A leadoff walk: the beginning of the end
04/02/2014 5:44 PM
04/03/2014 9:33 AM
Leadoff walks are bad for two reasons:
1.) They’re walks.
2.) The offense has three outs to work with.
Tim Collins came in to pitch the tenth inning in a tie ballgame and walked Detroit’s leadoff hitter, Austin Jackson, on six pitches. All six were fastballs so Collins wastrying
to throw strikes, but just didn’t have it. The leadoff walk gave the Tigers the chance to sacrifice bunt and they did. Alex Avila laid down the bunt; Collins picked it up and took the sure out at first. The second walk—to Nick Castellanos—didn’t hurt as badly; first base was open, it set up a double play and if the first walk scored, the second one wouldn’t matter anyway.
Collins then got Alex Gonzalez to pop the ball up on the infield for the second out—the Royals were two-thirds of the way out of a mess.
Collins then threw lead-off hitter Ian Kinsler a changeup pretty much smack dab in the middle of the plate—Kinsler didn’t miss it. In fact, in this game Kinsler didn’t miss many off-speed pitches. His game-winning 10th inning single came on a changeup, his sixth-inning single also came on a change and his fourth-inning homer came on a curve. That doesn’t mean you can’t throw Ian Kinsler off-speed pitches, but you better not leave them in the middle of the plate. Kinsler’s drive into left center ended the game, but a leadoff walk was the beginning of the end.
Royals lose 2-1.
*In the first inning Max Scherzer made the same mistake Tim Collins did; he walked the leadoff batter—in this case, Nori Aoki—but the Royals didn’t make him pay.
With one down and runners at first and third, Billy Butler came to the plate. Scherzer wanted a ball on the ground for a double play; Butler wanted to hit the ball in the air for a sacrifice fly. Scherzer worked the bottom of the zone, but couldn’t get Billy to chase and the count went to 3-0. Ned Yost gave Billy the green light thinking it might be the best pitch Billy would see, and itwas a better pitch—just not good enough. The ball was up in the zone, but not that
far up in the zone. Butler swung and hit into an inning-ending double play.
*At one point Billy Butler visibly complained about a call—umpires don’t like that. You can complain but you need to keep your head down and not make it obvious. In his new book "Throwback"—I hear it’s excellent—former catcher Jason Kendall says that when a hitter complained he’d set up farther off the plate; the umpire was in no mood to do the hitter any favors. Catcher Alex Avila appeared to try that, but Scherzer missed the mitt. If the umpire is going to stick it to the hitter, the pitcher needs to give him a pitch he can work with.
*Scherzer is one of the best at holding runnersand
the baseball. One of the most effective things a pitcher can do to stop base stealers is hold the ball in the set position. Most pitchers fall into the same rhythm and that allows runners to get a jump. Scherzer actually practices holding the ball when he’s in the bullpen, that way it won’t feel foreign to him when he has to do it in a game.
*Scherzer had another trick for holding runners and we saw it in the eighth inning. When a runner is on second base the runner’s supposed to focus on the pitcher’s chin; when it turns toward home plate the runner can try to steal third or at least extend his lead. With Jarrod Dyson on second, Scherzer would sometimes check the runner, but at other times never look back at all. If you’re keying on the pitcher’s chin it’s hard to get a jump if he never shows it to you. If Scherzernever
looked back it would be easy—but by sometimes looking and sometimes not, he’s found another way to screw up a runner’s jump.
*Jason Vargas pitched seven innings and gave up one run. Before the game, pitching coach described the left-handed Vargas as a Bruce Chen with a better fastball and changeup. Eiland also said Vargas knows how to add and subtract. If you’re thinking: "Big deal, I’ve seen well-trained horses do the same thing" you probably need an explanation.
Veteran pitchers will add and subtract velocity to their pitches; the trick is doing it in such a way that hitters can’t spot the difference. Vargas’ fastball meandered between 85 and 88 miles an hour and, even though three miles an hour might not seem like much, it can be enough to throw off a hitter’s timing.
*Vargas had a long bottom of the sixth inning; 24 pitches. And that set up a tough top of the seventh. When your pitcher has a long inning, you need to take pitches to give him a rest. Scherzer knew that and got ahead in the count by grooving first-pitch fastballs for strikes to Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler.
*After Monday’s game Ned Yost was asked why Greg Holland did not start the ninth inning. Ned said he didn’t want to use his closer until he had a leador
the other team had a runner in scoring position. At that point Yost wanted his best pitcher on the mound because his team was a hit away from losing. In this game Tim Collins started the tenth—Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis pitched the eighth and ninth—but once Collins had a runner in scoring position, Yost did not bring in Holland.
So what’s the difference?
The honest answer is I don’t know—I’m not there and I can’t ask. It may have something to do with off days; on Monday the Royals had one the next day, now they won’t have one until a week from Thursday. That might also figure into why Davis did not come out for a second inning. But I’m pulling that reasoning out of thin air.
The one thing I can pretty much guarantee you is that thereis
a reason; managers don’t forget they have a closer. I just don’t know what the reason is. It may not be a reason you or I would agree with, but there’s a reason.
If I get a chance to ask about it, I will.
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