Judging the Royals

Wade Davis deals with inconsistency

Updated: 2013-08-25T21:19:38Z


The Kansas City Star

In the fourth inning of Saturday night’s 7-2 loss to the Nationals, starting pitcher Wade Davis threw 28 pitches. He walked the leadoff batter on four pitches, gave up a single, a sacrifice fly, an intentional walk, a double, another single and in the process, gave up four earned runs. Sounds like a pitcher who had lost it, right?

Not so fast.

Davis came back out for the fifth inning and got the top of the order—Denard Span, Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper—on a total of six pitches. So maybe he found it again; but then Wade came back out for the sixth, threw 19 pitches and gave up a single, a home run and a walk.

After the game Wade was asked about his performance and he said he was inconsistent. Davis said he was inconsistent with the release point on his pitches and that made his pitches inconsistent in their location. And all that inconsistency led to mistakes out over the plate.

Saturday night Davis threw six innings and gave up seven earned runs. The start before that he threw three and two thirds innings and gave up four earned runs, the start before that he threw six innings and gave up two earned runs, the start before that he threw five innings and gave up two earned runs and the start before that Davis threw seven and a third innings and gave up no earned runs. At times he’s been good and at times he hasn’t—the definition of inconsistent.

In the post-game press conference Ned Yost was asked about Wade’s spot in the rotation. Ned said they don’t talk about that kind of stuff after a loss—everybody’s upset and they wouldn’t want to make a decision while they’re still P.O.’d about losing. But Ned did say it was something they would consider.

The Royals have lost seven in a row and are now back to .500—64 and 64. They have 34 games left to play, 12 of them against the two teams in front of them; Cleveland and Detroit. Ned Yost said he believes the Royals—who have been incredibly streaky—still have one more good run left in them. If so it needs to start fairly soon.

The Royals lose to the Nationals, 7-2.

Game notes

*Alex Gordon did it again: he threw out Ryan Zimmerman when the Nationals DH tried to stretch a single into a double. I know these guys see scouting reports, but they must not believe them until they see Gordon first hand.

*Jordan Zimmermann is 15-7 with an ERA of 3.32. The only Royals that had faced him before were Emilio Bonifacio and Jordan Maxwell. Hitters tend to struggle against pitchers they haven’t seen before, even when the pitcher isn’t a top-of-the-line guy—Zimmermann is. I’ve asked guys why they think the pitcher has the advantage in the first encounter and they say it’s because the pitcher is in control: he throws the pitches and they have to react. On the other hand, I’ve had pitchers tell me that rookie hitters will surprise them until they have enough at-bats. After that the sample size start to build up and pitchers can see the holes in a hitter’s swing.

*Lead-off walks are rarely good and the one Wade Davis issued in the fourth inning came around to score. Davis issued another walk to Adam LaRoche after he fell behind 2-0. Rather than give Laroche a "cookie"—a hittable fastball—Davis put him on. That didn’t work out so well, LaRoche also came around to score.

To be fair to Davis two of the runs in the fourth came on a good pitch; he threw a cutter in on Chad Tracy’s hands and jammed him. Unfortunately for Wade, Tracy got enough of the ball to hit it over Alcides Escobar, but was jammed badly enough that the ball didn’t carry to Alex Gordon. Pitchers will sometimes say they made a good pitch when the guy at the plate hit the ball 400 feet—it wasn’t that good a pitch. But in this case, Wade Davis could make that argument.

*In-between innings—before the bottom of the fifth—Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos bounced the warm up throw to second base. A bounced warm-up throw often comes out of play in case the ball gets scuffed, but this time the ball stayed in the pitcher’s glove.

Some players don’t think it’s that big a deal; umpires make a great show of throwing out every pitch that hits the dirt, but if a ball bounces two times on the way to short and again when the throw is short-hopped to first, the ball stays in play. Apparently the game is being played with scuffed baseballs on a regular basis—smart pitchers take advantage of that.

Hochevar and the cutter

(There wasn’t a lot to cheer about Saturday night, but Luke Hochevar did come out of the pen, throw three innings of shutout baseball and lower his ERA to 1.93. Hoch and I talked about the changes he made this spring and now seems like a good time to post this piece.)

In spring training Luke Hochevar decided he was going to abandon one of his pitches; his slider or his cutter. Hoch thought the two pitches "blended" and wanted to his pitches to be distinct from one another. After consulting with Dave Eiland, Hochevar kept his cutter.

The cutter is a pitch halfway between a fastball and slider. It moves, but doesn’t have as much depth (downward movement) as a slider. On the other hand it can be thrown harder; Luke can get his above 90 MPH. Once he canned the slider, Luke’s cutter got better. He was throwing it more often and developing a better feel for the pitch. He also developed a couple versions: one thrown with the fingers together that gets some downward movement, another thrown with the fingers apart that makes the pitch move laterally.

Hochevar now feels comfortable throwing a "back-door" or "front-door" cutter and here’s what that means: Luke is right-handed and that means he would throw a backdoor cutter to a left-handed hitter. The pitch would start toward the right-hand batter’s box, then move into the strike zone at the last second—it would come in the backdoor.

Luke would throw a front-door cutter to a right-handed hitter. The pitch would start at the hitter’s front hip and when the hitter moved to get out of the way or lifted his arms to avoid an inside pitch, the cutter would once again move into the zone at the last second—through the front door.

I’ve been told that any pitcher with two pitches in the nineties is a bad ass—it’s just very hard for hitters to adjust when guys are throwing a fastball in the upper nineties and a cutter in the lower nineties. Right now Luke Hochevar throws two pitches in the nineties—I guess that makes him a badass.

Two strikes: guess and go

The other night against the White Sox, Alex Gordon was on first base with Billy Butler at the plate. It was the fourth inning, there were two outs and the score was 0-0. Alex told first base coach Rusty Kuntz that if Billy got two strikes on him, Alex was going to "guess and go."

Here’s what all that meant:

The pitcher was Jose Quintana, a lefty. With some left-handed pitchers, base runners have a hard time reading their moves to first base. The base runner is reduced to going on first movement—guess and go—and if they guess wrong, they get picked off. Alex guessed wrong and got picked, but his logic was sound.

Before two strikes Billy would be more aggressive and have a better chance of driving in Gordon from first base with an extra-base hit. After two strikes Billy would be more defensive and cut down on his swing. If Alex guessed right, Billy would get to hit with a runner in scoring position and a single would probably do the job. If Alex guessed wrong Billy would start the fifth inning with a new count. But the logic only applies if you want the hitter to get another at-bat and start off the next inning. What might be a good play with Billy Butler at the plate would be a bad one with a lesser hitter—if a guy’s hitting .220 and doesn’t walk, you might not want him starting off the next inning.

In this case Alex Gordon’s decision paid off: Billy walked to start the following inning and the Royals went on to score three runs. A multi-run inning in the fifth, started with a pickoff in the fourth—all because Alex Gordon decided to guess and go.

How many fingers am I holding up?

OK, Salvador Perez takes a foul tip off the mask and a trainer comes out to see how he is: what do they ask him?

You can’t ask a ballplayer what day of the week it is: he didn’t know before he got hit in the head. So you ask a short-term question: who’s pitching? And a long-term question: what’s your birthday? The trainers often don’t know the answer to second question—they might know the right year, but that’s it—so the response is gauged by how quickly it comes. If a player has to think a long time about his birthday, something is wrong.

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