Was it Detroit’s pitching or Kansas City’s hitting?

07/21/2013 5:35 PM

07/21/2013 5:35 PM

Saturday night, after the Royals beat the Tigers 6-5, I rode a Kauffman Stadium elevator with a guy from Detroit. He complained that the Tigers had a habit of not hitting after the seventh inning. I thought: "Just about the time they run into the two best relievers in the other’s team bullpen; the set-up man and closer—what a coincidence."

When you don’t hit, is it you or the pitcher you faced?

After Sunday’s 4-1 loss to the Tigers, Ned Yost thought it was the pitcher they faced; Doug Fister. According to Yost, Fister had a good two-seamer with lots of run, a slow curve that still had bite and pitched ahead in the count. Whatever it was, Fister only gave up one run; a second-inning Miguel Tejada bomb.

The Royals didn’t manage a sweep against Detroit, but Yost said the consolation prize was winning the series—win enough series and you’re in good shape. But they’ll need to win three out of four this week to get that done against Baltimore; the Orioles start a four game series here on Monday.

Game notes

*James Shields started the game with two strikeouts and I wondered if he was going to avoid having a rough first inning—but then he threw a 1-1 pitch to Miguel Cabrera. It was a fastball in, off the plate

,

but Cabrera still managed to get the bat head to the ball by pulling his hands in close to his body. A pitch that Ned Yost said was five inches inside got hit out of the park. It’s hard to get the barrel of the bat to that pitch, hard to keep it fair, harder still to hit it over the left-field wall. This Cabrera guy may have a future in baseball.

*The righty-lefty matchup stuff doesn’t always apply: righties came into the game hitting .314 off the right-handed Fister, lefties, .241.

*In the second inning Jhonny Peralta hit a cue shot back at the mound: it started to the right side of the field, hit once and shot back to the left side. By that time Alcides Escobar was out of position; he had started to his left. But Miguel Tejada, playing second base, was going to his right and made a nice play on the ball to get Peralta.

Miggy also homered, walked, started a nice double play and all-in-all had a very good game. If you’re wondering if Tejada is the answer at second base, I’m under the impression that the Royals don’t consider Miggy—who’s 39—an everyday player at this stage of his career. Play him three days in a row and his performance will drop off—but—I’ve also heard some people disagree.

*Dyson singled with two outs in the second inning and it was only a matter of time before he tried to steal second. If he got thrown out, Alex Gordon would lead off the third, if Dyson was safe Gordon would get an at-bat with a runner in scoring position. Fister was using a slide step to prevent Dyson from stealing, but it didn’t matter: Detroit catcher Brayan Pena’s throws tend to sail toward the right field side of second base and everybody who’s played with him knows it. Dyson took off and stole the base, but Gordon struck out to end the inning.

*Salvador Perez got hit by a pitch—an 88 MPH two-seamer—and it appeared Fister came off the mound to say something to Salvy. If he was apologizing, there are old-school ballplayers that hate that. Even if you hit a guy accidentally, use it: apologize and you’re telling them you didn’t mean to do it and won’t do it again. Say nothing and the hitter might wonder if you plan on coming back inside. Pitchers can use that doubt to get people out.

*Jarrod Dyson made a catch of a Miguel Cabrera drive to the left-center gap and showed no fear of the wall; banging into it immediately after making the catch. You can tell guys who fear the wall because they slow up when they hit the track and look very tentative about making the catch. James Shields tipped his cap and even Cabrera clapped; they know that catch takes guts and some outfielders won’t attempt it.

*Bad base running in the fourth: Alcides Escobar was on first, Jarrod Dyson was at the plate and the count was 3-2. Esky was put in motion, Dyson hit the ball to second baseman Ramon Santiago and Alcides seemed to assume he’d be safe and Santiago would take the out at first—he didn’t.

When Santiago threw the ball to shortstop Jhonny Peralta, Escobar made no attempt to slide or disrupt the double play. Take out Peralta, Dyson is safe, steals second and Alex Gordon gets an at-bat with a runner in scoring position.

*In the fifth inning Fister got two outs on four pitches and Billy Butler came to the plate. There’s a school of thought that Billy should take at least one strike in that situation so his starter—James Shields—wasn’t right back on the mound. Billy didn’t: he took ball one, then grounded out to third. To be fair, the other school of thought goes this way: you don’t want your number three hitter giving away an at-bat.

