Judging the Royals

August 3, 2013

The Royals need to bounce back

In the bottom of the eleventh inning Luis Mendoza threw 15 pitches and 14 of them were fastballs. Five of those fastball were thrown to Eric Young and Young hit the fifth one out of the park for a game-winning, walk off homer. Young was a in a 3-1 fastball count and got the fastball every hitter hopes for. It appeared Salvador Perez was set up away, but the pitch drifted down and in—a hot zone for most lefties.

Judging the Royals

Lee Judge breaks down the Royals, game by game.

In the bottom of the eleventh inning Luis Mendoza threw 15 pitches and 14 of them were fastballs. Five of those fastball were thrown to Eric Young and Young hit the fifth one out of the park for a game-winning, walk off homer. Young was a in a 3-1 fastball count and got the fastball every hitter hopes for. It appeared Salvador Perez was set up away, but the pitch drifted down and in—a hot zone for most lefties.

If you were watching the game wondering why Mendoza was still pitching in that situation, the explanation came after the game: Mendoza was the last pitcher Ned Yost had. You don’t burn your closer in a tie game on the road. If Greg Holland came out and gave you one inning, you’d still be handing the ball to someone else in the next half inning. Luke Hochevar pitched two innings yesterday and was unavailable. Tim Collins learned his grandfather was gravely ill and left the team to see him. Mendoza was the one guy that could give the Royals multiple innings and they were hoping to grab a lead,


give the ball to Holland.

Young’s home run ended a four-hour game and a nine-game winning streak. The next two games are a big deal—good teams bounce back from a tough loss and start another winning streak. If the Royals aren’t able to do that, it’s not a good sign.

The New York beats Kansas City in extra innings, 4-2.

Game notes

• To start the game Alex Gordon tried a first-pitch ambush. He’ll do that once in a while, just to change the scouting report; if a leadoff hitter


takes the first pitch, pitchers will just lob a fastball in there and the hitter is always hitting down in the count. Take a first-pitch hack once in a while and pitchers have to be a little more careful—and that may result in better at-bats down the road.

Unfortunately, the first-pitch ambush didn’t work and that affected the rest of the inning. Eric Hosmer had to take a strike and Dillon Gee poured it in. Hosmer got down in the count, had to swing at the third pitch he saw and that meant Salvador Perez also had to take a first-pitch strike. One guy swings at the first pitch and the next two guys can suffer. The ambush looks great when it works, but if it fails it puts you in bind. Gee got out of the inning in eight pitches.

• In contrast Wade Davis threw 25 pitches in his first inning. The pitch that killed him was a 2-0 two-seam fastball to David Wright. There was a runner on first and I suspect the pitch was supposed to induce a double play; two-seamers that run down and in on righties can get them to hit the ball on the ground to the left side. This two-seamer was up a bit and Wright hit it over the left field wall.

• Watch what happens to 8-hole hitters in National League games. It’s often a turning point: look at the top of the fifth inning. Jarrod Dyson came to the plate with two outs and nobody on. Wade Davis was on deck. If Dyson had gotten on, Davis might have hit (I’m not sure Ned Yost would burn a pinch hitter unless he had a un in scoring position) and that would’ve have gotten the Royals past the pitcher’s spot in the top of the sixth. But Dyson didn’t get on, so Davis went out and pitched the bottom of the fifth and finished with 104 pitches. I’ve got no way of knowing, but Dyson not getting on probably cost Davis another inning. The top of the sixth started with the pitcher’s spot and the Royals were running out of time to score, so Lorenzo Cain pinch hit for Davis.

• I’ve been told the worst hitter’s spot is the 8-hole in the National League. Say there’s a runner in scoring position with two outs; they don’t have to pitch to you, but you may have to swing anyway. The 8-hole hitter taking a walk so the pitcher can hit isn’t a good deal—they’d rather have a real hitter trying to hit marginal pitches. That’s a tough spot to be in—you’re hitting eighth because you’re not that good to begin with.

