Judging the Royals

Lee Judge breaks down the Royals, game by game.

The Indians beat the odds against Royals

09/18/2013 12:37 AM

09/18/2013 10:28 AM

When the Royals lead a game after six innings their record is 59-11. Get the ball to the bullpen with a lead and the Royals usually win—but it didn’t work that way Tuesday night. Rookie Yordano Ventura pitched five and two-thirds innings and gave the Royals a chance to win.

Ventura got one out in the sixth, gave up a single to Nick Swisher, struck out Jason Kipnis and then gave up two more singles. End result: one run in, runners at first and third and winning run at the plate. Manager Ned Yost is generally reluctant to let a starting pitcher who has thrown well face the winning run late in the game, so he went and got Ventura. Reliever Will Smith faced that winning run—Asdrubal Cabrera—and walked him. With the bases loaded and two outs, Louis Coleman came in to face Ryan Raburn and struck him out, the Royals were still up by two. The score was 3-1 after six innings.

Kelvin Herrera came in to start the seventh inning, struck out Lonnie Chisenhall on three pitches, started Yan Gomes with a 100 MPH fastball for a called strike and then tried to throw a curve. The one curveball Kelvin Herrera threw didn’t curve it hit Gomes. That

turned into a run when Michael Bourn tripled and that

turned into a run when Nick Swisher hit a sacrifice fly. The game was tied 3-3; the best bullpen in the American League had blown a lead.

It got worse.

In the eighth inning Wade Davis replaced Herrera and walked the leadoff batter, Carlos Santana. Drew Stubbs pinch ran and moved up to second on a groundball to first. Davis threw a curve down and away to Asdrubal Cabrera and the Indians shortstop hitting a slicing line drive over Alex Gordon’s head for a double. The Indians took a one-run lead—an inning later it was a two-run lead: Luke Hochevar tried to elevate a fastball above the zone, didn’t get it quite high enough, and Michael Bourn hit it out of the park. The Royals bullpen—the best in the league—had given up four runs.

The Cleveland Indians beat the odds and the Royals, 5-3.

Yordano Ventura

(Several times in the past my son Paul has filled in for me when my schedule got jammed up; Tuesday night we watched the game together and I asked if he’d write something for the web site. Here’s his take on Yordano Ventura’s major league debut.)

From his time in Omaha, we knew that Yordano Ventura had a dominant fastball that hovered around the 100-mph mark, a good curve and a quality change, but Tuesday night was a high-pressure situation for a rookie pitcher making his MLB debut. The Royals didn't know if they'd get a gem from Ventura, or if they’d be warming up their bullpen in the first inning. In a high-stakes atmosphere, Ventura showed both his immense talent and a high ceiling for future success. He also put the Royals in a very good position to win this game and series against Cleveland.

Ventura started the game by facing Michael Bourn and it didn't go so well. With pitchers that can throw 100 miles an hour, the first question is always the same: does he know where it’s going? Ventura's very first pitch was a fastball about three feet over Bourn's head and the next three pitches also missed the zone. However, Ventura came right back at Nick Swisher, got him to ground into a double play on a 98-mph fastball, and struck out Jason Kipnis to end the inning.

The Royals took the lead in the bottom of the first and after that, Ventura really got it going. His fastball has good movement and hits 100, his change-up is in the mid to-high 80's and his curveball comes in around 80 miles an hour; that’s 20 miles an hour of separation in speed.

A key for Ventura, as for all pitchers, is staying ahead in the count. When he can hit spots with his fastball and stay ahead, it brings his change and curve into play. If he doesn't stay ahead, batters know that a guy that can throw 98

will

throw 98 at some point in the at-bat. They can sit on the fastball and completely ignore his breaking pitches until they get to a two-strike count. But when Ventura gets ahead, the curve and change become even more threatening: because he throws so hard, hitters have to start their swings earlier to have a chance at hitting the fastball. When they do that, his curve and change can be devastating.

However, Ventura really showed his potential when he

did

fall behind to the Indians. Maybe the most impressive thing about the young pitcher is that when he was in fastball counts, his fastball was so good, so fast, and had so much movement, that he was still extremely hard to hit. When a pitcher can throw fastballs in fastball counts and still get outs that’s a good sign.

Perhaps the best example of this came in the 5th inning: after giving up a leadoff single to Asdrubal Cabrera, Ventura fell behind 3-1 to Ryan Raburn. The score was 3-0 at the time, and Ventura was not going to walk Raburn to bring the tying run to the plate. Raburn and Ventura both knew that a fastball was coming in a 3-1 count. Ventura gave Raburn a fastball up at 98-mph, which Raburn fouled straight back. With a 3-2 count, Ventura's job got a little tougher, because Raburn knew another fastball was coming, and he was a fraction on an inch from driving the last one. Ventura raised his fastball just a little more and threw this one at 99-mph. Raburn couldn't get on top of it and popped out to second baseman Emilio Bonifacio.

