As anyone who spends any time out at Kauffman Stadium can tell you, if Royals coach Rusty Kuntz is on the field I’m usually talking to him. Rusty knows a lot of baseball and he likes to impart that wisdom by asking questions.
Here are some more of the questions has Rusty asked me; it’s yet another chance to test your baseball knowledge.
Q. How can you tell when Eric Hosmer is about to get an off-speed pitch?
A. I might have mentioned this before, but it’s worth repeating: if a left-handed hitter like Hosmer is about to get an off-speed pitch, you can see Rusty back up — and that takes some explaining.
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Middle infielders can see the catcher’s signs and that helps them get a quick first step in the right direction; if the upcoming pitch is off-speed the hitter will probably hit it to the pull side of the field. Corner infielders can’t see the catcher’s signs so the middle infielders let the corner guys know when an off-speed pitch is coming by making a hissing sound. The middle infielders make the sound as the pitcher starts his windup, so even though the base coaches can hear the hiss it comes too late to pass that information along to the hitter.
But not too late for Rusty to start backing up; if left-handed Eric Hosmer is getting an off-speed pitch, a first base coach can back up to avoid getting smoked by a line drive pulled into foul territory.
Q. Why do infielders tag sliding runners high on the leg?
A. In theory it’s better to put the glove on the bag and let a sliding runner tag himself out; the umpire will see the glove between the foot and the bag and have an easy call. In reality putting the glove between the bag and the runner’s foot is a good way to get spiked, so tags are often made above the foot on the shin or thigh. It’s not as efficient, but you don’t need stitches afterward.
Q. When is an infielder likely to drop a knee?
A. When making a tag on a sliding runner, some infielders will drop their knee into the base path, blocking the runner’s path to the bag. A smart infielder is more likely to do this when a fly guy is running the bases.
Fly guys are the smaller middle infielders or in some cases, outfielders (small guys who can run fast). Drop a knee on a 245-pound catcher and you’re likely to get hurt. And third basemen are more likely to drop a knee than middle infielders because third basemen tend to be bigger themselves.
Q. Why are the top five teams in staff ERA in the National League?
A. In the National League pitchers hit and a pitcher in the 9-hole can also screw up the at-bats of the 8-hole hitter. Depending on the situation, an 8-hole hitter might have to chase marginal pitches with the pitcher on deck. The 8-hole hitter might be a better hitter on a bad pitch than the pitcher is on a good one.
And 8-hole hitters don’t always want to walk even when they have the chance; taking a walk with a runner in scoring position and leaving things up to the pitcher might make your numbers look better, but hurt your team. So pitchers can throw marginal pitches and still get the 8-hole hitter to swing. Many people considering hitting eighth in the National League one of the toughest jobs in baseball.
So if you’re an NL pitcher you can have two relatively easy outs at the bottom of the batting order.
Q. How can a home run kill a rally?
A. After a home run the bases are empty so the pitcher doesn’t have to pitch out of the stretch or slide step and the defense doesn’t have to pinch the middle infielders toward second base to be ready for a steal attempt. A home run allows the defense to reset and start over.
Q. Why doesn’t anyone steal 100 bases in a season anymore?
A. When base runners were swiping 100 bases pitchers were often using high leg kicks and taking as long as 1.8 seconds to deliver the ball to home plate. You no longer see pitchers kick their front leg higher than their head and, if they use a slide step, some pitchers can get the ball to home plate in as little as 1.1 seconds.
Q. When should you steal third base?
A. Most of the time you do it with one out; with nobody out you have three at bats to get a runner in from second base, with two outs a runner on second will be going on contact and score on most base hits.
But if you’re going to steal third base with one out you need to do it early in the count. The advantage to being on third base with one out is that the hitter does not have to get a hit to score the runner; a ball in play might do the trick. So the runner needs to take off before the hitter has two strikes because in a two-strike count the hitter can no longer take a pitch to let the runner steal.
And if you steal third base while the man at the plate is making an out, you lose an advantage; you’re on third base, but there are two outs — the goal is to get there with one out.
Q. If you’re going to steal a base, what should you do right before you go?
A. Nuthin’. Last season Raul Mondesi was about to steal third base and did a lot of bobbing around on the previous pitch. That alerted the other team that something was up; the pitcher did an inside move on the next pitch and picked Mondesi off. So if you plan on swiping a bag, be cool.
Q. If you ever get to throw out the first pitch, where should you aim the ball?
A. This one has a story; there aren’t a lot of ballplayers or baseball coaches in Switzerland so when the Embrach Mustangs wanted to learn baseball they looked at “Judging the Royals.” They weren’t learning baseball from me; they were learning baseball from the Kansas City Royals coaches and players who talk to me.
Two of the Swiss players came to Kansas City and got to throw out the first pitch at a Royals game. I introduced them to Rusty and he immediately went into teaching mode. He gave them some advice: aim the ball right above the catcher’s head. People who throw out the first pitch are nervous and being nervous makes you tight and being tight makes you short-arm the throw and short-arming the throw makes it bounce in front of the plate.
So aim the ball above the catcher’s head and the throw should be on line. And guess what?
Rusty was right.
OK; time’s up, pencils down — how did you do?