On Sunday night, the Angels and Royals were in the bottom of the 10th inning of a tie ballgame. There were two outs and runners on first and second base. The Angels had a base to work with; pushing another runner into scoring position would make no difference because if the first run scored, the game would be over — the second run wouldn’t matter.
The man at the plate was Kendrys Morales, and as I write this, Kendrys is third in the league when it comes to driving in runs.
The man on deck — Omar Infante — had 33 RBIs, 50 fewer than Morales. Morales’ batting average was also 73 points higher than Infante’s and Morales also gets on base more often and hits for more power. And Infante’s season average — .216 — gets even worse when he faces right-handed pitchers, .211.
The Royals were out of position players and couldn’t pinch hit for Omar, so when an Angels coach visited the mound to talk to his pitcher — Trevor Gott — I assumed that the conversation was about pitching around Morales to get to Infante. Why pitch to one of the better hitters in the Royals lineup when you had the guy with the second-worst average on the team standing on deck?
Either I assumed wrong or Trevor Gott did a bad job of executing the game plan.
How walking batters helps pitchers succeed
Before I started covering big-league baseball I pretty much assumed all walks were bad with the possible exception of the occasional intentional walk. After five years of covering big-league baseball I’ve come to understand just how often smart pitchers work around hitters and how a well-timed walk can help a pitcher succeed.
Sandy Koufax has said the rulebook requires pitchers to get 27 hitters out, but the rule book doesn’t say which ones you have to get.
On May 30, 2014, the Royals beat the Toronto Blue Jays and as they walked off the field a TV announcer said the Royals were victorious despite walking seven batters. By this time I’d learned how often big-league pitchers use the walk to their advantage, so it raised a logical question: did the Royals win despite walking seven Blue Jays or because they walked seven Blue Jays?
Take a look at who the Royals pitchers walked that day:
Two walks were issued to Jose Bautista (and one of the times he didn’t walk, Bautista homered) and three walks were issued to Edwin Encarnacion, a power hitter on a hot streak. The Royals won because they decided to make someone other than Bautista and Encarnacion beat them.
All walks are not bad for the pitcher or good for the hitter; it’s far more complicated than that. The Royals beat the Blue Jays because they walked the right batters at the right times.
WHIP only tells part of the story
In baseball statistics, walks plus hits per inning pitched (WHIP) is a sabermetric measurement of the number of base runners a pitcher has allowed per inning pitched. Since WHIP reflects a pitcher’s propensity for allowing batters to reach base, a lower WHIP indicates better performance.
So if a well-timed walk can help a pitcher, does a lower WHIP always indicate a better performance?
Royals pitcher Casey Coleman once told me that Greg Maddux told him that Maddux started doing better against Barry Bonds’ teams when he quit pitching to Barry Bonds.
I’ve seen Wade Davis walk Miguel Cabrera with the bases loaded. When I asked about it afterwards — was he working around Cabrera? — Wade smiled and said giving up one run was better than giving up four. Wade has a three-run lead at the time and after walking Cabrera it was still a two-run lead and he could go after someone else.
So back to the original question
Should Trevor Gott have walked Kendrys Morales to get to Omar Infante?
I’d not only say yeah, I’d say heck yeah. Sandy Koufax had it right; you need to get three outs an inning, but nobody says which three guys you have to get out. Pick a couple guys you don’t want to let beat you and avoid pitching to them when you can. When you face the Royals, Kendrys Morales is one of the guys you don’t want to let beat you.
And don’t worry about your WHIP.
Sorry, the lifeboats are full
This past Sunday morning I agreed to show up at Gameroom Concepts and attend a Salvador Perez autograph session; the session was scheduled to start at 11 a.m. and end at noon. Star employees Wendy Gimmarro, Allison Dollar and Kristin Griffin were there to help handle the crowd.
When I got there at 10 a.m., the line of people who wanted to meet Sal was wrapped around the building. Somewhere along the way the Kansas City Royals have turned into the Beatles and people can’t get enough of them.
Not long ago, visiting teams would have more fans there for batting practice than the Royals did. Now, when a familiar face emerges from the dugout, people scream like 13-year-old girls at a One Direction concert. Mike Moustakas is greeted with “Moose” calls. Someday soon Eric Hosmer is going to get a pair of underwear thrown at him.
So it wasn’t much of a surprise that people showed up in droves to meet Salvador Perez; he’s one of the most popular Royals players.
When the doors opened at 11 a.m. we asked the first people in line how long they’d been waiting and found out they got in line at midnight the night before. And if you’re bad at math — I had to use a calculator on this one — that’s 11 hours before the doors opened. People had been showing up throughout the night and early in the morning to get in line; they wanted to meet Salvador Perez that much.
One couple had brought along a toddler in a stroller; they’d been in line since 7 a.m. Kristin Griffin — my favorite redhead and one of the funniest people I know — cracked up the crowd when she said: “Oh, look, they’ve been in line so long they had a baby.”
When you put on an event like this you never know how many people are going to show up, but it didn’t take long to figure out most of the people in line we’re not going to get an autograph or meet Sal: he had a game to go to and had to leave at noon. So at some point, the line had to be cut off. That’s what made me think of the Titanic and the lifeboats; someone had to step up and say, “You’re not making it, the lifeboats are full.”
And that’s what ballplayers face every day; they can only sign so many autographs. If they sign 12, the 13th person feels cheated — if they sign 13, it’s the 14th person who feels like they got a raw deal.
Salvador Perez was gracious and funny and posed for picture after picture, but eventually he had to leave. So many people wanted to meet him that a second crowd had gathered around a side door, hoping he’d leave by that exit. Eventually, they brought his car around the back of the building and Sal snuck out a back way. Once people realized it was Salvy’s car, they chased it down the street.
The point of all this is to make readers realize that most ballplayers do what they can for fans, but there’s no way they can sign autographs for every fan that wants one.
At some point the lifeboats are full.