Judging the Royals

Lee Judge breaks down the Royals, game by game.

Miguel Cabrera rolls out of bed and hits

08/18/2013 4:35 PM

08/18/2013 4:37 PM

When a guy is a really good hitter other players will say: "he can just roll out of bed and hit." Miguel Cabrera is a really good hitter. The last pitch Cabrera saw on Saturday night was hit out of Comerica Park for a game winner; Miggy rolled out of bed and hit the first pitch he saw on Sunday morning and that also left the yard. The Royals were three hitters into one of the biggest games of the year and they were down 2-0.

Cabrera hits almost .500 on the first pitch of an at-bat, but that didn’t stop Bruce Chen from throwing Miggy a first-pitch fastball down the pipe. Two innings later, Cabrera singled to drive in another run. At the time, there were two outs, Torii Hunter was on second and first base was open. Prince Fielder was on deck—part of the problem—but Prince is not Miggy. If you gotta choose—and you do—most people would say pitch to Prince.

If they were trying to pitch around Cabrera in that spot—and there’s some chance they were—probably better to go ahead and walk him. Once again the Royals gave the best hitter on the planet the chance to beat them and he did.

Detroit 6, Kansas City 3.

Game notes

• In the bottom of the second inning Ramon Santiago walked to the plate with two down. Bruce Chen had thrown a total of five pitches in the inning at that point, but that didn’t stop Santiago from hacking at the first thing he saw. Veteran players will tell you that this kind of thing is selfish: you care more about your numbers than letting your pitcher rest. Lucky for Santiago he fouled the pitch off and went on to have a six-pitch at-bat.

• You don’t have to get the runner out to make a pickoff successful: if you convince the runner to shorten his lead that may pay off when he can’t go first-to-third or second-to-home. But you can overdo it: too many pickoff attempts and you can lose concentration and throw a bad pitch to the plate. Max Scherzer does one of the most effective things a pitcher can do: he just holds the ball in the set position and waits for the runner’s legs to go dead on him.

• In the third inning it looked like Alcides Escobar tried to pull a 1-1 slider. Chris Getz was being held on first base at the time and that opened a hole on the right side. For a guy like Escobar, that hole should be a target. If he was trying to shoot that slider though the infield hole, you couldn’t tell by the swing Esky took.

• David Lough struggled with balls directly over his head and got turned around on a Torii Hunter fly ball that bounced into the stands for a ground-rule double. When a fly ball starts over one shoulder the outfielder will turn that direction and go back. If the ball then drifts over the other shoulder the outfielder is faced with a tough choice: look over the other shoulder by turning his chest toward the outfield wall or look over the other shoulder by turning his chest toward the infield. Turning your chest toward the infield puts you in a back pedal and that rarely works—and it didn’t here either. The better technique is to keep going straight back and turn to look over the other shoulder. It ain’t easy, but it’s the better option.

• The Tigers shortstop, Jose Iglesias demonstrated some bad base running in the fifth: he was on second base with one down when Austin Jackson doubled to right field. Iglesias went back to second base to tag—probably the wrong play. With one down the general idea is to go halfway; if the ball is caught you’re already in scoring position with two down, if the ball isn’t caught you score. Iglesias only managed to advance 90 feet on a double to right.

• A head-scratching at bat from Escobar in the sixth: the count went to 2-0, Alcides took two fastballs for called strikes and eventually struck out swinging at a slider.

• Despite the sandbox the Tigers built over at first base to slow down the Royals base stealers, Jarrod Dyson stole second base in the sixth inning. The sand worked: Jarrod slipped on takeoff, but still beat the throw.

• The TV guys said that Miguel Cabrera’s game-winning home run Saturday night traveled 348 feet. Had he hit the same ball in Kauffman it would probably have been an out. In Kansas City, the spot where the pads meet the bullpen gate is just a bit over 350 feet from home plate.

• Alex Gordon ran smack dab into the leftfield wall after catching a Victor Martinez drive. Gordon was knocked off his feet, struggled to his knees and then came the first sign he was OK—Alex used his chewing gum to blow a bubble. Some guys hit the wall and need the trainer to come look at them and then go into two weeks of therapy. Other guys hit the wall and blow bubbles.

• Later in the same inning, a weird play: with Brayan Pena on second base, Ramon Santiago hit a ball to the right side. Chris Getz dove for the ball and missed. Eric Hosmer originally broke to his right, saw the ball was through and started coming back to the infield to get in position for a throw to the plate from right fielder David Lough.

Pitcher Louis Coleman originally did the right thing: the ball was hit to his left so he broke for first base. But after it was clear the ball got through, Coleman continued toward first, then slowed down and stopped. When the throw came home and got by catcher Salvador Perez, there was no one there to back up the ball. Lough picked up an E9.

To be honest, I don’t know who should have backed up home. Was Coleman supposed to recognize that there was no play at first and get headed back toward home plate? Could he have made it in time? Should third baseman Emilio Bonifacio back up home and left fielder Gordon cover third?

I’ll see if I can get one of the Royals coaches to clear this up on Tuesday.

• In the seventh inning Alcides Escobar attempted to turn a double play off an Andy Dirks’ groundball. The only problem? There were two outs at the time. Escobar realized his mistake and jogged off the field laughing, but the lack of concentration is worrisome.

• The Royals took a better ninth inning approach: down 6-3, each guy that came to the plate took at least one called strike. Billy Butler homered, Alex Gordon hit a groundball to second, Salvador Perez hit an infield single—take a second to let


sink in—and Emilio Bonifacio lined out to second. Chris Getz ended the game on a soft ground ball to second base.

The quick-turn

(After David Lough struggled going back on balls during Sunday’s game, this might be a good time to run this piece.)

All the baseball manuals I ever read—and I’ve read a lot of them—suggested every play begins with a crossover step (when moving laterally) or a drop step (when going back). Outfield coach Rusty Kuntz disagrees.

Rusty thinks the drop step (stepping back with the foot on the same side that the ball has been hit) tends to turn into a lateral movement—it’s just hard to step straight backwards when moving one foot. That means the initial move is slightly sideways and that results in an "L" route to get to the ball; a longer trip with unnecessary steps.

Rusty’s solution is a "quick-turn": both feet off the ground—very slightly, it’s not a big hop—but more of 180 degree pivot done with both feet at the same time. When he’s working with outfielders he’ll hit buckets of balls over either shoulder and they’ll do a 180-degree pivot using a quick-turn; they won’t go after the ball, he’s just trying to build the right reaction through repetition.

And fans should be able to see that reaction on the field. Rusty said outfielder should be moving every time a ball is fouled off, if they’re not, they’re going to be slower than they have to be. And the guys up the middle can even get a better jump than that; they can see if the pitch is inside or outside and should have a clue as to what the hitter at the plate tends to do with each pitch. That’s why centerfielders need to play slightly off-center: if they’re standing right behind the pitcher they’re losing 60 feet of reaction time.

Cutting down the required steps to make it to a fly ball over your head is a big deal and the pros can spot guys who run good routes. It seems there are outfielders that the rest of think are great because they make diving, over the shoulder catches. The pros roll their eyes and say that guy


to make those diving catches because he runs such bad routes.

So next time someone fouls a ball off, look into the outfield and see if you can spot the guys who are ready to run a good route and the guys who are about to run a bad one.

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