A reader’s comment

Lee, watching the game last night (Saturday’s game), I figured you would make mention of the bad read Cain got on Lough's long single into right-center last night. Cain got a bad read and did not score on the hit from second. That's not the first time this year that he has seemingly fallen asleep on the base paths. He ended up scoring later, but the fact is Moose (who got a very good read on the hit), was on his way to third and had to scramble back to second when he looked up and saw that Cain had stopped at third. Had Cain scored and Moose been on second, it is possible Moose would have scored on the play later in the inning that Cain ended up scoring. That mis-read probably cost us a run.

My response

I saw the play you mentioned, but didn’t want to bury anyone without talking to the people involved. Mike Moustakas did run up Lorenzo Cain’s back and Moose looked like he was heading for third, but when different base runners have different angles on the ball, they get different reads. One guy can tell the ball is down, the other guy isn’t so sure.

I wanted to ask Lorenzo about it last night, but never saw him in the clubhouse afterwards. Third-base coach Eddie Rodriguez is another guy whose point of view would be worth knowing, but coaches generally don’t appear in the clubhouse unless you ask to see them and I figured this one could wait until Sunday morning.

But Sunday morning they were playing a Ban Johnson All-Star game on the field, so none of the players and coaches made their usual early appearances and I didn’t get to talk to anybody. If I ever get some inside information on this one, I’ll post it.

Another reader’s comment

I don't understand the logic of Yost pulling a reliever who's getting outs automatically going through 3 relief pitchers to get to Holland. Seems like the odds of 3 pitchers being hot are lower than the chance of winning with one who's throwing well.

Another response

The art of the pitching change isn’t waiting until someone gets whacked and then pulling him; any fan could do that. The point of handling pitchers is to understand which situations represent a high chance of success and put the pitcher in as many of those situations as possible. Managers also want to understand which situations represent a low chance of success and keep the pitcher

out

of as many of those situations as possible. But it’s always a gamble; all you can do is play the odds.

I’m not sure which move from Saturday night’s game bothered you, but after 106 pitches Jeremy Guthrie was done and was about to face Prince Fielder leading off the seventh inning. Prince already had two hits off Guthrie so Yost brought in Tim Collins to face the left-handed Fielder, turn the switch-hitting Victor Martinez around (he’s hitting .229 off lefties) and then face the right-handed Jhonny Peralta and the left-handed Andy Dirks.

Collins got Fielder, gave up a single to Martinez and then got Jhonny Peralta. Jim Leyland then pinch-hit the right-handed Matt Tuiasosopo for the left-handed Dirks and Yost countered with the right-handed Luke Hochevar. All those moves worked out. (At this point Collins is the only lefty in the pen, so throw him too much and you’ve got no left-handed reliever available for the next day.)

I talked to Ned about his decision to bring in Aaron Crow to pitch the eighth inning and here’s what he said: Ned considered letting Hochevar go back out for the eighth, but knew if Hoch had any trouble with the bottom of the order, he wanted Aaron Crow to face Torii Hunter and Miguel Cabrera. Hunter was 0-6 off Crow and so was Cabrera. (Torii Hunter has hit .412 off Hochevar and Miguel Cabrera has hit .472.)

Ned didn’t let Hochevar come back out because if there

was

trouble, Crow would be pitching with runners on and Aaron’s been struggling with inherited runners—basically, he’s been giving up a hit or walk before settling in and getting people out. Ned figured he’d give Aaron a clean inning to start with and he was right: Crow gave up a single on the first pitch and walked the next guy. Austin Jackson laid down a sacrifice bunt and then Crow faced the two guys who have never had a hit off him; Hunter and Cabrera.

Five pitches later, they still didn’t have a hit off him.

Part of handling pitchers is understanding their personalities and which situations favor them and which situations give them trouble. None of this is written in stone: you can put a guy in a situation where he succeeds 70% of the time, but that still means he’s going to fail three times out of ten. When that happens, some fans will think the manager is an idiot. Saturday night Ned Yost pushed the right buttons and some people still question what he did.

Just because a guy is getting outs, that doesn’t mean he should stay on the mound until he starts getting hit. That pitcher might be getting outs

because

he knows he’s only facing two guys and can throw with max effort. He might be getting outs because the manager has put him in good match-ups and the match-ups coming up aren’t so favorable.

Having explained why Ned Yost did what he did Saturday night, I still think there’s a valid point here: put enough guys on the mound and it’s possible someone just won’t have it that night, but all a manager can do is play the best odds available and hope for the best.

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