On Sept. 5 the Royals were set to face the Detroit Tigers and their starting pitcher, Anibal Sanchez.
But five pitches into the game Whit Merrifield hit a rocket up the middle and the ball hit Sanchez in the leg. Sanchez then picked up the ball and fired it past the Tigers’ first baseman, down into the right-field corner. Merrifield wound up on second base and Sanchez could not continue. He limped off the field, done for the night.
After just five pitches the Tigers lost their starting pitcher and if you were watching the game (like I was) and thought losing Sanchez was an advantage for the Royals (like I did), we were both wrong.
Big-league hitters would rather face established big-league pitchers
Ask a big-league hitter the toughest pitcher he ever faced and he might say any pitcher he’s never faced before.
Hitters will tell you watching video and reading scouting reports help, but you don’t know for sure what a pitcher can do until you stand in the box and see for yourself.
And that means a hitter can give away an at-bat while he’s learning about the pitcher.
When big-league hitters face established big-league pitchers, they have a very good idea of what they’ll see and how the pitcher will try to get them out. Then it becomes a game of execution: will the pitcher make a mistake and, if he does, will the hitter take advantage of that mistake?
Face a pitcher without much track record and the hitter has unanswered questions:
▪ How does the pitcher like to start an at-bat?
▪ If he falls behind in the count, does the pitcher throw a fastball or is he willing to throw a 2-0 slider?
▪ What’s the pitcher do with runners in scoring position?
▪ What’s the pitcher throw once he has the hitter in a two-strike count?
Face a pitcher often enough and big-league hitters will figure him out, but in the meantime hitters might be giving away at-bats and losing games.
From Anibal Sanchez to Myles Jaye
Back on Sept. 5, the Royals were ready for Anibal Sanchez. Eight of the Kansas City hitters in the lineup that night had at least 20 plate appearances against Sanchez and three of those eight had 40 plate appearances against him. That night the Royals lineup had a collective .292 batting average against Sanchez.
But five pitches into the game Sanchez was out of the game and the Royals were facing someone named Myles Jaye, a pitcher with 3 1/3 innings in the big leagues, a pitcher they’d never seen before.
Jaye pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings and the Royals lost the game 13-2.
Lack of familiarity can have an effect
Obviously not every rookie pitcher dominates and not every veteran pitcher gets lit up, but in a game that has become so dependent on information, lack of familiarity has an effect.
It’s one reason a pitcher like Eric Skoglund can have a great game the first time he pitches in the big leagues (no runs in 6 1/3 innings) and scuffle after that (four appearances and an 18.78 ERA). That first appearance gave teams a lot of information about Skoglund and they put it to good use.
Over the weekend I had two lengthy conversations with Brandon Moss, a guy who thinks about hitting a lot … and I mean a lot … and he mentioned September call-ups and their effect on playoff races.
One team is out of it and putting rookies on the mound to see what they can do, while the other team is desperately trying to win every game they can. And the desperate team is giving away at-bats while they figure out what the rookie pitcher has and what he likes to do with it.
And that’s how September call-ups affect the playoff race.