Judging the Royals

June 14, 2014

The Royals beat the White Sox: A good game with same bad moments

The Royals starting pitcher — Danny Duffy — threw seven innings, struck out nine, walked one, gave up no runs and walked away with the win. But the most important moment in this 9-1 win over the Chicago White Sox may have come in the second inning — when Mike Moustakas made an error.

Judging the Royals

Lee Judge breaks down the Royals, game by game.

The Royals starting pitcher — Danny Duffy — threw seven innings, struck out nine, walked one, gave up no runs and walked away with the win. But the most important moment in this 9-1 win over the Chicago White Sox may have come in the second inning — when Mike Moustakas made an error.

The old Danny Duffy might have fallen apart. Danny can be an emotional pitcher and sometimes those emotions get the better of him; something bad happens and Duffy starts to overthrow to make up for it. When Mike Moustakas bobbled a potential double-play ball it set the stage for a potential Duffy meltdown — would Danny start to over-compensate for Mike’s error or could he maintain his composure?

Duffy struck out the next two hitters on eight pitches; question answered.

Ryan Lefebvre and Rex Hudler pointed out that Duffy’s walks are down, his strikeouts are down and his pitch counts are down; those numbers indicate that Duffy is learning to pitch to contact and use his defense.

The Royals ended the day three games over and they’re closing in on the Detroit Tigers. As I’ve said before: optimists think the Royals pitching and defense have kept them around .500 and if they’ll hit a little bit, there’s no telling what they can do.

They’re starting to hit a little bit.

Game notes

First inning: Danny Duffy walked one batter and it happened to be a guy on pace to hit over 40 home runs and drive in over 120 RBIs—Jose Abreu. You’ve heard it before: when a pitcher walks someone with power, he might be working around that hitter. When a pitcher walks someone who can’t hurt him—because the hitter has either no power or the pitcher has a big lead—that’s probably a bad walk.

Second inning: Back to that error by Mike Moustakas—it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that an awful lot of errors are made on potential double-play balls. Infielders are in a hurry to turn two and don’t even get one. If someone isn’t already keeping that stat—errors made on double play balls—they should start.

In the same inning Paul Konerko hit a first-pitch fastball for a single. Keep that in mind; it’s going to come up again.

Fourth inning: With the bases loaded Lorenzo Cain swung at a first-pitch slider and missed (more on this later as well) then hit a down and in fastball just where the Chicago pitcher wanted him to; right at the Chicago third baseman.

That down and in pitch to a right-handed hitter often results in double play groundball, but in this case the double play groundball went right through the third baseman’s legs. Cain swung at a pitcher’s pitch, but Chicago’s defense let him off the hook.

The third baseman—Leury Garcia—had to chase the ball down the left-field line while two runs scored. Salvador Perez, who had been on first base, advanced to second and then did some heads-up base running; he advance to third on Garcia’s long throw to home plate. Lorenzo Cain—who appeared to have the opportunity to advance to second on the same throw—stayed at first base. The opportunity to avoid a double play situation was lost.

The Sox didn’t take advantage and both Perez and Cain eventually scored, but better base running would have given the Royals runners on second and third with nobody out.

The bottom of the fourth: Mike Moustakas made a nice play to start the inning and Eric Hosmer scooped a throw in the dirt to end it. This one inning showed how much difference defense can make: an error by Chicago’s third baseman opened up the inning for the Royals, two outstanding defensive plays by Kansas City prevented the White Sox from scoring anything at all.

But in that fourth inning Paul Konerko hit another first-pitch fastball for another single. This is what’s referred to as "flat learning curve"—no matter how many times you put the rat in the maze, he never finds the cheese. Konerko is 38-years-old and when hitters approach forty they tend to develop "slider-speed bats"—they can’t get around on the good fastball any more. So what do older hitters do?

They cheat on the fastball.

They start their swing early because that’s the only way they can catch up to a good fastball. The Royals appeared to be throwing Konerko a pitch he was looking for and they made the same mistake twice.

Eighth inning: Mike Moustakas demonstrated why the Royals keep hoping he’ll come around; he plays generally excellent defense and has power on a team that’s short of that commodity. Moose got a 3-1 sinker and put it in the right-field bleachers.

