The main thing any hitter does is make outs. Take one of my favorite hitters of all-time, Tony Gywnn; Tony had 9,288 at-bats and 3,141 hits. If I did the math right, that means this Hall of Fame hitter made 6,147 outs. Gywnn’s 162-game average is 617 at-bats per year, so if you put all his unsuccessful at-bats together, one of the best hitters in the history of the game spent about a decade doing nothing but making outs.
The main thing a hitter does is make outs, so smart hitters—and smart teams—learn to makeproductive
Take the third inning of Friday night’s game against the Mariners: Alcides Escobar singled, then stole second base. Nori Aoki made a productive out by sac bunting Escobar to third. Then, with one out, Eric Hosmer made a productive out by hitting a sacrifice fly to left field; Escobar tagged up and scored.
In the first inning with nobody out Billy Butler got lucky—it should have been a double play—and made a productive out with Nori Aoki on third; Billy’s groundball allowed Aoki to score. Something similar happened in the sixth inning: Billy Butler was on second and Salvador Perez was on first. Alex Gordon made a productive out when he hit a fly ball deep enough to allow Butler to tag and make it to third base with one down. Gordon’s productive out paid off when Johnny Giavotella made another productive out, a groundball that allowed Butler to score.
Productive outs come in several categories: sacrifice bunts, sacrifice fly balls, hitting the ball to the right side with a runner on second and nobody out, long at-bats—anything that helps your team win. The main thing a hitter does is make outs, smart hitters makeproductive
Thanks to some productive outs, the Royals beat the Mariners, 6-1.
Vargas turns his back on the hitters
Seven innings pitched, three hits, 0 runs. If you wonder how a guy whose fastball tops out at about 90 miles an hour throws it past people, you could start withhis
start; Jason Vargas’ windup has an inward turn that puts his back to the hitter. I’ve never faced Jason—thank, God—but I’m guessing that inward turn hides the ball from the hitter for a long time. When a pitcher does that, the ball seems to jump out at you—you don’t see it, you don’t see it and then suddenly it’s there.
Go back to that Billy Butler grounder to Mariners third baseman Willie Bloomquist; Eric Hosmer was on first base and Willie threw to second to start a double play. The throw was wide, but Robinson Cano managed to catch the ball and stay on the bag—barely.
When middle infielders approach second base as the pivot man in a double play, they’re encouraged to shorten their strides and take short, choppy steps. That way, if the throw is off-target, they can react quickly. Take long steps and it’s like a first baseman stretching for the ball too soon; you’re in a bad position to react to a bad throw. (That bit of wisdom came from former Royals utility infielder, Greg Pryor. A long time ago, he was trying to teach me to play second base—it didn’t work. Good teacher, bad student.)
Johnny Giavotella hit a ball to right field and that’s good. The Royals want Johnny to go to the opposite field and keep the ball out of the air. When you see Giavotella pull the ball or hit fly balls; that’s not part of the game plan.
Eric Hosmer’s sacrifice fly to Dustin Ackley scored Alcides Escobar from third base. One of the key factors in the play was what Ackley had to do to catch Hosmer’s fly ball—Ackley moved sideways. Lateral movement meant the throw to home plate would be weak. If an outfielder can get behind the ball and catch it while moving forward, the throw will be stronger. Pay attention to the outfielder’s movement while catching a fly ball with a runner tagging—it often decides what happens next.
In the bottom of the inning Royals fans got another example of why Jason Vargas is a successful pitcher: In a 2-1 fastball count, Vargas threw Dustin Ackley a changeup. That pitch locked Ackley up and he took it for a called strike. Then, with the count 2-2, Vargas threw Ackley an 87-MPH two-seam fastball. That pitch got in on Ackley and he lined out softly to left fielder Alex Gordon. Reverse the two pitches—throw Ackley the fastball when he’s looking fastball—and the results might be different. With two strikes a hitter is trying to wait on the ball, so a well-located fastball is that much more effective.
With two runners on and nobody out, Johnny Giavotella did not bunt—he swung away. The Royals got lucky and avoided a double play when Mariners shortstop, Brad Miller, threw the ball away. That error led to two runs; if Seattle had turned two there, Salvador Perez wouldn’t have scored and Lorenzo Cain’s double play ball would have ended the inning; instead it scored another run.
That productive out Johnny Giavotella made in the sixth scored a run, but Johnny’s approach at the plate left something to be desired. With one down and runners at first and third, a hitter’s main job is staying out of an inning-ending double play. That means getting a ball up in the zone; hit a fly ball to the outfield and the runner on third might be able to tag and score. Giavotella chased two sliders down in the zone, put the second one in play and got lucky when his groundball did not result in a double play.
Eighth inning and ninth innings:
Aaron Crow threw the eighth and Tim Collins threw the ninth. Even though both pitchers had a sizeable lead, both pitchers issued walks—not good. But if the Royals still won; no harm, no foul—right?
Collin’s struggles in the ninth forced Greg Holland to get up and throw in the bullpen. Even though he never came in the game, warming up means Holland was throwing pitches on a day when he should get to rest.
A small thing, but it could have an effect in the next two games.
How to win Jason Kendall’s catcher’s mask
Here’s the deal: click on the link below and it takes you to a landing page for the new book "Throwback." St. Martin’s Press is encouraging readers to help spread the word about the book and if you do, we send you a signed bookplate—essentially an autographed sticker that goes into your copy of the book. You also get a chance to win an autographed Jason Kendall catcher’s mask.
When St. Martin’s first brought up this idea they had to explain the terms "landing page" and "bookplate." They wanted Jason to donate some autographed item and we thought a catcher’s mask was something different. We also got stuck signing 2,500 bookplates. You’ll be happy to know my autograph is becoming as illegible as any big league ballplayer’s; when you have to sign a lot of stuff, you learn to do it quickly. Anyway, check out the landing page and you might wind up with a very cool piece of memorabilia.
"Throwback: A Big League Catcher Tells How the Game Is Really Played" is an inside look at our national pastime, co-authored by Jason Kendall and Lee Judge. The book will be in stores on May 13th, but can be pre-ordered right now.