During last Sunday’s game against the Houston Astros, left-handed hitter Josh Reddick came to the plate and the Royals put on a left-handed shift; three infielders on the right side, one infielder on the left side.
Clearly, the Royals wanted Reddick to pull the ball.
But the Royals pitched Reddick on the outer half of the plate. Reddick singled when he poked a 94 mph fastball through the nearly deserted left side of the infield. Throwing fastballs away made it easier for Reddick to hit the ball to the opposite field.
If you want a hitter to pull the ball, why pitch him hard away?
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Was Reddick one of those hitters who pulled the ball no matter where it was located?
When I have a baseball question and don’t know the answer I have perfected a scientific method for getting at the truth; I go ask Rusty Kuntz.
Players change, so pay attention
Over the course of his career Reddick has hit the ball to the opposite field about 16 percent of the time. But it’s a mistake to assume those odds remain constant in every at bat.
According to Rusty, Reddick was one of those hitters who had a tendency to pull the ball no matter where it was located: “But that’s who he was, not who he is now.”
In the first game of the Houston series the Royals pitched Reddick on the inner part of the plate and he lined out and singled to right field. Pitching him in didn’t work, so in Reddick’s third at-bat, Peter Moylan pitched him away and struck Reddick out.
On Saturday when Reddick pinch-hit, Mike Minor knocked him on his backside with a fastball up and in, then got Reddick to strike out on a fastball away.
So when Reddick came to the plate on Sunday he had yet to hit the ball to the opposite field against the Royals. So the Royals put on a left-handed shift and pitched Reddick away. But this time Reddick went with the pitch and beat the shift.
His overall numbers might say Reddick was a good bet to pull the ball, but as Rusty said: “You always have to trust your eyes.”
The chicken wing vs. elbow down
So what do your eyes look for?
Rusty said he watches a hitter’s front elbow. If it comes up (also known as a “chicken wing”) the hitter’s looping his swing and will tend to hit fly balls to the opposite field. If the front elbow stays down the hitter is staying on top of the ball and will tend to hit ground balls to the pull side of the field.
The numbers tells you what’s happened in the past; your eyes tell you what’s happening right now.
You can’t just look at Josh Reddick’s numbers and say 84 percent of the time he’ll hit the ball up the middle or to right field and bunch the defenders in those areas; other information is required.
How did you pitch Reddick last time? How did he react? Is his front elbow coming up or staying down? If he fouls the ball off, where does it go?
This is why you a computer can’t manage a game; a human needs to be there watching and reacting to what he sees.
After all, it’s a game of adjustments.