Judging the Royals

Lee Judge breaks down the Royals, game by game.

Pitching, defense kept Royals in this game

07/28/2013 6:02 PM

07/29/2013 9:59 AM

It took 12 innings, but pitching and defense kept the Royals in this game long enough for the offense to score the runs needed to sweep the series. Alex Gordon hit a two-run bomb in extra innings to give the Royals their final lead, but if not for another outstanding start by Bruce Chen, six shutout innings by the bullpen and Jarrod Dyson throwing a runner out at the plate in the tenth inning, Gordon wouldn’t have had the chance to be a hero.

The Royals are now 8-2 since the All-Star break, back to .500 for the first time since June 17th and about to start a nine-game stretch against teams with a losing record. If Kansas City is going to climb back in the race, now would be a good time to do it.

The Royals beat the White Sox, 4-2.

Game notes

*After the game Jarrod Dyson said outfield coach Rusty Kuntz moved him in toward the infield just before he made his game-saving throw to the plate. When a single will beat you, outfielders have to position themselves according to their arms: wherever you stand, you have to be able to make a throw to the plate that can cut down a runner.

Dyson’s throw was perfect: it came in on one-hop and hit well out on the infield grass. Throwing the ball on one hop keeps the throw low and makes it easier for the catcher to make the play. If the throw hits the grass, the hop will be a long one—easier to handle—and if the throw hits the dirt around home plate, the throw will be a short hop—a tough play for the catcher to make with a runner bearing down on him.

*In three starts Bruce Chen has now pitched 18 innings and given up three earned runs. Check the speeds on Chen’s fastball and you can see part of the problem: hitters can get into a fastball count, and Bruce might give them one, but Chen’s a master of adding or subtracting velocity and that disrupts a hitter’s timing; even when he gets the fastball he’s looking for.

*In the bottom of the first inning with Alexei Ramirez on first base, Alex Rios hit a weak groundball to second baseman, Miguel Tejada. Ramirez did not get a good jump off first base—Chen had him thinking a pickoff move was coming and Ramirez broke back toward the bag—and Rios is not known for busting butt to get down the line. Nevertheless, Escobar made no attempt to turn a double play. The throw from Tejada was low, but Esky just caught the ball as if it were the third out of the inning.

It wasn’t.

I don’t know if that was the problem or there was something else going on that I missed, but not turning two hurt—Rios eventually came around to score.

*The other White Sox run came on an Adam Dunn homer. Bruce Chen threw him an 87-MPH fastball that drifted back over the plate. Catcher George Kottaras was set up on the outside corner and you could see him move his mitt back over home plate to receive the pitch. You can see why Wade Davis would rather walk Dunn than give him something to hit—make a mistake and it can leave the yard.

*There were several long at-bats against Chen and that

sometimes

happens when a pitcher doesn’t have a nasty, swing-and-miss pitch. The pitcher can get the hitter to two strikes, but then the hitter starts fouling stuff off. On the other hand, I’ve seen long at-bats against Greg Holland, so it’s not an absolute.

*One of the arguments against making Miguel Tejada the starting second baseman is that at 39, if you play Tejada three days in a row, his production will fall off. Miggy played his third game in a row Sunday afternoon and had two hits. On the other hand, Tejada was replaced late in the game by Elliot Johnson for defensive purposes.

*The Royals are now 7-1 in extra-inning games. Ned Yost has said he feels like his team has the advantage whenever a game move to the bullpens and Sunday’s game provided more evidence that Ned is right.

*As a reliever, Luke Hochevar has simplified things: he’s throwing fewer pitches and knowing he’s only throwing one—or in this case two—innings, allows him to gas it up and throw his hardest. Simplifying things seems to have worked for him.

*Gordon Beckham got hit by a pitch and made no attempt to get out of the way; even though the rule says you have to. But you rarely see this rule followed in the big leagues.

*In the eighth inning Alcides Escobar and Eric Hosmer combined on a nifty defensive play to get Alex Rios. When they think of a first baseman’s defense, people tend to think of a first baseman’s glove, but there’s a lot of footwork around the bag that can make a difference. Hosmer’s footwork tends to be excellent and he made this play in foul territory by shifting his foot to the back side of first base—that gave Hosmer extra room to handle the throw.

*in the bottom of the twelfth inning with a 4-2 lead, Greg Holland came on to get the save. He made it interesting by giving up two hits and bringing the winning run to the plate, but still got out of it. Fans might want to pay attention to the pitches that were hit safely: both were fastballs and both were the first fastball Holland threw for a strike.

Some pitchers are so dominant with their off-speed stuff that hitters can’t afford to fall behind. It might drive some fans crazy, but hitters might be swinging at the first pitch for a reason—it’s the best pitch they’ll see.

The unhelpful hitting coach

When George Brett resigned as Royals hitting coach he said something interesting and instructive: he would watch a hitter swing, keep silent and then confer with assistant hitting coach, Pedro Grifol. George wanted to make sure that he and Pedro were on the same page before giving the hitter any advice; hearing different advice from two sources might make things worse.

Contrast that with every kid’s game you’ve ever been to: parents freely shouting what is probably contradictory advice at the worst possible time—when the kid is trying to hit. (The main thing they shout is "back elbow up" which they’re shouting at this game because they heard someone else shout it at another game—it’s also bad advice.) If George Brett knows there’s a time to keep your mouth shut, why don’t we?

I don’t talk hitting with Eric Hosmer. We’ve talked about not talking hitting and why we avoid the subject: you can talk a guy into a slump. One of the tactics I’ve heard for screwing up a hitter on another team is the destructive compliment. "Man, you’re

smoking

the ball. I love what you’re doing with your hand position."

The hitter then thinks: "What the hell am I doing with my hand position?"

You now have him thinking about the wrong thing. A swing that was fluid and natural might become mechanical as he starts to think about his hands. A competitor put the wrong thought into a hitter’s head—and if a hitter is not careful, a well-meaning friend can do the same thing.

When hitters are slumping the advice pours in. There’s maybe one guy the hitter should listen to—probably his hitting coach—but he’s getting advice from friends, fans, his old-high school coach and anyone else who thinks they have the answer. All the advice swirls around in the hitter’s head—"maybe my barber is on to something"—because the hitter’s desperate and looking for an answer. But it’s not just slumping hitters who can be screwed up: you can do the same thing to a guy who’s going good. If I say it looks like Hosmer is getting his foot down on time and that’s allowing his hands to be on time and that’s letting him pull the ball—and that

is

what I see—I can make him think about each of those things. And he may not want to think about them.

If Hosmer talks hitting with the media—and he does on occasion because we keep asking—he’s generally pretty vague. The other day I asked if he was feeling like he was back to feeling good at the plate and he said yes, but the key was being consistent. He had his batting gloves and bat in hand and was headed for the indoor cages; it was time to work on being consistent. That’s about as deep as the conversation went. He knows that I know a detailed discussion of his mechanics is not in his best interest.

The moral of the story is that if you ever get to meet one of the Kansas City Royals, do

not give them hitting advice: it won’t help and it might hurt. But if you meet someone on a visiting team, tell them to get their back elbow up.

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