Judging the Royals

Royals 6, Twins 4: How a walk broke the game open

With one down in the fifth inning, Twins pitcher Trevor May walked Alcides Escobar, and that was the turning point in the game. With a runner on first base May started pitching with a "slide step" delivery. Pitchers try to get the ball to home plate more quickly by barely lifting their front foot and sliding that foot toward the plate, but some pitchers have trouble throwing strikes while slide stepping. Fortunately for the Royals, Trevor May appeared to be one of those pitchers.

After walking Escobar, May used the slide step and walked Jarrod Dyson. He then got a groundball out of Nori Aoki, both runners moved up and then May—who was still pitching out of a slide step—walked Omar Infante.

With the bases loaded May was still pitching out of a slide step—I don’t know where he thought the runners would be going—and hung a slider to Salvador Perez. The Royals catcher singled and two runs scored. May—still in that slide step—then piped a fastball down the middle to Billy Butler and the ball was lined into centerfield for an RBI single. The Royals went up 3-0 and never trailed after that, eventually beating the Twins 6-4.

But it all started with a slide step.

How to tell when a pitcher is about to slide step

Watch the back shoulder. If the pitcher is going to slide step, the back shoulder will move forward. If the pitcher is going to use a regular leg kick, the back shoulder will move back—toward second base. The pitcher is loading up on his back foot to get ready to throw the ball home.

How ballplayers say hello

In the first inning Salvador Perez walked to the plate and used his bat to tap Twins catcher Eric Fryer and home plate umpire Chris Segal on the shin guards—that’s how ballplayers say hi without letting fans know they’re doing it.

You can see the same thing at first base: a runner will get on and the first baseman will tap him in the rear end with his mitt; it’s another way to say hi without being obvious. But tap the wrong guy—a guy who doesn’t know you and doesn’t like you—and words might be exchanged.

Josh Willingham makes a base running mistake

With nobody down in the second inning and Josh Willingham on first base, Mike Moustakas singled to left center. Willingham tried to go first-to-third and was thrown out easily. That’s a base running mistake for a couple reasons:

First reason: You don’t make the first or third out at third base. With nobody down you might have a big inning brewing and with a runner on second your team has three chances to drive in a run.

Second reason: The centerfielder—Danny Santana—was moving toward third base and that makes for a strong throw.

Alex Gordon makes a good base running decision

With two outs in the fourth inning Alex Gordon hit a ball in the left-center gap and stretched it into a double. Two outs is the right time to do this; stay at first and it will take two singles to get you in, make it to second and you’re a hit away. Base runners need to pay attention to the number of outs:

With nobody out you take no chances.

With one out you take chances to get to one place; third base. That way you can score without benefit of a hit.

With two outs you take chances to get to two places: second base—for the reason mentioned above—and home plate. Stop at third and you’ll need a two-out hit to score.

How Vargas did it

Jason Vargas threw seven innings and only gave up four hits and a single run. If you’re looking for a key to his success you could do worse than looking at first-pitch strikes. When the other team goes up hacking—and Vargas had some very quick innings—it’s probably because the pitcher is throwing strikes; there’s no reason to take pitches, you’ll only fall behind in the count.

Vargas faced 26 batters and by my count threw a first-pitch strike to 14 of them. Two of the 14 got hits. Throwing first-pitch strikes is how starting pitchers go deep in games.

A Joe Mauer at bat shows why he’s good

When Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki was talking about calling a game he said the hardest hitters to get out were the ones who had a game plan and would not come off it. Kurt wanted guys trying to hit both sides of the plate, fastballs and off-speed—basically he wanted hitters to swing at everything.

But a guy who has a plan is selective.

In that sixth inning Vargas fell behind to Mauer and had to throw him a 2-1 pitch. That’s a fastball count and a lot of hitters try to load up and do damage at that point. With those guys you throw something off-speed and let them get themselves out.

Mauer is more disciplined and likes to sit back and take the ball the other way, so Vargas did the opposite of what a pitcher might do in a fastball count; Jason went inside and jammed Mauer. The Twins first baseman fouled the ball off and the count moved to 2-2. Assuming Mauer was still looking to go the other way, Vargas went inside again and once again jammed Mauer with a fastball.

At this point a lot of hitters would try to adjust to hit that inside fastball and that’s when a pitcher can get the hitter out by throwing something on the outside part of the plate. But Mauer seemed content to foul off that inside pitch—not adjust—and wait for Vargas to make a mistake out over the plate. Jason did and Joe was ready: he singled to centerfield.

Joe Mauer had a game plan and wouldn’t come off it.

Salvador Perez leaves the game

The Royals catcher left the game when he felt something in his knee while running the bases. Salvador Perez is a big guy and big catchers tend to have knee problems. Some people have recently criticized Ned Yost for giving Sal a day off, but that’s starting to look like a good idea—the Royals will need Perez down the stretch.

Walks that score

I used to keep track of walks that score; a great stat. It was surprising how often a walk that scored would be the difference in a ball game and Monday night was no exception. Three walks scored and the Royals won by two.