Judging the Royals

Just like the Royals wanted, Cano and Overbay hit the ball to the opposite field

Updated: 2013-07-11T02:55:31Z

By LEE JUDGE

The Kansas City Star

If you’ve been following this website the last few days you know three things: 1.) Yankee Stadium has a very short porch in right (314 feet) 2.) Because of the short right-field porch, pitchers tend to stay on the outer half of the plate when a lefty is at the plate (they don’t want them to pull the ball over the wall) and 3.) Some smart lefties are willing to drive the ball to the opposite field and take advantage of all the territory in left (it’s bigger and harder to cover).

Unfortunately, even if you get Robinson Cano to hit the ball the other way, he’s one strong dude. In the third inning of Wednesday night’s loss to the Yankees, Royals starting pitcher Wade Davis got Cano to go the other way—but Cano went too far the other way—over 400 feet just to the left-of-center the other way. Cano’s three-run bomb put the Royals down by four.

After the game Ned Yost said the pitch Davis threw to Cano was a curve, down and away—the same pitch that produced a rollover groundball to second base in the first inning. The next time he saw that pitch Cano went down and got it—a "tip-your-cap" situation.

Three innings later Wade Davis got another lefty—Lyle Overbay—to hit the ball to the opposite field. Overbay’s ball didn’t travel as far as Cano’s, but he hit it in a better place; closer to the left field foul pole where the park isn’t nearly so deep. Overbay’s homer was a grand slam and he hit it on a fastball up and away.

Neither home run ball was hit on a pitch down the middle; Wade Davis did not allow either hitter to pull the ball into that short, right-field porch. Just like the Royals wanted, Cano and Overbay hit the ball to the opposite field.

They just hit it too far.

Yankees 8, Royals 1.

Game notes

• The Royals are now two under. If they win tomorrow—with Ervin Santana on the mound—they can get back to .500 at the break by taking two out of three in Cleveland. Lose tomorrow and the Royals need to sweep the Indians to be .500 at the break. So Thursday’s game is kind of a big one—although Ned Yost argues that they’re all big.

• In the fifth inning down 4-0, the Royals had two outs, two runners on base and Alex Gordon at the plate. Yankees starting pitcher Ivan Nova appeared to work around Gordon, even though it brought the tying run to the plate. That’s probably because the tying run was Alcides Escobar. Apparently Nova preferred to risk giving up a four-run shot to Escobar than risk giving up a three-run shot to Gordon.

That’s probably because to hit a grand slam Alcides would have to hit the ball in the air and when Alcides hits the ball in the air, he’s a .158 hitter. One theory about Escobar’s offensive drop-off contends he’s hitting too many balls in the air and a little internet research shows he is hitting a higher percentage of fly balls than in 2012. The shift in percentage isn’t huge, but it’s there. (Esky is also bunting for hits about half as often as he was last season, but his line drive percentage has held steady.)

A number-two hitter needs to specialize in groundballs to the four-hole (second base). It’s where you want to hit the ball with a runner on first (the runner being held creates a hole), a runner on second and nobody out (a ball hit that way will move the runner over) and on a hit and run, (especially if you’re right-handed because most of the time the second baseman will cover the bag and leave the right side open). Hitting the ball in the air is not a prized quality in a two-hole hitter.

And by the way: Escobar ended the Royals bases loaded threat with a pop fly to left.

• Ichiro Suzuki is a wizard with a bat: Mike Moustakas was playing in for a possible bunt, so Ichiro slapped the ball past him for a base hit. Play back and he drops one down; play in and he shoots it past you.

• George Kottaras saved a run by blocking the plate when Ichiro tried to score on a wild pitch. George just sat down in front of the plate and Ichiro looked like he hit a brick wall.

• David Lough popped up in the second inning and Yankee shortstop Eduardo Nunez called off Yankee second baseman Robinson Cano. Cano crossed his arms and stared at Nunez with a look that said, "Really?" From the motion he made with his hand after the catch, it appeared Cano was giving Nunez a hard time about catching a ball on Cano’s side of second base.

