On September 17th of 2013 Yordano Ventura made his big league debut against the Cleveland Indians. The Cleveland hitters came outnot
swinging; they wanted to see if the kid on the mound would be nervous; maybe he’d pitch his way into trouble. At first it looked like a good plan—Ventura was all over the place. Then, with a runner on first base, a batter hit a ball back to the mound. Ventura snagged it and turned toward second to start a double play.
It was a pivotal point in the game and Ventura’s career.
If Ventura had thrown the ball into centerfield it wouldn’t have surprised anybody and that included his manager. When Ventura turned to start the double play he was going backup
the slope of the mound. That can make a throw to second base go high—especially if the guy throwing the ball is amped up.
Yordano’s throw was perfect and the Royals turned two. After that the Cleveland Indians started swinging the bat; Yordano Ventura was not going to pitch his way into trouble—he had himself under control. Ventura looked the same way Monday night; he gave up a few singles, but never got shook, never looked nervous.
On September 17th of 2013 Yordano Ventura not only started a double play, he started a promising big league career.
And while we’re talking about double plays
In the seventh inning of Sunday’s game against the Padres, Johnny Giavotella started a double play on a ball hit by Will Venable. Johnny tried to feed the ball backhand to shortstop Jason Donald. The toss came out like a changeup and that took too long. The delay in getting the ball to Donald allowed the runner, Everth Cabrera, to disrupt the pivot and Donald threw the ball away for an E6.
When you’re watching a potential double play remember: if the first part takes too long, the second part won’t go well. On a slow groundball the runner has a chance to take out the pivot man. That’s why the guy who starts the double play has to charge hoppers and buy his pivot man time. The pivot man also has to do his part; he needs a good feel for how long he can hang in there without getting blown up. If the play is taking too long, he’s got to get the first out, then clear the bag. Hang in there too long and he might get hurt.
Middle infielders need to know who’s running and how fast they are. That tells them how long they can stay on the bag before they have to give up on the double play. Rusty Kuntz says they have to develop an "internal clock." Second baseman Frank White’s sense of timing was so acute that he kept track of the base runners who wore spikes (he had to get out of there before he got cut) and the base runners who wore turf shoes (he could hang in there a little longer).
OK, that’s the slow developing double play—how about one that’s started with a hot grounder and a quick feed to the pivot man?
Now the runner on his way to second base is the one in trouble. One of the ways middle infielders protect themselves on a double play is to throw the ball at the runner’s head. As long as you’re throwing the ball to first, make sure it’s in the vicinity of the runner’s head. That makes the runner get down early—that way the runner has no chance to flip the pivot man.
So if the double play develops quickly, the runner on his way to second base needs to peel off and get out of the way of the throw to first. And as long as we’re at it: if the pivot man is the shortstop, the runner peels off to theinfield side of the baseline—the shortstop will be moving across the bag toward the outfield. But if the pivot man is the second baseman, the runner needs to peel off to the outfield
side of the baseline—the second baseman’s momentum will carry him across the bag toward the infield.
How I got so damn smart
Let’s face it: if I say anything remotely intelligent it’s probably because I’m just repeating what someone said to me. All that stuff about analyzing the double play came mostly from Rusty Kuntz. Guys like Rusty are invaluable to guys like me; I want to learn about baseball and Rusty loves to teach it. (I probably ought to give Rusty part of my paycheck.) Almost every day I track Rusty down and ask him some obscure baseball question. Rusty says he likes it because it keeps him on his toes—he’s got to have the answer to my daily question.
About 20 minutes after Rusty explained which way a runner needs to peel off on a fast-developing double play, he explained the same thing to the Royals players. Afterwards I asked if he was planning on doing that before he talked to me about it and Rusty said; "Hell,
no." I just reminded him of something he ought to say to the players.
If you like this website—and even if you don’t—give credit to the coaches and players who are generous with their time. If these guys didn’t love the game they wouldn’t spend so much time talking about it.
But I’m still not giving Rusty part of my paycheck.