Judging the Royals

September 15, 2013

Jeremy Guthrie’s fourth time through the order

Jeremy Guthrie came out to pitch the seventh inning of this game, and Cal Ripken didn’t like it. Ripken now calls games for TBS. Ripken’s reasoning went this way: Guthrie had already given up 11 hits and had been lucky to only give up two runs through the first six innings. When you have the best bullpen in the American League, why let the Detroit hitters see Guthrie for a fourth time?

Judging the Royals

Lee Judge breaks down the Royals, game by game.

Jeremy Guthrie came out to pitch the seventh inning of this game and Cal Ripken didn’t like it. Cal—who had a pretty decent baseball career—now calls games for TBS. Ripken’s reasoning went this way: Guthrie had already given up eleven hits and had been lucky to only give up two runs through the first six innings. When you have the best bullpen in the American League, why let the Detroit hitters see Guthrie for a fourth time?

Despite Cal’s misgivings, Guthrie got through the seventh inning just fine: Miguel Cabrera hit a grounder to third, Prince Fielder hit a ball back to the mound, Victor Martinez singled, but Andy Dirks struck out. So was Cal Ripken wrong?

There’s a tendency to believe that any decision that works out was a good decision and any decision that doesn’t work out was a bad one, but it just ain’t so. Decisions have to be made before anyone knows the results; managers should look at the odds and pick the option that offers the best chance of success. The decision to let Guthrie face the Detroit lineup for the fourth time looked good after seven innings, but backfired in the eighth.

When hitters get multiple looks at a pitcher they also get a better idea of what that pitcher has to offer in that particular game. Alex Avila, who had homered off Guthrie in his first at-bat, did it again in his fourth. To be fair, Guthrie struck out Avila in his second and third at-bats so maybe you’d think Guthrie had his number, but Jeremy hung a slider the fourth time Avila came to the plate and Detroit’s catcher broke up a 2-2 tie with a home run to right-center field. Cal Ripken may have been an inning too early, but the fourth time through the order proved to be one time too many.

Tigers win, 3-2.

Game notes

• It’s not the first time it’s been written, but when you get to this time of the year, all bets are off. You start doing things you’d never do in July. Go to the bullpen too early in the middle of the season and you’ll wear it out. At this time of year you’ve got extra guys hanging around, hoping for work. You can take the long view in June, in September—when you’re trying to get into the playoffs—you pull out the stops to win today.

• The Tigers have the luxury of waiting for one of their boppers to hit a home run, the Royals often have to string together a number of good at-bats to put someone across the plate—if a link in the chain breaks down, the Royals don’t score.

With one down in the seventh inning, Salvador Perez singled. Mike Moustakas followed that with a double and Perez stopped at third. Lorenzo Cain stepped to the plate for a key at-bat; with a runner on third base and one down, the hitter doesn’t necessarily have to get a hit to score the run, he just has to get the ball in play—or to be more exact—the


kind of ball in play. In this case, a groundball up the middle would do the trick. Even though the tying run was on third base, Detroit was playing its infield back. They couldn’t afford to bring it in because the winning run—Mike Moustakas—was on second. Play the infield in to cut off the tying run at the plate and you might lose the game when the winning run scores on a ball through the drawn-in infield.

So Lorenzo Cain needed to hit a groundball up the middle or a deep fly ball; but he hit a shallow fly ball to Torii Hunter. If the Royals needed any reminder that Hunter has a pretty good arm, Torii threw out Chris Getz the night before. Salvador Perez did not challenge Hunter’s arm and never crossed the plate.

• If you really want to think outside the box, maybe you pinch-run for Perez in that situation. You need 12 more outs, but if you’ve scored a total of one run in six innings, maybe you need to push the envelope—get some speed on third—and challenge someone to throw you out.

• Once again Max Scherzer did not get his 20th win. If Max wasn’t thinking about that, someone in the media will remind him. The players I’ve talked to hate being reminded about these milestone numbers; they’re trying to not think about it and everywhere they go, people bring it up. If you get to meet Eric Hosmer between now and the end of the season, it would be a bad idea to ask if he thinks he can hit .300. Hosmer’s probably trying not to think about—I don’t know because I won’t ask—and doesn’t need to be reminded that he could accomplish something pretty cool.

• In the fifth inning Miguel Cabrera was on third base with nobody out, but couldn’t score on two groundballs to Hosmer. The quicker the Tigers can clinch the more rest Cabrera can get before the playoffs.

• Scherzer had twelve strikeouts, four of them looking. Cal Ripken said strikeouts looking either mean the pitcher has great stuff and hitters are getting fooled or the umpire has a big strike zone.

• Apparently the Detroit pitchers prepared to stop the Kansas City running game and that included holding the ball in the set position. When that happens, the hitter has to protect the runner by calling time. The runner can’t do it and he also can’t stay in a tense, ready-to-take-off position forever.

• I’ve been told more than once that as home run totals go down, the importance of the stolen base will go up. That means the importance of stopping the stolen base will go up as well. Teams are working on pitcher delivery times, holding the ball, pitchouts and pickoffs—anything to slow down the running game.

• Speaking of which; Emilio Bonifacio was picked off again. Detroit’s pitchers seemed to be varying


they’d go over to first base with a pickoff move. Sometimes they’d do it right away, sometimes they’d let the runner establish his lead, then go over.

• The TV broadcast showed Detroit manager Jim Leyland giving signs, but that doesn’t mean he was the one calling the game. Leyland said his signs might be a decoy and a coach might be the one actually giving the signs. It might also be one of the trainers. Everyone is trying to steal the other team’s signs and everyone is trying to prevent the other team from stealing their signs.

• Alex Avila’s first home run came on a changeup that Guthrie left up in the zone. I haven’t heard Guthrie talk about it, but I’ve been told by other pitchers that, ideally, a changeup starts in the zone and finishes down and out of the zone. This changeup finished as a souvenir.

A called shot

I’d say I told you so, but I didn’t—Russ Morman told you so. Here’s what I posted yesterday after Salvador Perez made a great play at the plate that helped win Saturday night’s game:

During an hour-long conversation Russ said a lot of interesting stuff, but here’s the one I want to share: beware of catchers late in a ball game. They’re tired as hell and really don’t want to go to extra innings. Russ said he’s seen catchers do amazing things late in games: they’ll get a big hit, drop a bunt, break up a double play or run over the other catcher—anything to avoid putting that gear back on and playing another inning.

Saturday night it was Salvador Perez, Sunday afternoon it was Alex Avila. There’s a reason I listen to ballplayers and coaches—they know some stuff the rest of us don’t.

That sand over at first base

If you’ve been following this series you know Detroit dumped some sand over by first base in order to slow down the Kansas City runners. That led to this email from a reader:

I understand gamesmanship.  But saturating the field or throwing extra dirt around the bases to slow a team down.  Is there ever a point where the league or the umpires say "ENOUGH, THAT'S JUST NOT FAIR!?"  

One of the many cool things about baseball is the ability to tailor your park to your team. In football the field is always 100 yards long; in baseball you can move the fences around in a way that suits you. You can cut the grass short or leave it long, make the base paths fast or slow and have a short porch in right field if you like. Obviously, both teams have to deal with the same conditions, but the conditions will probably favor the home team. The truth is, I really don’t know if the league ever steps in and says you’ve gone too far.

I get to talk to Trevor Vance, the Royals head grounds keeper, just about every day; I’ll ask him about this and see what he says. Stay tuned for the answer.

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