Judging the Royals

Royals win in extra innings: why do these guys still care?

Billy Burns got a second victory Gatorade shower from Salvador Perez after Burns’ game-winning sacrifice Tuesday.
Billy Burns got a second victory Gatorade shower from Salvador Perez after Burns’ game-winning sacrifice Tuesday. jsleezer@kcstar.com

After the Royals beat the Twins in extra innings on Tuesday night, someone said the players were celebrating like it still mattered. It’s highly unlikely the Royals are going to the postseason (like me winning the Nobel Prize unlikely) so why do these guys still care?

They’re competitive.

Big-league ballplayers are some of the most competitive people you’ll ever meet. I had the good luck to play in a beer league with some former big-leaguers and I can tell you those guys do not like to lose; even in a meaningless men’s amateur league. Guys do not make it to the pros and work their way through the minors to the big leagues without being very, very competitive.

When the Royals scuffled early this season some fans ventured the opinion that the players were satisfied with winning the World Series in 2015 and no longer cared as much as they did before. I asked Rusty Kuntz what he thought.

Here’s what Rusty said: “These guys are not in the business of being embarrassed.”

Rusty also said when a guy wins a World Series ring he really wants another. Winning is so much better than losing, it’s addictive. So yeah, the Royals still care.

Even if they aren’t going to the playoffs, winning still matters.

Good situational hitting

Here’s the situation: 11th inning, score tied, bases loaded, one down. Billy Burns was at the plate. The Twins needed Burns to strike out or hit a groundball right at one of their drawn-in infielders; Burns needed to get the ball to the outfield.

Raul Mondesi was on third base and Burns felt if he hit a fly ball to the outfield, Mondesi would be able to tag and score — as long as Burns made the outfielder move away from home plate.

When outfielders have to make a throw after catching a fly ball, they want to get behind the spot where the ball will land; then catch the ball coming forward. If the outfielder can make the catch “coming through the ball” his throw will have momentum behind it and be much stronger.

Burns hit a 1-1 changeup in the air and got enough of it to force Twins center fielder Byron Buxton to go back and to his right to make the catch and that meant Buxton was throwing flat-footed and without momentum.

The throw was off-line and late; Mondesi scored easily and the Royals won their 80th game.

The delayed steal

Let’s back up to the start of that 11th inning; after Raul Mondesi walked he used a delayed steal to swipe second base. If the pitcher is too fast to the plate to make a straight steal work, the Royals sometimes use the delayed steal.

In 2014 the Royals led the league in stolen bases and other teams noticed. In order to stop the track meet taking place on the base paths, opposing teams had their pitchers work on speeding up their delivery times to home plate.

One of the ways the Royals countered the faster delivery times was by using the delayed steal. Now the faster delivery times didn’t matter; the Royals were no longer stealing the base off the pitcher, they were stealing it off the catcher and middle infielders.

As a pitcher starts to deliver the ball to home plate, the catcher and middle infielders sneak a glance at the runner. If the runner takes off, the catcher knows he’s got to get the ball down to second base quickly and the middle infielder responsible for covering second base knows he has to get to the bag.

But when the Royals use the delayed steal and the infielders and catcher check the runner, all they see is a runner taking his secondary lead. If the catcher and middle infielders don’t recheck the runner after the pitch has been delivered, the delayed steal will catch them napping; the catcher’s throw will be late or the middle infielder will be late covering the bag.

Pitching to Brian Dozier

This season Brian Dozier has played 16 games against the Royals and hit 11 home runs; which seems a bit excessive. When a guy is beating your brains out maybe you want to change your approach.

Tuesday night the Royals spent most of the evening trying to rob Dozier of power by pitching him on the outside part of the plate; Dozier was 0 for 5. If Dozier gets tired of being pitched away, look for him to move closer to home plate; now that pitch on the outside corner will be down the middle.

And if Dozier moves closer to home plate, the Royals need to “make him move his feet” which is a baseball euphemism for knocking someone on their backside. If Dozier bellies up on the dish and the Royals don’t “make him “move his feet and every other part of his body” look for Dozier to do more damage.

What’s that funny grip Ian Kennedy uses?

When taking signs pitchers often hold the ball using their most difficult grip; in Ian Kennedy’s case, that’s the changeup.

So when they put the ball in their glove they can switch to an easier grip smoothly. Start with an easy grip and go to a hard one and hitters are going to notice the pitcher scuffling to change his grip and know what pitch is coming.

Yes, I repeat myself

I’ve talked about delayed steals and pitchers’ grips before, but I never know who’s reading what. So if you’ve missed something I’ve written in the past, once in a while I’ll make the same point to get you up to speed.

Now here’s something I haven’t written before.

If you don’t want to get picked off, check a pitchers bio

Jose Berrios was the starting pitcher for the Twins and as an amateur he played short and second base. Pitchers who used to be infielders tend to have quicker feet and that can make them quicker with a pickoff move.

In the first inning Berrios showed his athleticism when he came off the mound and fielded a soft ground ball by Jarrod Dyson.

So if you’re thinking about laying a bunt down or don’t want to get picked off first base, check a pitcher’s bio; if he played a position before he became a pitcher, be careful.