Judging the Royals

Lee Judge breaks down the Royals, game by game.

A walk hurts Aaron Crow and the Royals

09/05/2013 8:06 AM

09/05/2013 8:07 AM

In a game tied 4-4 in the ninth, Kendrys Morales hit a two-run home run and the Mariners beat the Royals, 6-4. It’s easy to focus on a ball hit 414 feet, but don’t miss the walk that led to the home run. With one down in the inning, Aaron Crow had Franklin Gutierrez down 1-2. Crow then threw three straight balls to Gutierrez; a fastball and two sliders. The walk was what got Morales to the plate. After the game Royals manager Ned Yost said you throw strikes to Gutierrez so you don’t have to face a guy like Morales.

Crow also got ahead of Morales 1-2, but did it on three straight fastballs. When Aaron threw a fourth one, Kendrys had it timed. Before Crow threw that fastball, catcher Salvador Perez patted the ground with his mitt—the universal sign catchers use to tell pitchers to get this next pitch down. Perez set up outside, but the pitch—a 97 MPH fastball—was not only up, it was out over the plate. Pitches that are centered in the strike zone are

middle-middle:

in the middle of the zone both horizontally and vertically. This pitch was middle-middle and then left the middle of the field—Kendrys Morales hit it over the centerfield wall.

A two-run home run beat the Royals, but a one-out walk made it possible.

The insurance run

The Morales home run meant the Mariners were up by two going into the bottom of the ninth inning. Being up by two—having an

insurance run

—is huge. It meant none of the Royals hitters could tie the game with one swing. As long as the Mariners didn’t allow a base runner, Billy Butler, Mike Moustakas or Salvador Perez could hit a ball 600 feet and the Mariners would still be ahead.

An insurance run means a team can play its defense the way it wants to; they don’t have to worry about guarding the lines or playing no doubles in the outfield. Even if a runner gets on, the defense doesn’t have to worry too much about a steal or a sac bunt; the guy on base can’t hurt them—the tying run is still at the plate. And even if a runner gets all the way around to third base, the defense doesn’t have to play their infield in; once again, the only guy that can hurt them is still at home plate.

Insurance runs are huge.

Game notes

• The top of the first inning ended on a play at the plate: Kendrys Morales doubled to right field and Kyle Seager tried to score from first base. Right fielder David Lough threw the ball to first baseman Eric Hosmer, and Hosmer relayed the ball to catcher Salvador Perez. Perez made a diving tag and Seager was out. Any time a defensive play requires a relay, the chances of getting a runner go down. Nailing a runner requires

two

good throws and three defenders have to handle the ball cleanly. Don’t be surprised if base coaches push it by sending a runner when a relay is required.

• Until Wednesday night the Royals had never seen pitcher Taijuan Walker. At times Kansas City has struggled with unfamiliar pitchers and Walker did not give up a hit through the first three innings. Second time through the order hitters have a better idea of what a pitcher has to offer and the Royals got to Walker for four hits and four runs.

• In the bottom of the first inning Alex Gordon was called out on strikes and home plate umpire, Gary Cederstrom stared at Alex as Gordon walked away from the plate. No way to tell from six floors up, but at that point words might be exchanged or the umpire might just watch to see how a hitter reacts to the call.

If a hitter thinks the umpire missed the call and wants to say something, the smart ones do it with their heads down; that way the crowd doesn’t know the hitter disagrees with the call. Hitters who stare at the umpire while complaining let everyone know they disagree with the call. Those hitters might pay for that later.

• As I’ve said before: all walks are not equal. When you look at a box score and see a pitcher walked someone, asked yourself who walked and why. Salvador Perez worked his way into a 3-1 count in second inning. 3-1 is a fastball count, but Perez had three hits—including a scorching line drive home run—the night before. Rather than giving Sal a

cookie

(a hittable fastball) the pitcher walked him. Perez can hurt you with his bat, but not so much with his legs. Having Salvador Perez on first base is not like having Jarrod Dyson over there.

If Dyson was in a 3-1 count, he probably gets that cookie—Salvador Perez gets walked.

• Not the first time we’ve seen it, but Mariners catcher Mike Zunino jumped on the first pitch of the third inning. Ervin Santana has one of the best sliders in the game and some hitters will try to avoid that slider by swinging at the first hittable fastball they see.

• A weird play and its explanation: a runner on first takes off, attempts to steal second base and the second base umpire calls him out. Meanwhile, the home plate umpire says that the pitch was ball four. The runner at second base misses that and steps off the base because he was called out. The infielder with the ball sees what happened and tags the runner. What’s the ruling?

Here’s what the rulebook says:

Rule 7.08(e) Comment: PLAY. Runner on first and three balls on batter: Runner steals on the next pitch, which is fourth ball, but after having touched second he overslides or overruns that base. Catcher’s throw catches him before he can return. Ruling is that runner is out. (Force out is removed.)

This is what happened Wednesday night, so why wasn’t the Mariners runner out? Ned Yost said the home plate umpire called time after ball four. Why he would do that is anyone’s guess.Ned also thought the pitch was a strike, but said umpires tend to win those kinds of arguments.

• In the sixth inning Dustin Ackley singled on a groundball to Eric Hosmer by beating pitcher Francisley Bueno to first base. Watch the replay and Bueno did nothing wrong; he got going as fast as he could to get over and cover the bag. Ackley won this race because Bueno is left-handed and, after delivering a pitch, falls off the mound toward third. That puts him a couple steps behind where a right-handed pitcher would be. Hitters who can bunt for hits can take advantage of left-handed pitchers by drag-bunting the ball down the first-base line.

If it’s a web gem, it’s a slow guy

The other day Rusty Kuntz was talking and he repeated what I’d heard before; slow runners create outstanding infield plays. If a guy dives, knocks the ball down, scrambles to his feet and

still

gets the runner, that runner is slow. If Jarrod Dyson is coming down the line, you’ve got no time for all that.

Look to the outfield

And speaking of Dyson; apparently he needs to copy Emilio Bonifacio when he slides into second base. Dyson looks in toward home plate when steals second base—Bonifacio looks toward the outfield. Here’s why that matters:

If the catcher short hops the middle infielder and the middle infielder doesn’t glove the short hop, the runner has a chance of getting hit in the face with the ball. If the runner looks toward the outfield a bad throw will go off the back of his helmet—not ideal, but better than taking one in the lips. Looking into the outfield also allows the runner to get a better jump on going to third base if the catcher throws the ball into centerfield. The time it takes to turn the head and follow the ball may cost the runner a step and that step might be the difference between being out and safe at third.

Alex Gordon’s third Gold Glove

How do you win a Gold Glove? Do something impressive against every team you face. If that’s the case, Alex Gordon should have the Toronto vote sewn up. Gordon put on an exhibition last weekend, turning doubles into singles and throwing out a couple guys who decided to challenge his arm.

A lot of times, left fielders are the worst defenders in the outfield. Teams can put bad defenders in left to hide weak arms—left fielders have the shortest throws—or bad technique. Because they have shorter throws, left fielder can play a more conservative style of ball. Right fielders have to charge the ball and shorten their throws to third; left fielders can lay back and play it safe. Gordon plays left field like an ex-third baseman: he charges the ball, has a quick release and a strong arm.

Rusty Kuntz said the best centerfielder he ever saw was Ken Griffey, Jr. The best left fielder he’s ever seen is Alex Gordon. Much of what he does goes unnoticed, but if you know what to look for, you can see what makes Alex Gordon special. Kansas City fans should enjoy the show.

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