• I asked George how they pitched him in old Yankee Stadium (it also had a short porch) and George said they tried to stay away, but all pitchers make mistakes. He stood so far off the plate that if they tried to come in and missed, it was like getting a ball down the middle. It’s the same thing you hear over and over: all pitchers make mistakes, the key to hitting is not missing them.

• In the fourth inning with Eduardo Nunez at the plate, Mike Moustakas started by playing in, but as the pitch was delivered, rapidly backed up. Playing in might take the bunt away and if Nunez bought it and tried to slap the ball past Moose, after backing up, Mike would be in a better position to catch the ball.

• Lorenzo Cain got too close to the wall on Cano’s seventh-inning double and the carom off the padding got past him. Lorenzo made up for that by throwing Cano out at third when the Yankee second baseman went for a triple.

It only looks cool

Your first view from the Yankee Stadium press box is very cool: it’s wide open—no windows or support beams—and it’s got a wonderful view of the field. I prefer open-air press boxes; you hear the crowd and feel like you’re part of things.

But it’s been warn and extremely humid in New York and everyone in the press box is soaked with sweat by the time the game ends. Lean on your scorecard and when you lean back, it’s stuck to your arm and has to be peeled off.

Don’t get me wrong; I dig the Yankee Stadium press box—but it only looks cool.

What’s up with the first inning?

Tuesday night James Shields had a tough first inning and it’s not the first time. Shields’ first inning ERA is over 7.00. After the Royals 3-1 win Ned Yost was asked about Shield’s first-inning struggles and Ned said what you often hear: you better get the good ones early or you may not get them at all.

But that doesn’t answer the question: what’s up with the first inning?

There are several theories about this and here are a few of them: no matter what they have in the bullpen, pitchers have no idea what they’ll have once they get to the game mound. They may have had a dynamite curve in warm-ups, but during their final eight pre-game pitches, they discover they lost that curve between the bullpen and field mound.

So pitchers are literally figuring out their game plan as they go along. The curve that deserted them may reappear in the third inning. That being the case, it’s no wonder pitchers get whacked around early—they just haven’t figured out what’s working yet.

Another theory I’ve heard is that bullpen mounds don’t always match the field mound—and I’ve also heard some teams make sure the visitor’s mound is different—so a pitcher might still be adjusting to the mound during the first inning. Especially a visiting pitcher.

If a pitchers has a history of trying to get ahead with the fastball, teams know that from scouting reports and may "ambush." That means they come out swinging early and jump on the first fastball they see. That also explains why some pitchers cruise through the first inning: the other team tried an ambush, hit the ball at somebody and the pitcher gets out of the first after throwing less than 10 pitches.

But Jeremy Guthrie had another theory: he’s also wondered about first-inning struggles as well and thinks it might be that—in general—hitters are more patient in the first inning. If they’re not ambushing, hitters are taking pitches; they want to see what the pitcher has that night. By taking pitches the hitters make a pitcher’s job much more difficult— unless he’s pounding the strike zone early. Then taking pitches backfires because the hitters are behind and forced to swing at the pitcher’s breaking stuff.

Bottom line: I don’t know if anyone knows why pitchers struggle in the first inning, but now you know what some of the theories are.

The Yankees infield

Every infield is different. The dimensions might be the same, but the length and texture of the grass change from park to park. Every ball field has slightly different dirt.

Here in the Bronx, the infield the grass is long and the infield is slow. Before the game Rex Hudler said it was a great place to bunt. Corner infielders need to be aware of that and take that into account when they decide where to stand.

Elliot Johnson said Kansas City’s infield is much faster and the ball is more likely to skip on the shorter grass. Johnson also said the dirt stays moist here in New York, but in Kauffman, the dirt dries out as the game goes along. Because base runners tear up the playing surface, it’s more likely for a ball to come up on an infielder in the later innings. So a ball that might have been fielded easily in the second inning could be a problem in the eighth.

Ballplayers have to take the speed of infields into account; and so should anyone comparing infielders.

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