Judging the Royals

Lee Judge breaks down the Royals, game by game.

What third base positioning can tell you

03/21/2014 2:39 PM

03/21/2014 2:40 PM

Next time you’re at a game check the positioning of the third baseman; it can tell you a lot. Here’s a partial list of what third base positioning can reveal:

The pitcher’s velocity:

If there’s a right-handed hitter at the plate and Bruce Chen is on the mound, the third baseman will probably be closer to the foul line. With Yordano Ventura throwing, the third baseman will play further off the bag. A right-handed hitter has a better chance of pulling a Bruce Chen pitch down the third-base line than pulling a heater from Yordano Ventura.

The hitter’s foot speed:

In Thursday’s game against the Angels two hitters shot doubles past third baseman Danny Valencia; Collin Cowgill and Mike Trout. Both of those guys can fly so Valencia had to play further in and that made it easier to get the ball past him; play deep on a burner and Valencia could do everything right and still not get the runner. In Cowgill’s second at-bat Valencia was playing slightly deeper so Cowgill laid down a bunt. It didn’t work—it was too close to home plate—but you can see the dilemma a fast guy presents a third baseman. Play in and he might shoot a hit past you, play back and he can bunt for a hit.

The manager’s defensive philosophy: Some managers believe in guarding the lines with two outs or late in a game. With the third baseman right on the line, a hit will have to be to his left. A hit down the line should be extra bases; a hit between third and short will be a single. If he guards the line the manager is betting that the offense won’t get three singles to score a run. If the manager has his third base man off the line

he’s betting that a ball won’t be hit in the narrow space between a defender and the foul line.

The other manager’s offensive philosophy: With a runner on second base and nobody out, if the third baseman is playing in it’s probably because the defensive manager believes the other team will bunt the runner over. If the third baseman is playing back

the defensive manager believes the other team is going to let the hitter swing away. In other words; if it’s Alcides Escobar, play in—if it’s Miguel Cabrera, play back.

The count: I threw this one in for grins—you could always look at the scoreboard. But

if Jarrod Dyson is at the plate with an 0-0 count you might see the third baseman play in. Jarrod can motor and he’s left-handed. Once Jarrod gets one strike the third baseman might back up a bit—the bunt for a hit is less likely. If Jarrod has two strikes the third baseman can probably forget a bunt for a hit and play at his normal depth.

In our new book "Throwback" (the publisher wants me to mention it at every opportunity, so brace yourself) Jason Kendall suggests fans take an inning and watch just one guy. You’ll be amazed at all the shifting in position that goes between batters and pitches. And if you’re going to pick just one guy, you could do worse than starting with the third baseman.

(The book "Throwback; A Big League Catcher Tells How the Game Is Really Played" is being published by St. Martin’s Press and will be out on May 13th. If you want to save some money you can preorder the book from places like Amazon, Barnes Noble and Apple.)

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The rundown on rundowns

The other night against the Reds, the Royals had trouble with a rundown. With runners on first and third the Royals had a base runner—Todd Frazier—trapped between first and second. The ball was in the hands of shortstop Pedro Ciriaco.

The key to a rundown is getting the trapped base runner going full speed; when he’s in a sprint it’s hard for him to change direction. Let the runner dart back and forth and the defense will make too many throws. If Ciriaco is faster than Frazier—and I’m pretty sure he is—all he had to do was chase Frazier back toward first while listening for someone to yell, "Four, four, four"—that would mean the runner on third was breaking for home.

Instead, Ciriaco threw the ball to first baseman, Eric Hosmer. Because Ciriaco never got him sprinting, Frazier was able to change direction and head back to second. Then Ciriaco made another mistake; he stayed too close to the base path. When a smart runner sees this he’ll crash into the defender and claim the defender blocked the base path. (None of that happened, so let’s move on.)

With Frazier headed back to second, Hosmer then threw the ball to Danny Valencia who was covering the bag. But then the runner on third, Skip Schumaker, broke for home. The ball was at second base, the furthest it could get from home plate. The Royals tagged out Frazier, but Schumaker scored.

Next time you see a rundown, pay attention to the runner; if the defense gets him sprinting they’re doing it right. If the defense lets the runner dart back and forth they’ll have to make too many throws and something bad might happen.

Just like it did against the Reds.


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