The 8-hole hitter needs to know if the manager is thinking of pinch-hitting for the pitcher, because that would change his approach at the plate. If the game has reached the middle innings a manager has to decide if he wants to pinch-hit for his pitcher and lose some innings or send the pitcher to the plate and pass up a scoring opportunity.

• When you think about these decisions there’s a pretty simple formula: ahead, stick with pitching and defense—behind, go with offense. But there can be a ton of other factors that make things a bit more complicated.

• In the top of the sixth David Wright made a bare-hand play on a grounder. You often see amateurs try the same thing with poor results. Here’s why: major league ballplayers tend to have big hands. Take a regular size mitt out there and try to grab a bouncing ball and most of the time it won’t work.

• Mets catcher John Buck got crossed up on a pitch in the same inning and took a pitch off his wrist. That happened because there was a runner on second at the time. With runners on second base the signs get more complicated, otherwise the runner will pass the signs along to the hitter. So each pitcher has a set of signs he likes to use with a runner on second base. For example: it might be the first sign in the sequence and if the pitcher shakes that sign off, they’ll go to the last sign in the next sequence. But everyone has to remember what set of signs their using and each pitcher has his own set.

So Buck was expecting the pitch to break and it stayed straight and he took it off the wrist. Major Leaguers throw so hard there’s no time to react; catchers have to know where the pitch is going in advance. A cross-up is immediately followed by a meeting at the mound so everyone can get on the same page. Middle infielders want to know what pitch is on its way so they can be moving in the right direction (the hitter is more likely to pull an off-speed pitch) and the middle infielders then send those signs to the corner infielders and sometimes the outfield. (Big league ball is kinda complicated.)

• John Buck was not known for being great at blocking pitches when he was here in Kansas City. I’ve heard it said he was too big to get in the right position fast enough—although it doesn’t seem to hurt Salvador Perez. Keep an eye on pitches in the dirt and see if this becomes a factor.

• Billy Butler came out on deck as a possible pinch-hitter in the seventh inning, but Jarrod Dyson made the last out before Billy could pinch hit in the pitcher’s spot. If Billy is going to come off the bench in these games, Ned Yost would like to find the best spot to use him. Ideally it would be with runners in scoring position, but in the NL you have to be careful about burning the bench too early. Go to extra innings and you have pitchers running the bases and people playing out of position. (Elliot Johnson wound up in right field—not exactly out of position, but probably not his best position either. But that’s why you have guys like Elliot; they keep you from managing yourself into a corner.)

Butler was eventually used in the ninth, but with first open. That meant the Mets could walk him, but that also meant they had to pitch to Lorenzo Cain and he drove in the tying run with a sac fly.

• The Royals scored their first run in the eighth: Lorenzo Cain walked, Alex Gordon was hit by a pitch and Eric Hosmer grounded into a force out—runners at first and third. Salvador Perez hit another potential double play groundball, but the ball wasn’t scorched so Hosmer had time to hustle down to second base and get a piece of the pivot man, Daniel Murphy. Perez was safe at first and Cain scored from third.

• Miguel Tejada just keeps doing it: he came out to pinch-hit in the ninth inning and led things off with a double, eventually scoring the tying run.

• The tenth inning was about defense: Salvy blocked a pitch in the dirt with the winning run on third and Alcides Escobar started a double play from his knees. He knocked the ball down, fed it to Miguel Tejada and Miggy turned it with the runner on him. That got the Royals out of the inning and sent the game to the eleventh, where things did not go nearly so well.

Playing near LaGuardia

They showed several shots of planes flying by during Friday’s game, which reminded me of something I heard about Shea Stadium. According to this story, Bobby Valentine had the Mets attempt a pickoff with a runner at second base whenever a jet flew over.

The idea was that with the jet making so much noise, a runner wouldn’t be able to hear a base coach yell, "Back!" I don’t know if that’s true, but it sounds kinda smart if it is.

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