If you want to know what went wrong for Yordano Ventura and the Royals on Sunday, take a look at the first two batters in the fifth inning. The score was 3-0 Twins—the Royals still had a shot—and Ventura had the inning’s leadoff hitter, Trevor Plouffe, 0-2. Catcher Salvador Perez set up low and away—why give a guy 0-2 anything to hit?—but Ventura missed high in the zone. Plouffe hit a triple.
Ventura then got the next hitter, Chris Colabello, into a 2-2 count and Perez set up low in the zone, but Ventura missed high. Ventura hit a single.
After the game Ned Yost said Yordano Ventura struggled to repeat his mechanics. Specifically, Ventura was "opening up." When a pitcher’s front side opens up too soon it causes a chain reaction. Picture a stack of building blocks and then imagine what would happen if you pulled the bottom block toward you; the top block would fall and it would fall away from you.
That’s pretty close to what happens to a pitcher.
The front side leaves too soon and the throwing arm drops down. The hand is then under the ball instead of on top and the pitch goes high to the arm side. That’s why Ventura almost hit Kurt Suzuki in the head with a fastball up and in. Yordano was missing high and that meant he either threw a ball or threw a hittable pitch. Yost said when Ventura’s good he stays closed and gets a downhill angle on his pitches.
On Sunday, Yordano Ventura opened up.
Royals lose 8-3.
*It wasn’tall Ventura’s fault: in the fourth inning with a runner on first base, Yordano attempted a pickoff and threw the ball away. But on the replay it appeared Salvador Perez made the sign for a pick; if so, the call came from the bench. On the other hand, Sal also made a "calm down" gesture before and after the pick sign. I’m interpreting sign language here, but the message seemed
to be: we want you to throw the ball to first base, but don’t go crazy. In other words: shorten the runner’s lead, but we don’t expect you to pick him off.
But it’s entirely possible I’m way off base—which calls for another pickoff.
*In the first inning Trevor Plouffe doubled and stood on second base with nobody out. Here’s a little baseball I.Q. test: in that situation, where does the centerfielder stand?
To the right-field side of second base.
Here’s why: think about what the hitter is trying to do—hit the ball to the right side so the runner can move from second to third. (No way I’m smart enough to think of that on my own; that came straight from Royals outfield coach Rusty Kuntz.)
*Yordano Ventura threw 34 pitches in top of the first inning and every Royals hitters took a called strike in the bottom of the first; that’s actually good baseball. Hitters were taking pitches to allow Ventura to rest and veteran Twins pitcher Phil Hughes was taking advantage of that situation by pouring in first-pitch fastballs for strikes.
*In the fifth inning catcher Salvador Perez threw out a base runner while avoiding the hitter, Jason Kubel. The Twins left fielder struck out and fell across the plate as Sal threw the ball. Former Royals catcher Jason Kendall once told me that’s a perfect situation to get an interference call: throw the ball into the batter’s back or collide with the batter and throw the ball straight into the ground—it looks horrible and the umpire will give you the call.
*By the way: this would have been a very different game if the Twins second baseman—Brian Dozier—had not turned an incredible double play in the fifth inning. Look it up on line; it’s well worth your time.
*Pitcher Justin Marks made his major league debut and got through his first inning just fine. He then went out for a second inning and gave up three runs. I asked Ned Yost if he had any doubt about sending Marks out for another inning and Ned said no. At the time the Royals were down 5-1 and Ned was trying to get through the game without burning up his pen. The Royals have four games against Cleveland and three more against Baltimore before having a day off.
*Alcides Escobar hit a 402-foot home run into the left field bullpen and you gotta wonder if that’s really a good thing. It didn’t change the game’s final outcome and the Royals probably don’t want Esky trying to hit tape-measure bombs. If anyone wants a metrics project: I wonder how well light-hitting players hit the two weeks following a home run.
Houston’s defensive shifts
According to a story by the Star’s Pete Grathoff, the Houston Astros lead baseball in defensive shifts, although defining what constitutes a shift can be tricky—good ballplayers have always adjusted somewhat to the guy at the plate and the pitcher on the mound. Nevertheless, defensive shifts are all the rage right now.
Pedro Grifol, the Royals hitting coach, was not surprised that Houston was using infield shifts, but hewas
surprised by who they were using them against. Let’s say spray charts show a right-handed hitter hits a ton of balls between second and third base; putting three guys on that side of the infield might make sense—unless the hitter has bat control.
Now putting three guys on the left side of the infield gives the guy with bat control some opportunities. He may have hit a lot of balls to the left side, but he has the skill to hit the ball to the right sideif
he chooses to. That’s why people were surprised to see Houston use a shift against Omar Infante. A hitter like Infante may hit a majority of groundballs between second and third, but if he chooses to, he can hit the ball the other way.
Some hitters say they won’t change the way they swing to take advantage of a shift, Grifol thinks it depends on the guy and the situation. Hitters like Omar Infante and Alcides Escobar should take advantage of a shift at every opportunity. But if a guy has some serious pop he might want to take advantage of a shift with a runner in scoring position, but try to go over or through the shift with nobody on and two out—hit a bomb or at least a double; get in scoring position.
Thinking back, the first radical defensive shift I ever saw was in a Royals fantasy camp and that was more than 20 years ago. John Mayberry came to the plate with a runner in scoring position and as a joke, the entire team of fantasy campers ran over to the right side of the field.
The "what-the-hell?" look on Mayberry’s face was priceless.
He then proceeded to poke a ball through the left side and drive in the run. As he jogged down to first base Big John said: "Always take the RBI." John Mayberry knew a thing or two about hitting—and defensive shifts.