Judging the Royals

Royals gamble on the basepaths and win

Updated: 2013-09-03T13:39:27Z

By LEE JUDGE

The Kansas City Star

Monday, the Mariners starting pitcher was Felix Hernandez. King Felix came into this game with a 12-8 record, a 2.97 ERA and 194 strikeouts. According to Eric Hosmer, when a pitcher’s that good, you better take some chances on the base paths—you’re not going to get many hits or scoring opportunities. The Royals made the most of the ones they had and beat the Mariners 3-1.

In the fourth inning with one down, Hosmer was on first base. Billy Butler was at the plate and singled up the middle. Eric went first to third and after the game I asked what he’d seen that made Hosmer think he could take the extra base. Eric said the ball wasn’t hit that hard. That meant the Seattle centerfielder, Abraham Almonte, would have to come get it and throw on the run. If Eric could get to third with one down, he could score on a grounder or fly ball. But the main reason Hosmer took the extra base was Felix Hernandez—a pitcher that good changes the game.

Hosmer made it to third and scored on a Mike Moustakas single to right. Eric might have still scored if he stayed at second, but being on third base made sure of it. Hosmer crossed the plate and the score was 1-1. An inning later, the Royals took the lead for good and once again aggressive base running played a role.

This time Jarrod Dyson was on first with one down. Jarrod took off for second base, the second baseman moved to cover the bag and Alcides Escobar hit the ball through the vacated right side. In the post-game press conference Ned Yost said this play was a run and hit, not a hit and run. Here’s the difference: in a hit and run the base runner takes off and the hitter must swing, no matter where the pitch is. In a run and hit the base runner takes off and the hitter has the option to swing.

The run and hit put runners on first and third and after Escobar stole second base, the Royals had two runners in scoring position and the double play was no longer in order. A wild pitch later and Dyson scored the second run, Escobar was then on third. Gordon walked and once again the Royals had first and third with Emilio Bonifacio at the plate. The walk put the double play back in order, but Bonifacio is not a great bet if you want to turn two—he gets down the line pretty well. In any case, the best laid plans of mice and men sometimes go kablooey. The Royals second baseman du jour hit a fly ball to right and Escobar tagged and scored.

Alex Gordon tried to help Escobar score by offering himself as a sacrifice. The throw came in from right field and Gordon took off right in front of the cutoff man. In the right situation, this is a smart play: you offer the defense an out, but they have to give up a run to take it. The throw was not cut off, but the Mariners did not get Escobar.

Royals 3, Mariners 1—and that’s how the score stayed.

Give credit to the pitchers: Danny Duffy, Will Smith and Greg Holland combined to give up a total of seven hits and one run, but don’t miss what the Royals did on the base paths—they gambled and won.

Game notes

• After the game Ned Yost said Danny Duffy’s stuff was great, but he struggled to get the ball down in the zone. Despite poor command, Danny was getting away with it because of the aforementioned great stuff. Duffy’s fastball came in with varying velocity—like 93 versus 97—and he appeared to be adding and subtracting off his heater. If so, that’s a good sign: the better pitchers keep hitters from timing fastballs by adding or subtracting just a bit of velocity.

• After two innings it was clear Duffy working harder than Hernandez: Danny had thrown 48 pitches, Felix had thrown 27. Pay attention to pitch counts and you’ll be able to predict pitching changes. Duffy threw three and two-third innings, Hernandez made it through six and two-thirds.

• Back to Alcides Escobar: in the third inning David Lough singled and the Royals played for one run. They had Jarrod Dyson bunt Lough to second with Escobar and Alex Gordon due up. Coming into the game Escobar was 2-9 off Hernandez and Gordon was four for 18—both were hitting .222—so the odds weren’t great. Of course, how a guy is swinging the bat lately changes the odds.

In any case; with Lough on second base the Mariners were using their second baseman, Nick Franklin, to keep David close to the bag. They wanted to cut down Lough’s lead and give their outfielders a better chance to throw him out at the plate on any base hit.

