Judging the Royals

Why Billy Butler should not have been thrown out at third base

The Royals' Billy Butler was tagged out by Giants third baseman Joaquin Arias trying to advance on an RBI double by Alex Gordon that scored Salvador Perez in the sixth inning of Friday's baseball game at Kauffman Stadium.
The Royals' Billy Butler was tagged out by Giants third baseman Joaquin Arias trying to advance on an RBI double by Alex Gordon that scored Salvador Perez in the sixth inning of Friday's baseball game at Kauffman Stadium. The Kansas City Star

In the bottom of the sixth inning Alex Gordon came to the plate with one down, Salvador Perez on second base and Billy Butler on first. Gordon hit a fly ball to left field and the ball sliced toward the foul line. Juan Perez gave chase, dove, but missed making the catch and the ball rolled into the left field corner.

Salvador Perez scored and somehow, Billy Butler got thrown out at third base.

When a fly ball goes to the outfield a runner on first base does not necessarily go halfway—he goes as far as he can and then wait to see if the ball gets caught. If the ball is hit to right field a runner on first has to stay close to the bag; it’s not a long throw from right field to first.

But with a ball hit down into the left field corner—especially with a left fielder sprinting away from first base—the runner can come all the way around second base; the left fielder is not going to make a diving catch in the corner and throw the ball on the fly to first base.

Getting to third base on that ball should be easy; but Billy came into third base standing up and got thrown out.

Butler’s base running cost Gordon a double and his team a run; Butler should have been on third with one out when Lorenzo Cain hit a fly ball to centerfield. Instead, Cain’s fly ball was the third out of the inning.

How the Kansas City Royals bullpen shortens a game

If a team has a dominant closer, the other team better take a lead in the first eight innings; they’re unlikely to score after the closer gets in the game. If a team has a dominant set-up man, the other team now needs to take a lead in the first seven innings; scoring in the eighth and ninth innings will be tough. And if a team has a third reliever with great stuff, the opposition better take a lead in the first six innings; the seventh, eighth and ninth innings are likely to be shutdown innings.

Now throw in a fourth tough reliever and the odds get even worse.

Friday night starting pitcher Jason Vargas only went five innings, but relievers Jason Frasor, Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland slammed the door with four consecutive scoreless innings. Ned Yost said the plan was to let Vargas throw 100 pitches, get him through five innings with a lead or at least tied and then go to the power arms in his bullpen.

Vargas threw five and the bullpen did the rest.

The Royals beat the Giants 4-3.

Vargas wasn’t as sharp as usual

In the fifth inning on a 1-2 pitch to San Francisco Giant Michael Morse, Royals catcher Salvador Perez called for a curveball, then tapped his mitt on the ground. That’s the sign catchers use to tell pitchers to bounce the next pitch. Jason Vargas wound up and missed bouncing the ball on the ground by about three feet—it came in high in the zone and Vargas was lucky the ball got fouled off.

After the game Ned Yost said Vargas hadn’t pitched that badly, but still wasn’t quite sharp.

Taking 101 pitches to get through five innings would indicate Ned was right: Vargas missed spots at times and had a couple of very long innings. But with a bullpen like Kansas City’s, five innings was enough.

Showing everything early

You used to see pitchers go as far as they could with their fastball, then sprinkle in changeups and finally break out their breaking pitches as they got deeper in the game. On Friday night Salvador Perez and Jason Vargas showed the San Francisco Giants every pitch Vargas had—a fastball, changeup and curveball—after the first two batters.

Smart hitters are eager for information: they want to know how a pitcher’s fastball is moving that night, how the break is on his curve and whether anyone can spot his changeup coming. Throwing every pitch right away gives the hitters a lot of information early in the game.

Replay is changing the game

In the third inning Hunter Pence tried to go first to third and Royals right fielder Nori Aoki tried to throw him out. Mike Moustakas caught Nori’s throw and made the tag, but Pence was ruled safe. The Royals challenged the play and the replay revealed Pence coming off the bag while Mike had the tag on him.

Infielders now know that close plays can be reviewed so they need to leave tags on the runner throughout a play; the runner might come off the bag. And if the runner does not come off the bag on his own, push him.

The Giants challenge Aoki’s arm and lose

Nori Aoki tends to play deep and does not have the strongest outfield arm. As a result, we see a lot of teams go first-to-third or second-to-home on balls hit to right field. Aoki has a long run to a ball in front of him and might not come up with a great throw when he gets there—but Friday night he threw out two of San Francisco’s base runners and each play saved a run.

When you win 4-2 that’s pretty big.

Billy Butler and the home plate umpire

Home plate umpire Kerwin Danley appeared to have a tight strike zone, but I wondered whether he’d open it up after the first pitch thrown to Billy Butler. Billy reacted with disbelief to a curve at the bottom of the zone being called strike one and made sure everyone knew he thought Danley had made the wrong call.

That can mean a long night for a hitter; umpires don’t like being shown up and borderline pitches might start going to the pitcher’s way. To Danley’s credit—I guess—the zone stayed tight and even though he had a couple opportunities to pay Billy back, Danley didn’t do it.

Four pitches later Butler crushed a fastball for a two-run bomb.