Judging the Royals

Lee Judge breaks down the Royals, game by game.

A wild finish

04/07/2013 6:46 PM

05/20/2014 10:42 AM

The Royals came into the ninth inning with a comfortable five-run lead and still almost blew it. They managed to hang on and beat the Phillies 9-8.

With the Royals up by five, manager Ned Yost brought in J.C. Gutierrez to close out the game. J.C. started the inning with a walk — never a good sign. J.C. got a strikeout for the first out but then gave up a single. Now the Phillies had a runner on second base, and Royals catcher Salvador Perez went to the mound to make sure everyone was using the same sign system.

With a runner on second base, the signs get more complicated to make sure the runner doesn’t pass the catcher’s signs along to the hitter. Base-runners will have some kind of prearranged signal. (For instance, if I look back at the shortstop once, it’s a fastball. If I look back two times, it’s an off-speed pitch.) The catcher will give multiple signs to keep that from happening.

Second baseman Chris Getz joined the conference to make sure he was using the same set of signs. Middle infielders also can see the catcher’s signs and pass them along to the corner infielders. It helps the infielders to know if the pitch will be a fastball or off-speed. It changes which way they move as the pitch is delivered. (If a hitter is getting an off-speed pitch, he is more likely to pull it.)

About the same time, Royals outfield coach Rusty Kuntz could be seen tapping the top of his head. That’s the signal for “hit the cutoff man.” Rusty didn’t want an outfielder to make a throw home to prevent a meaningless run. He wanted the outfielders to hit the cutoff man and keep the double play in order.

Gutierrez simplified the situation by giving up a home run to Jimmy Rollins. Three runs were in, and the Royals now led by two runs. It was now a save situation, and Yost went to Greg Holland, his closer. Greg had blown a save Saturday night, but in 2011 he had an ERA of 1.80, and in 2012 his ERA was 2.96. If you want to know why Holland got the ball, I’m guessing it was because of his history.

Holland got an out and then gave up two singles. Yost then went to Kelvin Herrera, which was interesting. Herrera is considered a closer in waiting. He’s got great stuff. Kelvin can hit 100 mph on the radar gun and also has a devastating changeup. That’s a nice combination to throw at hitters late in the game.

So why go to Herrera? We may have seen a new closer emerge. I don’t know. I didn’t get to ask Ned, since I was sitting on my couch. Or we might have seen a manager go to the guy who’s hot, and no long-term change is being considered.

Anyway, Kelvin came in and threw pinch-hitter Lance Nix a first-pitch changeup. That was interesting because pinch-hitter Kevin Frandsen won the game Saturday night when Holland threw him a first-pitch fastball. It seems as though Salvador Perez learned something from that and decided to keep Nix from teeing off on an 0-0 heater.

Herrera got Nix to two strikes on changeups, but then went fastball down in the zone, and Nix singled. A runner scored, and a wild pitch later, the tying run was on third, the winning run was on second and catcher Erik Kratz was at the plate. A Royals meltdown seemed possible.

Here are the pitches Kelvin Herrera threw Kratz to win the game:

1.) 84-mph changeup: foul

2.) 96-mph 2-Seam fastball: called strike

3.) 85-mph changeup: ball

4.) 84-mph changeup: foul

5.) 96-mph two-seam fastball: foul

6.) 96-mph four-seam fastball: foul

7.) 86-mph changeup: foul

8.) 97-mph four-seam fastball: foul

9.) 84-mph changeup: swinging strike

The interesting thing about the last pitch was that Perez called for it then gave a quick shake of his head. When a catcher does that, he’s asking the pitcher to shake

his

head — to pretend he doesn’t want to throw the pitch that the catcher just called. It’s a mind game back there behind the plate, and Kratz had just fouled off a 97-mph fastball. When a hitter barely misses a pitch, it’s common to change speeds. So Salvy may have figured Kratz was thinking the changeup was the most logical pitch. By asking Kelvin to pretend to shake him off, Perez was putting doubt in Kratz’s mind.

If so, it worked. Kratz was out in front of the changeup, struck out, and the Royals won the game.

Shields’ start

James Shields gave up four runs in the first inning, which is bad. But then he made some kind of adjustment and threw five scoreless innings, which is very good. I’ve been told a starting pitcher might walk out to the mound with his best stuff six times a year. I’ve also been told a starting pitcher might suck six times a year. What matters is how they handle the other 20 or so starts, the ones in which they scuffle a bit.

Shields struggled but then gave his team a chance to win. It’s not great that he struggled, but it’s encouraging that Shields found a way to keep the Royals in the game.

In the third inning, Salvy saves the game

With Chase Utley on first base, Ryan Howard hit the ball to Billy Butler. The Royals were in a left-handed power hitter’s shift that had Mike Moustakas positioned at short. Utley advanced to second base on Howard’s groundout and briefly considered continuing on to third. Nobody was near the bag.

Give credit to Salvador Perez. He hustled down the line, covered third and made sure Utley didn’t advance. That ended up saving a run when Michael Young singled. Had Utley been on third, he would have scored easily. But because he was at second, Utley had to hold up and never crossed home plate.

People talk about small stuff being small, but small stuff often turns into big stuff — like winning ball games.

Questions and answers

Readers have asked me a few questions. Here are the responses.

Question:

How often do teams change signs?

Answer:

Teams seem to be much more concerned about their own players missing signs than opposition players stealing them. When one of their players goes to another team, they may change signs or indicators — indicators are the sign given that means the next signs matter. But if a guy didn’t know your signs when he was on your team, you don’t worry that he’ll give away the signs know that he’s on another team.

Q:

Do pickoffs count in determining pitch counts?

A:

No.

Q:

Why the change in website format?

A:

We got rid of the Polk scoring system because it took a lot of time to maintain and few readers looked at it. People are far more interested in the game notes, so we’re concentrating my efforts in that direction. The Star also decided that all its websites should have a uniform appearance (yes, we also deal with bureaucrats here at The Star), and we also put up a paywall. As it turns out, giving away our product is not a great business model.

We hope readers eventually find their way back to Judging the Royals. As far as I know, it’s the only website that has someone talking to the coaches and players on a regular basis. But time will tell. If you like this website, spread the word.

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