Everybody in baseball is looking for patterns: if you spot one, you can use it to your advantage. Does the pitcher hold his glove one way when delivering the ball home, another way when attempting a pickoff? If so, steal when the pitcher signals that hes going home. Does the opposing manager like to hit and run in a 2-1 count? If so, pitch out when you reach that count and throw out the base runner.
By LEE JUDGE
The Kansas City Star
Sometimes youre trying to hide a pattern, sometimes you want the opposition to know exactly what youre doing you can use that in your favor.
James Shields struck out 10 hitters, Wade Davis struck out two; all 12 strikeouts came on off-speed pitches. Look it up on MLB.com (assuming they got it right) and you see every strikeout came on a changeup or cutter. When hitters know that a pitcher has something nasty they can throw with two strikes like a James Shields changeup they might swing earlier in the count. They dont want to get to two strikes, they know whats waiting. Thats how a pitcher gets through seven innings on only 98 pitches while striking out 10. Shields picked up his 13th win, lowered his ERA to 3.15 and powered his team to its 85th victory.
Shields made one mistake and gave up a home run to Gordon Beckham in the sixth inning. By that time the Royals had put six runs of their own. They got to Chris Sale early and never looked back. The Royals beat the White Sox, 6-1.
• James Shields got his 100th win and Jamey Carroll got his 1,000th hit. The longer Im around baseball the more impressed I am by anyone who sticks around long enough to reach a milestone. You see so many guys come and go; they get their big-league cup of coffee andpooftheyre gone. Its easy to dismiss guys without stellar numbers, but anyone who gets 10 years in the big leagues had a hell of a baseball career.
• Jamey Carroll has been around for 12 years. A while back I was talking with former Royals manager John Wathan about Carroll and wondered about Jameys ability to stick in the big leagues. John said: "Have you seen him play?"
Carrolls 1,000th hit was a perfect example of what John meant: Carroll came out of the box like his hair was on fire. Guys who put up monster numbers can afford to watch their hits or coast down the first-base line on groundouts. Players like Jamey Carroll dont do that; they survive by trying to do everything right.
Heres yet another example; Jamey told me it was easy to get lazy on what looks like a routine fly ball to the outfieldbut what if the outfielder drops the ball? Stand there and spectate and youll be out of position. Even though the odds are miniscule that a big-league outfielder will drop a pop fly, it still happens. Thats why Carroll gets in the right cutoff position just in case something bad happenshell be in the right spot.
• Go back to that spotting-a-pattern thing for a minute: Emilio Bonifacio stole second base in the first inning. Chris Sale had been pitching out of a slide step, but when Emilio took off for second base, Sale used a full leg kick. It was a 1-1 count and also an off-speed pitch. So either the Royals got lucky and stole on just the right pitch, or maybe they have something on Sale that told them to go.
• In the third inning Billy Butler got doubled off first base when Gordon Beckham made a difficult catch of a Salvador Perez pop fly. Billy was too far away from first base to make it back after the Beckham catch. Base runners in Billys situation are caught between a rock and a hard place: the ball might fallget too far off and you get doubled off, take too short a lead and, if the ball falls, they pick it up and force you at the next base.
So what do you do?
Better too short a lead than too long a lead. If Beckham had not made the catch, picked the ball up and forced Butler at second, thats one out. Billy got too far off and when the ball was caught that meant Chicago would get two outs. Its the lesser of two evils, but better one out than two.
• Back to Jamey Carrolls 1,000 hit: he was on second base when Alcides Escobar lined out to short. Carroll was, once again, doing the right thinghe was headed back to second base. The other night Mike Moustakas got doubled off in the same situation because he was headed for third. Doing a small thing right got the Royals a big thingan extra run. Emilio Bonifacio hit a two-out single and Jamey scored.
• On numerous occasions Ive written that fans should watch the outfielder, not the fly ball; the outfielders actions will tell you everything you need to knowexcept in the sixth inning of this game. Gordon Beckham had just homered and it looked like Alexei Ramirez was going to make it back-to-back bombs. According to MLB.com, Ramirez hit a 1-1 cutter to left and Alex Gordon raced back to the wall.
Thats when Gordon deked everyone in the stadium.
