Judging the Royals

September 17, 2013

Salvador Perez and the triple that shouldn’t have happened

Royals catcher Salvador Perez hit a sixth-inning triple, and there are three reasons why it shouldn’t have happened.

Judging the Royals

Lee Judge breaks down the Royals, game by game.

Salvador Perez hit a sixth-inning triple and there are three reasons why it shouldn’t have happened. First; the ball was hit to the left-center gap. Most triples are hit to right or right-center—they’re further away from third base. Second; there were no outs. Most triples happen with one out—with nobody out you generally stop at second. A lead-off double is a pretty good way to start an inning, why ruin it by getting greedy and being thrown out at third? And, finally; Salvador Perez is not fast—he’s a catcher.

Salvador Perez ignored all the reasons he should have stayed at second base, tried for third, made it and broke open the game.

The score was 2-1 when Sal hit the ball. The Royals had the 2 and Ned Yost said with his pitching staff, he felt pretty good about protecting a one-run lead. When Perez made it safely to third base, it looked like the Royals might tack on a run. Wrong—they tacked on three.

Lorenzo Cain hit a triple of his own, scoring Sal. Right-handed Matt Albers replaced Cleveland’s starting pitcher Scott Kazmir and Ned Yost countered by pinch-hitting left-handed David Lough for right-handed Justin Maxwell. With Cain on third, Cleveland had their infield in and Lough hit a single between first and second. Next, Mike Moustakas got a 3-0 green light and flew out to centerfield for the first out of the inning. With Alcides Escobar at the plate Lough took off for second while Esky put the ball in play. Asdrubal Cabrera picked up Escobar’s grounder, but threw high to first base, pulling Carlos Santana off the bag. (Santana is 5’ 11"—Eric Hosmer is 6’ 4". Hosmer would’ve made that play easily. There’s a reason infielders like to have a guy with some wingspan over at first base.)

Left-handed Nick Hagadone replaced Albers so he could face left-handed Alex Gordon. With Lough at second and Escobar on first, Gordon hit a fly ball to right field. Lough tagged and headed for third and made it easily, Escobar tagged up, headed for second and came close to being thrown out by right fielder Nick Swisher. Risking making the third out at second when you already have a runner in scoring position might not be the best decision Escobar ever made, but he got away with it.

Emilio Bonifacio shattered his bat, hit a weak groundball to third base and Lonnie Chisenhall muffed it. David Lough scored the third run of the inning on an E5 and the Royals never looked back. They scored two more in the eighth and beat the Cleveland Indians 7-1.

And it started with a triple that shouldn’t have happened.

Game notes

• Back to that 3-0 green light for Moustakas: 3-0 green lights are generally given to power hitters who can do damage from home plate, or contact hitters with a runner in scoring position. Sometimes a manager might give a 3-0 green light to a hitter who’s scuffling because the manager knows the hitter will probably get a fastball down the pipe—maybe that will get the hitter going.

• The sixth was a really long inning and Wade Davis came out to replace starter James Shields in the seventh. Cleveland lead-off hitter Michael Bourn visibly complained about the call on a 1-2 pitch and if you’re going to show up the umpire like that, you better be swinging on the next one—don’t give the umpire a chance to get even. Bourn swung, but it did no good—he struck out on a 97 MPH fastball.

• In the seventh inning Carlos Carrasco struck out Lorenzo Cain on a "front door" slider. That’s a slider thrown at the hitter’s front hip; movement carries it into the strike zone. Cain raised his arms when the pitch appeared to be inside and I’ve heard some hitting instructors say this is a bad idea.

If the hitter thinks the pitch is inside, it’s better if the hitter rotate his upper body back toward the catcher—that protects the hitter from being hit in the hands or arms. If the pitch starts to move back over the plate, the hitter has the chance to reverse his rotation and try to make contact with the ball. Raise your arms and there’s nothing you can do to protect the strike zone.

• Back to the top of first inning: when James Shields got ahead of the hitters, he got them out. When he fell behind the hitters, he didn’t. Here are the hitters, the count and the results:

Michael Bourn got 1-2 changeup and struck out. Nick Swisher got a 2-1 fastball and singled. Jason Kipnis got an 0-2 change and struck out. Carlos Santana got 2-0 fastball and doubled. Michael Brantley got a 1-1 changeup and grounded out.

Get ahead and pitchers can throw off-speed, fall behind and they tend to throw fastballs.

• Apropos of almost nothing: guys who are afraid to hit with two strikes are more aggressive about swinging the bat. They don’t want to get in a two-strike count because they don’t have a good two-strike approach.

• The only run the Indians got came off a changeup thrown to Lonnie Chisenhall. The Indians third baseman hit it into the right-field bullpen. When a pitch is elevated it’s easier to hit in the air, when it’s off-speed it’s easier to pull it into the short part of the ballpark

• Why you have to be there: the box score will show you that Eric Hosmer went 1-5, but he absolutely crushed three balls that turned into outs. After the game I asked Hosmer if there was any satisfaction in making hard outs; wouldn’t it be worse to hit three weak grounders?

Hosmer said it was better, but it was still tough to take. (Actually, that’s not the way he described it at all, but this is still a family newspaper—whatever the hell that means—and I guess the same standards apply to the website.)

• The Royals pitchers had 17 strikeouts—I was told that’s a club record for a nine-inning game. All I know is it took forever to play this one: 3 hours and 28 minutes.

Games people play

According to the TV guys, during last weekend’s Detroit series, the area around first base had a bunch of sand thrown on it. Supposedly the Tigers wanted to slow down the Royals base runners and they made sure the area around first base had bad traction. I promised I’d ask about this when the team got back and I did. Turns out it’s not as simple as you—or I—might think.

Trevor Vance, the Royals head groundskeeper, didn’t think it was that big a deal. The material thrown around probably wasn’t sand; it was more likely a drying compound. It looked different than the dirt around it because the dirt was probably wet and the drying compound wasn’t. They wet the dirt at all fields; they don’t want the dirt to dry out and get hard. But if it’s


wet a big guy like Prince Fielder can tear it up; the wet dirt will stick to his spikes and the area around first base will be a mess. First base has the most traffic so first base has the most problems.

First base coach Rusty Kuntz had a slightly different take: he agreed that the material around first base was a drying compound, but thought that the dirt underneath was very soft—and that wasn’t an accident. Rusty called the area a "sandbox" and maybe that’s where the idea that the material was actually sand got started.

The Tigers didn’t mind having a soft area around first; they don’t steal a lot of bases. But Rusty didn’t blame the dirt around first base for any Royals base runner getting picked off. Apparently, the Tigers pitchers worked at slowing down the Royals: they were varying when they threw over, holding the ball in the set position and were very quick to first when they finally got around to throwing the ball in that direction.

First base coaches keep pitchers delivery times to home plate, but they also time how long it takes pitchers to throw the ball to first. If the pitcher is quick, the runners have to shorten up their lead—and the guys who got picked off didn’t do that. Ego is a big part of this game: pitchers say

that guy may be a good fastball hitter, but he hasn’t seen my fastball. Base stealers think the same way: sure, that guy may be quick on a pick-off, but he hasn’t picked off me.

Ballplayers will tell you confidence is a must; if you don’t believe you can hit the pitcher on the mound, you won’t. But at some point you’ve got to tip your cap, admit your opponent is pretty good and go to Plan B.

Bottom line: if the Detroit Tigers went too far in trying to slow down the Kansas City base runners, the Royals could ask an umpire to take a look. If the umpire agreed that the conditions were unplayable, the umpire could get the grounds crew out to fix it.

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