Ventura was faced with a tough situation: two fastball counts and yet he was able to get the out

by using his fastball.

Of course, Ventura was not perfect on Tuesday. Even the fastest fastball will eventually be timed by major league hitters if it’s thrown over and over again. Ventura's fastball looked nearly untouchable the first few innings, but in the 6th, his third time around facing the Indians' lineup, he gave up hits to Nick Swisher, Carlos Santana, and Michael Brantley.

But if you told the Royals and their fans that they would get a fairly dominant five and two thirds innings from a rookie making his MLB debut in one of their biggest game of the year, everyone would take it. After the game Ned Yost agreed that once Ventura calmed down, he pitched very well, and mentioned that tonight's outing probably meant another start for Ventura. Being asked to step into a high-pressure, high-stakes situation for your team is never easy. It's a lot harder when it's your major league debut. But on Tuesday night, Yordano Ventura showed that he was up to the challenge, and he showed Royals fans another glimpse of a player with major talent and potential.

—Paul Judge

Sample size

And now back to me: I got this from former Royals hitting coach, Kevin Seitzer: when the sample size is small, look for a strong pattern. I looked up Corey Kluber’s numbers against the Royals coming into this game: Salvador Perez had hit .400 off him. Looks good on the surface, but that’s only a 2-5 .400 batting average. A broken-bat flare and a seeing-eye grounder might disguise the fact that Sal doesn’t hit Corey Kluber well at all. Nobody had more than 14 plate appearances, so there really wasn’t much to go by.

Alex Gordon had three hits in 12 at-bats, so that might not mean much, but two of those hits are home runs—and that probably does mean something. Billy Butler has also had twelve at-bats against Kluber, but only one hit—but what if four of those outs were screaming line drives? That changes how you look at Billy’s numbers. But in fact, five of those outs were strikeouts, so it wouldn’t appear that Billy had hit Kluber all that well.

In a small sample size look for extra-base hits and punch outs; that’ll give a little better picture of what those numbers mean.

A reader’s question about Monday night’s game

Watching the replay on MLB-TV, I noticed that in Salvy’s at bat in the sixth, when he hit a triple, you can just barely see "Alcides Escobar" on the bat barrel in the upper left of the picture. Any story or reason behind that?

My answer

I missed that, but it happens all the time. If a guy is scuffling he might borrow a teammate's bat; maybe

that bat has some hits in it. Perez hasn’t been scuffling, but I don’t know how long he’s been using Esky’s bat or if it was a one-time thing. But when players feel like they’re going bad, they’ll change something: the length of their pants, the kind of gum they chew, anything to break the slump. When Mike Aviles was here he changed his batting gloves any time he didn’t get a hit in a game. Mike told me they’d get a CG

—a complete game. If Aviles didn’t get a hit; he changed batting gloves.

Changing batting gloves, using someone else’s bat—it’s a superstition thing.

Our new comments policy

When we started this website in 2010, my goal was to bring the player’s point of view to baseball fans. I’d had the opportunity to hang out behind-the-scenes with ballplayers and always found their take on things fascinating; they saw the game in a different way. I thought all baseball fans would be interested in what the guys on the field had to say about the game; turns out it wasn’t so—some fans already knew what they thought and didn’t like hearing a point of view that did not coincide with their own.

And some of those fans got nasty.

The internet can be a wonderful place to exchange ideas and it can be an awful place when people decide to go negative. Some readers seemed to relish the opportunity to insult players, other readers, or me—and the more cutting the remark, the better. If I never hear the word "snark" again, I might die a happy man.

In any case, the Star has decided they have to take action on internet comments. From now on, if you want to comment on any Kansas City Star website, you now have to go through Facebook. Here’s part of what Mike Fannin, the Star’s editor had to say about the change:

A few nameless, faceless readers are poisoning the well for everyone. That’s where Facebook comes in. Facebook users generally go by their real names, and many of our readers are on Facebook already. The discussion often improves when people are using their own names.

We realize there’s no perfect commenting solution right now, and that there are some concerns about Facebook, such as the privacy issues that have made news all summer.

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To be honest, the negative comments on "Judging the Royals" pale in comparison to some of the comments made elsewhere on the Star’s website—racist, profane, hateful stuff that keeps already overly people busy policing the thoughts of some readers who seem to get pleasure out of hurting others.

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