Outfielders are taught to get to the wall as quickly as possible, locate it with an outstretched hand or glove, position themselves and then make their leap. Gordon has said robbing a home run is his dream play and it looked like he was getting in position to rob this oneexcept the ball didnt carry that far.
Alex thought the ball was crushed and just put his head down and ran. Once he got to the wall, he climbed it. Gordons actions told everyoneincluding the guy who sets off the fireworksthat this ball was over the fence. Once Gordon realized it wasnt, he dropped off the fence and made a rather routine catch on the warning track.
Ned and the manager tree
Back when everyone was saying Mike Moustakas needed to be replaced, Ned Yost caused a stir by saying sure; hed replace Moose by going to the third-base man tree and picking a new one. Some people got upset, but Ned had a point: its easy to fire, bench or demote someonebut you still have to replace them with somebody.
The Royals just won their 85th ballgame and Dayton Moore has said he wants Ned back. Ned has said he wants to come back, so youd think its just a matter of them working out the details.
I was recently asked what I thought about Neds return and I said if the Royals had a better alternative available, they should consider it and if they dont, then its Ned. The same thing is true of every player, coach and front-office guy: its not enough to get rid of peoplethats the easy part. If you get rid of someone, you need to have a better alternative.
Here are couple moments from Monday nights game that I didnt get to in the post-game notes:
*Yordano Ventura (who is starting tonights game) was throwing 100 miles an hour and you could see Kendrys Morales get ready early. When a hitter gets ready early you can see him take his stride and move his hands back into hitting position earlier than he normally does. You probably want to throw that hitter off-speed stuffhes gearing up for a fastball; you might not want to give it to him.
*In the top of the third inning Jarrod Dyson walked and Alcides Escobar swung at the first pitch he saw. Esky hit into an inning-ending double play with one of the fastest guys in the league on first base. Ive got no idea what the game plan was there, but you might wonder if it would have been a good idea to give Dyson a chance to steal second before Escobar swung the bat.
*It looked like the Royals put on a safety squeeze at one point; a play where the batter puts a bunt down and the runner breaks for home if he thinks the bunt is good enough. In the suicide squeeze the runner takes off before the bunt and the hitter has to get the bunt down or at least foul the ball off, otherwise the runner will be out at the plate.
Lots of baseball people will tell you the safety squeeze puts more pressure on the players; the bunt has to be better than in the suicide and runner has to decide if the bunts good enough for him to score. If the safety squeeze works a manager can take credit for calling it; if it fails, the manager can blame execution. If the manager calls for a suicide squeeze hell get the blame if something goes wrong.
Pitch selection and the average pitcher
(This concept comes directly from college baseball coach Ron Polks book, but I found it helpful in understanding pitch selection and the mistakes hitters make.)
Lets say youre facing a pitcher whos considered average. Generally speaking, if this hypothetical pitcher throws five pitches, one will be great, one will be bad and three will be averageafter all, thats why hes considered an average pitcher.
If this pitcher starts an at-bat and manages to throw a great pitch, the hitter should take it. Odds are, the hitter is now going to see one bad pitch and three average ones if he stays at the plate for five pitches. In other words, its a mistake to swing at a pitchers pitch early in the count when the pitcher isnt all that great. Some very good hitters will tell you they didnt make a living hitting good pitchesthey made a living hitting mistakes. Being impatient and not hanging around long enough to see a mistake is a bad approach.
But a hitters approach might change if he was facing a very good pitcherthink top of the line guys, closers or starters like Justin Verlander, Yu Darvish or Felix Hernandezbecause a very good pitcher might throw three excellent pitches, one bad pitch and one average pitch during a five-pitch at-bat. In that case a hitter is more inclined to tee off on the first hittable pitch he sees; dont wait around for the pitcher to make another mistake, this guy probably wont make two mistakes in one at-bat.
So its not just the pitch; who threw it also matters. A fastball on the black away might be the best pitch a hitter is likely to see from an ace, but a bad pitch to go after if the guy on the mound is a bottom of the rotation type. .
So when you see a Royals hitter walk to the plate, ask yourself how good the pitcher is. If hes terrific, the hitter may have no choice but to swing at something marginal early in the count. If its a pitcher thats struggling, the hitter can be more selective. But no matter who is on the mound, pitchers still make mistakes: if you get onehit it.