless the pitcher—or catcher—is just as smart as Mauer and is thinking about crossing him up. That’s what I mean about being clueless as to why certain pitches are thrown.

With certain hitters, pitchers need to keep switching things up. With lesser hitters pitchers can keep coming at them the same way until the hitter shows he can make the adjustment. Take Monday night’s game against Cleveland:

In two at-bats, James Shields threw a total 13 pitches to the Indians number-nine hitter, John McDonald. Eleven of them were fastballs. In his second at-bat, Shields threw McDonald nine straight fastballs and McDonald eventually hit a ground ball to third base for an out. McDonald is a lifetime .236 hitter and as I write this he’s hitting .054 in 42 at-bats (split between the NL and AL). McDonald also has no home runs. It appears Shields came right at him; not much fooling around.

In the same game Shields faced the number-four hitter, Carlos Santana, three times. Santana is a lifetime .253 hitter, but has power; he’s got 10 home runs this season and slugs .451. James started Carlos with a fastball in all three at-bats and Santana looked to be guessing first-pitch fastball the third time up—he hit it over the right-field wall. So it appears Shields could get away with pitching McDonald with a steady diet of fastballs, but couldn’t do the same to Santana. Three fastballs in the same count to the same hitter was one too many.

But I don’t know any of that for sure. I feel like I’m in the dark much of the time and once in a while there’s a flash of light and I get the sense that there’s a larger picture in front of me—a picture I don’t quite grasp. But I still show up every day, sit in the dugout, talk to players and coaches and hope for moments of illumination.

When they come, I’ll pass them along.

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