Despite the fact that their second baseman was out of position and opening up the right side by feinting toward second base, Felix Hernandez pitched Alcides Escobar away. If Esky was intent on taking the ball through the right side he passed up the chance when he got a 92 MPH sinker on the outer half of the plate. If the right side was open and the Mariners were pitching Escobar away, that would seem to indicate that they expected him to try to pull the ball, no matter where it was. Alcides ended up striking out.

Cut to the fifth inning when Jarrod Dyson took off for second base: the Mariners had their second baseman cover second. Once again it would seem to indicate Seattle thought Escobar would pull the ball; especially since it was an 88 MPH changeup. But Esky skillfully served an off-speed pitch to the right side of the field. So is Alcides a better hitter with a runner in motion? Does it encourage him to keep the ball low and hit it to the opposite field?

I’ll try asking around tomorrow and see if I’m way off base. And if I am, maybe Escobar can hit a ball through the right side.

• Danny Duffy was pulled in the fourth inning after throwing 91 pitches. Once again, Felix Hernandez probably changed the Royals strategy. In the fourth, Danny gave up a two-out double, a run-scoring triple and walked the next guy. When the other team has an ace on the mound, you can’t afford to fall too far behind. Ned Yost pulled the trigger and brought in Will Smith.

• Eric Hosmer said Will Smith is sneaky fast, which basically means Smith doesn’t look like he’s throwing that hard, but stand in the box and the ball gets on you faster than you thought possible. Try to get the bat head out in front to catch the fastball and if Smith throws his slider, you’ll take an ugly, off-balance hack.

• In the clubhouse after the game was Will was asked if he could have pitched the ninth inning and he said yes, but the Royals already have a guy who’d pretty good at pitching ninth innings. Greg Holland got his 37th save and the only Mariner who got a hit was Brad Miller. Miller was smart: he swung at the first pitch he saw and singled on a 98 MPH fastball. Let Holland get that first fastball in for a strike and you’re going to have to deal with a nasty slider or splitter.

I was wrong on Maxwell

In yesterday’s post I said Justin should have slid into first base when a bad throw pulled Toronto’s Adam Lind off the bag. Lind had to jump to catch the ball and then spun around to tag Maxwell. Runners can react to the first baseman coming off the bag by sliding to avoid a tag—but apparently only slow runners have that option.

First base coach Rusty Kuntz told me Maxwell was too close to the bag to suddenly slide. A slower runner with shorter strides might pull it off, but not a guy who is six foot five and one stride from the bag.

Stealing Getz

Last Saturday the Royals lost to the Blue Jays 4-2. The game ended when Chris Getz attempted to steal second base and was thrown out by catcher J.P. Arencibia. Monday morning I heard more about what went into the decision to have Getz steal.

The count was 2-2 and Emilio Bonifacio was at the plate. Toronto closer Casey Janssen had also gone 2-2 on Jarrod Dyson and thrown a cutter. Alex Gordon went 2-2 as well and got a slider. The odds seemed decent that Bonifacio would see some kind of off-speed pitch from Janssen in his 2-2 count. The catcher, Arencibia, had been erratic when throwing the ball down to second base and, on top of everything else—the odds of getting three hits in an inning off a closer aren’t good.

As of Monday morning, Janssen has made 48 appearances this season and given up three hits or more only three times. For comparison’s sake, Kansas City closer Greg Holland has made 54 appearances and given up three hits or more just one time. (Make that 55 appearances after Monday.)Back to Saturday’s game: in the few seconds between pitches in which the decision had to be made, the odds of tying the game by stealing a base and getting a two-out hit seemed better than hoping for two more two-out hits, especially if the pitcher threw a breaking pitch to a catcher who was missing second base with his throws.

Unfortunately, Janssen threw a 2-2 fastball and Arencibia made an accurate throw. A manager can’t be right every time; all he can do is look at the options and select the one with the best chance of success. A move that works 85 percent of the time still fails 15 percent of the time. The Royals took what they thought was their best shot and it didn’t work out.

(And if it makes anyone feel better, Chris Getz appeared to be safe, but the umpire missed the call.)

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