Judging the Royals

Lee Judge breaks down the Royals, game by game.

How bad baseball can produce good numbers

03/24/2014 10:18 AM

03/24/2014 10:19 AM

Numbers, numbers, numbers—baseball is all about numbers. Ballplayers get paid for the numbers they put up and if you pay attention you’ll see some ballplayers protecting those numbers. If you want to know how bad baseball can produce good numbers, watch the following:

Pop-fly responsibility: Here’s how it works—on an infield pop-up everyone wants the pitcher to stay the hell out of the way. (OK, to be more accurate; everyone except

the pitcher wants to pitcher to stay the hell out of the way.) Pitchers are only out there once every few days and the other infielders should run him off a pop fly whenever possible.

The catcher is responsible for the area out in front of home plate and in-between home plate and the backstop. The catcher will also go up the foul lines and over to the dugout when necessary. The corner infielders should run the catcher off a pop fly whenever possible; they’re coming forward and have a better angle on the ball. The middle infielders should run the corner infielders off a pop fly for the same reason; a pop fly behind the first baseman has him backpedalling—the second baseman is moving sideways and has a better angle. Every outfielder has priority over every infielder—once again, they’re coming forward and the infielders are moving back. The centerfielder has priority over the corner outfielders and makes the call on a fly ball in-between centerfield and one of the corners.

If you see a guy hang back and not pursue a pop fly in his area—especially if it’s a sunny and/or windy day—you probably just saw some bad baseball. The guy who shied away from his area of responsibility might be trying to avoid an error by leaving a tough catch up to a teammate.

Playing hard grounders backhand:

There are legitimate reasons for doing this. If the ball is well hit there may not be time to get in front of it. And if an infielder can catch a grounder backhand, he’s already in good throwing position—that saves time. But if that’s the case, the runner coming down the line should be fast. Playing a ball backhand when you had time to get in front of it with a slow runner chugging toward first base is bad baseball. So why do it?

Fielding percentage.

If it’s a smoking hot grounder and you play the ball backhand, it’s more likely to be scored a hit if you don’t make the play. Get in front of the hot shot—

body up

—and if the play’s not made, it’s more likely to be scored an error.

Bunting for hits:

It’s the first inning, there’s a runner on first base and the hitter squares around and bunts the ball. You might be screaming at the manager for bunting in the first inning, but it may not be his call. A hitter who’s protecting his batting average might bunt for a hit on his own, knowing that if he’s successful he gets a hit. If he’s not, it’s scored a sacrifice and doesn’t count against his average.

Taking an inappropriate base:

If the game is a blowout stretching a single into a double or stealing a base when the situation doesn’t call for it can improve a player’s numbers, but invites retaliation from the other team. It’s bad baseball even though it improves your numbers because it can wake up the guys in the other dugout. A team that was accepting a loss suddenly gets motivated.

A bad effort on a bad pitch: If a catcher makes a bad effort on a pitch in the dirt, it’s scored a passed ball. If a catcher makes a really

bad effort on a pitch in the dirt it’s scored a wild pitch. Catchers who don’t get their bodies in front of the ball and only reach with their mitt are giving something less than 100 percent—but their lack of effort protects their numbers.

But to be fair, this

can

be a cross-up: the catcher thought something else was coming. If that’s the case there should be a runner on second base when it happens—they use more complicated signs when a runner is on second. If it was a cross-up you’ll see the catcher go out to the mound and go over the signs with the pitcher.

Not moving the runner:

Runner on second base, nobody out. Depending on the score the hitter might need to hit the ball to the right side—a 16-hopper will do—to move the runner over to third base. A runner on third with one out can score in a variety of ways that doesn’t require a hit. But if the batter is selfish he may want that RBI for himself and make no attempt to hit the ball to the right side.

Be aware that if the hitter is a 3-4-5 type, the team may

want

him to drive the run in—forget moving him over. They’ve got a sign for this, but they won’t share it; so ask yourself if the hitter is the type of guy who should try to move the runner over or is the hitter the type of guy who should try to drive the runner in.

Taking a bad walk:

Say there’s a man in scoring position, a good hitter at the plate and a mediocre hitter on deck. If it’s early in the game or the guy on deck is an outstanding defender, pinch hitting may not be an option. In this situation taking borderline pitches for a walk may actually be seen as a bad thing. The team may need the good hitter to expand his zone; he might be a better hitter on a bad pitch than the bad hitter is on a good one. (Think 8-hole hitter in the National League—don’t leave it up to the pitcher.)

Refusing to take a good walk:

Same situation—runner in scoring position. If the on-deck hitter is a guy who can get the job done, taking the walk might be the right thing to do. But some guys get hungry for RBIs and refuse to take a free pass. The ability of the man on deck is a key factor here. Remember—if it’s late in the game the bullpen and pinch hitters also come into play. (If this is starting to seem complicated, good—you’re beginning to understand.)

Refusing to give away an at-bat:

Sounds like a good thing, right? But sometimes a hitter needs to take pitches and stretch out his plate appearance. If his starting pitcher just had a long inning, the hitter needs to give him time to rest. The opposition pitcher knows that and might groove a couple fastballs to get ahead in the count. The selfish player doesn’t want to take hittable fastballs and screws his pitcher and the hitters behind him when he goes up hacking. If he makes an out on the first pitch, someone else has got to take pitches. That bad first at-bat can lead to two more.

Not diving for a wild throw:

If the catcher makes a bad throw on a stolen base attempt, watch the middle infielder to see how hard he tries to keep that throw on the infield. If the throw draws the infielder into the runner, the infielder might want to avoid contact and give up on it. Get enough glove on the ball and the error can switch from the catcher to the infielder. Make no attempt and it’s the catcher’s error all the way.

Refusing to play unless 100%: There are guys who don’t want to play unless they’re 100 percent healthy—why risk your numbers when you’re playing with a tight hamstring? Players who won’t play if they’re dinged up can hurt the team; maybe a starter at 85% is better than a bench player at 100 %. If the guy’s a beast he can change the game just by being on the field: even though he’s less than 100 % the other team doesn’t know that. The great player can get a lesser player better pitches to hit just by standing in the on-deck circle. Runners might not challenge an outfielder with a cannon for an arm, even though that cannon is out of service—they don’t know

it’s out of service. Guys who will play through discomfort are appreciated; guys who won’t aren’t.

Watch these situation closely and you may get a new appreciation of why some guys are admired and valued as teammates and other guys aren’t. If you know what to look for, you can see how bad baseball can produce good numbers.

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