Ninth inning: Nori Aoki doubled and then erased that hit with some bad base running. The ball was down in the right-field corner—hard for a runner coming into second base to see what’s going on back there unless he’s qualified to play the female lead in the Exorcist. It appeared Aoki was running with his head down and never picked up his third base coach, Mike Jirschele.

Aoki tried to stretch his double into a triple and was thrown out. It was the first out of the inning and broke one of the Ten Commandments of base running: don’t make the first or third out at third base. Nori should have been at second with nobody out, but instead, the Royals had one down to start the inning. Friday night Lorenzo Cain almost made the third out of an inning at third.

This is not good base running.

Later in the ninth inning Salvador Perez was given a 3-0 green light and chased a pitch down in the zone, hitting a pop fly to second baseman, Gordon Beckham. When a hitter gets a 3-0 green light, he needs to look for a "cookie"—a fastball piped right down the middle. Chasing a marginal pitch is a good way to lose the privilege of swinging the bat 3-0.

Lorenzo Cain ended the inning by swinging at three sliders, none of them in the strike zone.

Bottom of the ninth: When Paul Konerko came to the plate for the fourth time, here’s what I said out loud: "Don’t throw him a first-pitch fastball."

Michael Mariot and Salvador Perez put their heads together and decided to throw Paul Konerko a pitch he’d already smoked two times. When a guy who’s getting solicitation letters from the AARP is smoking fastballs, it’s likely he’s cheating to do it—that guy is then vulnerable to off-speed stuff.

In fact the one time the Royals got Konerko out in this game was in the sixth inning when they missed the zone with a first-pitch fastball and started throwing him curveballs and changeups.

But here came another first-pitch fastball and Konerko homered.

Those bad moments might eventually hurt you

Konerko’s homer meant nothing—it made the final score 9-1—but failing to recognize what Konerko was doing and failing to make an adjustment is important. The Royals are three games above .500 and one game out of first place. They have a chance to take over the top spot this coming week when they play a four-game series against Detroit.

Continuing to throw Konerko first-pitch fastballs, bad base running by Aoki and Cain, bad approaches on 3-0 pitches—this is the kind of stuff that needs to get cleaned up if the Royals are going to have a shot at making the playoffs and surviving once they get there.

Notes from Friday night’s game

My son Paul filled in for me on Friday night, but I did see parts of the game and noticed a few things:

Lorenzo Cain and the get-me-over curve

In the first inning with runners on second and third, Chicago’s pitcher Jose Quintana threw Lorenzo Cain a first-pitch curveball. The get-me-over curve is thrown with less break so it can be thrown for a strike. The reason most hitters don’t hit it is because they aren’t looking for a first-pitch curve; they want a fastball and if the pitch is out of their timing they take it.

Former Royals closer Jeff Montgomery once told me he could throw a get-me-over breaking pitch to Kirk Gibson and he’d take it; Gibson was look for a fastball. But Jeff also said he could throw the same pitch to a kid up from Triple A and he might hit it 400 feet; the kid wasn’t looking for anything in particular, he was just hacking.

And that gets us back to Lorenzo Cain:

Sometimes Lorenzo appears to just be hacking, so a get-me-over breaking pitch isn’t going to disrupt his timing. He’ll swing at first-pitch fastballs, first-pitch sliders and first-pitch curves. If you could figure out how to throw a first-pitch Volkswagen, Lorenzo might take a hack. To prove the point; in his very next at-bat Cain swung at a first-pitch fastball. So unless he had two different game plans for two different at-bats, Lorenzo was just looking for the first pitch he could hit.

If so, a get-me-over curve to Lorenzo Cain is not a good pitch—he ain’t gonna take it.

Why Alcides Escobar didn’t dive—maybe

In the second inning of Friday night’s game Alexei Ramirez hit a groundball just out of Alcides Escobar’s reach. Despite being so close to the ball, Esky didn’t dive for it.

Why not?

I’m speculating; but it might be the runner. Alexei Ramirez has speed, so laying out for a ball is unlikely to result in an out, even if you catch it. By the time you get up and throw the ball to first base Alexei will be safe. But if the runner’s Adam Dunn, you dive. The exception to this rule would be anytime there are runners on base. With runner on, knocking a ball down—keeping it on the infield—could prevent a runner from taking an extra 90 feet.

If you see an infielder let a ball get through to the outfield when a dive might have kept the ball on the infield, consider the runner and the situation. Sometimes a diving stop is necessary and sometimes it won’t make much difference.

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