Either the Royals had a day off yesterday or I misread the schedule, because I spent a good chunk of Thursday night napping on my couch. Either way, I don’t have a game to write about, so today I thought I’d get to some odds and ends that might be of interest.
1. Why you see pickoffs in breaking-ball counts
No balls and two strikes, 1-2 and 2-2 tend to be breaking-ball counts; the pitcher doesn’t necessarily have to throw a strike, so he has the luxury of throwing a breaking ball that finishes out of the zone. If hitters chase that breaking ball, they’ll probably strike out.
But everybody’s working from the same script, so if there’s a fast runner on first base, he might try to steal second in those counts; breaking balls take longer to get to home plate and are more difficult for the catcher to handle.
That being the case, you sometimes see pitchers attempt a pickoff right before they’re going to throw a breaking ball.
It’s a game of cat-and-mouse. In a breaking-ball count, does the runner go right away or assume the pitcher will attempt a pickoff? Does the runner go right after the first pickoff attempt or will the pitcher double up on his throws to first?
That’s why you often see multiple pickoff attempts. The pitcher isn’t doing it just for fun, he’s trying to catch the runner breaking for second base. And if the runner doesn’t go and the pitcher throws a breaking ball to the hitter, the runner may have missed his best chance to swipe second.
2. Matt Strahm shakes off Salvador Perez
Salvador Perez has a reputation as one of the best catchers in the game; he’s an All-Star and has won multiple Gold Gloves.
But as I’ve pointed out before, Salvy’s reputation is mainly based on his throwing. He’s quick and accurate and can shut down the other team’s running game.
Salvy’s reputation as a game-caller isn’t as good.
When Johnny Cueto was here, he and Salvy had a hard time getting on the same page. You could see Cueto shaking Salvy off fairly consistently. But Cueto is a veteran and — despite his troubles in Kansas City — is considered one of the better pitchers in the game.
Matt Strahm has logged just 15 2/3 innings in the big leagues, but he still shakes off Salvy, and that’s probably a good thing. It means Strahm has an idea of what he wants to do and isn’t going to follow someone else’s game plan unless it makes sense to him.
To stick in the big leagues, you have to be confident. And a rookie reliever shaking off an All-Star catcher shows confidence. Right now, Strahm’s got an ERA of 0.57, so what he’s doing is working. If what Strahm’s doing quits working, he might not shake off Perez.
3. Other stuff I never got around to
▪ When Jarrod Dyson starts a game, Ned Yost loses a weapon off the bench. Being able to steal a base pretty much whenever you need to is a nice option. Billy Burns is usually available to pinch-run, but so far in his career he steals bases successfully 77 percent of the time ... and Dyson’s successful 85 percent of the time.
▪ Pitching inside with the bases loaded can be a bad idea: clip the guy at the plate and you just gave up a run. If a hitter knows you’re not coming inside, he can lean out and look for the pitch away. On the other hand, if one run doesn’t matter, feel free to buzz the tower.
▪ Sometimes you’ll read about a team’s bats “waking up” in the later innings of a game, and sometimes that’s accurate. Fourth at-bats can be tough for pitchers. The hitters are loose from previous at-bats and, if the game is close, extremely focused. But the bats often wake up when the other team changes pitchers: The previous guy was dealing, and the next pitcher didn’t have it.
OK, that’s it for today. Come back tomorrow for the inside scoop on Friday night’s game.