Judging the Royals

Yankees found holes, Royals didn’t

Kansas City Royals starting pitcher James Shields (33) walks back onto the field after the New York Yankees challenged a tag at the plate that ended up allowing Jacoby Ellsbury to score on a missed tag from catcher Salvador Perez in the seventh inning during Monday's baseball game on August 25, 2014, at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
Kansas City Royals starting pitcher James Shields (33) walks back onto the field after the New York Yankees challenged a tag at the plate that ended up allowing Jacoby Ellsbury to score on a missed tag from catcher Salvador Perez in the seventh inning during Monday's baseball game on August 25, 2014, at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. The Kansas City Star

That’s pretty much how Ned Yost, James Shields and Mike Moustakas summed up Monday night’s 8-1 loss to the Yankees. The score was still 2-1 going into the top of the seventh inning, then Martin Prado homered on a 1-1 pitch to put the Yankees up by two. After that, the hits just kept on coming.

A single, a single, a fielder’s choice, a single, a single, a sacrifice fly and a walk later, starting pitcher James Shields was done and so were the Royals. After the game Shields said fatigue was not a factor; balls just kept finding holes and sneaking through the infield. Mike Moustakas said pretty much the same thing. After the four-run seventh the Yankees tacked on two more in the ninth.

Final score: New York 8, Kansas City 1. But as Mike Moustakas said afterwards, the good thing about baseball is you get to play another game tomorrow.

(The following game report is by my son and assistant, Paul Judge.)

Game Report

Before it turned into a blowout in the seventh inning, the game looked like it would be a pitcher’s duel. Both James Shields and Michael Pineda looked dominant – Shields was effectively using his cutter and changeup to consistently get outs, and Pineda had excellent location and command with his fastball, which set up his slider and forced the Royals’ batters into tough at-bats and unproductive innings.

Through Pineda’s first five innings, he threw just 70 pitches and only allowed two Royals to get on-base. Pineda also only had to face each Royals hitter twice through his first five innings because he worked quickly and efficiently.

Two mistake pitches

In fact, though the Yankees led 2-1 after six innings, both pitchers had only allowed one real mistake at the plate. In the bottom of the third, Pineda got Mike Moustakas into a 1-1 count, then threw him a changeup, high and outside. Moose was able to turn on it and blast it over the right-field fence.

Similarly, in the top of the fourth, James Shields fell into a 3-2 count against Stephen Drew. Shields threw a fastball belt-high over the plate, which Drew fouled off, then he gave Drew another fastball in the same spot. Drew was able to jump on it, lining another solo shot over the right field wall. Both pitchers had excellent outings to that point, but both left pitches up in the zone to hitters that took advantage of them, and both gave up solo home runs.

The Shields error

The difference in the game up until that point was the throwing error by James Shields in the top of the third, which allowed Ichiro Suzuki to get to second base after a sharply hit infield single. Shields’ throw was off to Billy’s right, and Billy wasn’t able to knock it down, which allowed Ichiro to advance to second. Ichiro then advanced to third on Jacoby Ellsbury’s fielder’s choice, then scored on Derek Jeter’s groundout. This early mistake by the Royals’ infield was the difference through the first six innings and helped the Yankees take the lead, in what appeared to be a close game.

The Royals’ approach at the plate

With Pineda being so dominant on the mound, and the Royals offense not producing any power besides Moustakas’ solo shot, the Royals needed to focus on getting on-base, stringing together walks and hits, and generating runs through team baseball. This would put pressure on Pineda and raise his pitch count, which would allow the Royals to get him out of the game earlier and face the Yankees’ weaker middle relief pitching.

But KC’s offense didn’t do a great job of this. The Royals had several at-bats in which batters were impatient; they swung at borderline pitches early in the count. The Royals have some of the lowest walk and strikeout rates in the league, they are very good at putting the ball in play; but at times, their aggression can hurt them. Especially when they need to take pitches, raise the opponent’s pitch count, get on-base, and start rallies. When a pitcher is absolutely dealing like Pineda was on Monday night, this becomes priority number one – especially when you’re a low-power team like the Royals, which needs to string together walks and hits to produce runs.

Two examples

In the top of the fourth, already down 2-1, Salvador Perez came to bat with two out. He needed to be patient, let Pineda raise his pitch count, and try to get on-base by any means necessary – but Sal swung at a first-pitch fastball outside the zone to fall behind 0-1. Then Pineda threw him a slider in the other batter’s box – and Sal again chased, falling behind 0-2. Though Sal hit an 0-2 slider hard, he lined out to Yankees’ third baseman Zelous Wheeler, allowing Pineda to get out of the fourth unscathed on 15 pitches.

In the fifth, Mike Moustakas came to bat and Pineda fell behind 2-0, then threw a cutter over the plate for a called strike. Moose still had the advantage in a 2-1 count, but he chased another cutter away to even the count at 2-2, and eventually struck out swinging at a slider. Both at-bats showed Royals hitters chasing pitches in counts where they didn’t need to take defensive hacks, and both showed how the Royals’ aggression at the plate can end up hurting them.

Against a dominant pitcher like Pineda, the Royals need to do a better job of working the count, getting on base, and stringing together rallies. Though Pineda was dealing, this was a winnable game through the first six innings, but the Royals weren’t able to create and take advantage of offensive opportunities.

—Paul Judge

You’ve got to know the runners

Back when Yuniesky Betancourt still played for the Royals, a coach for another team told me it appeared Betancourt paid no attention to the guys running he bases; Yuni would rush on slow guys and take his time on guys who could fly.

In the first inning with Jacoby Ellsbury on first base, Derek Jeter hit a double play ball to Alcides Escobar. Omar Infante came to cover second base, but Alcides waved him off: he’d make the play himself. But making the play himself took a couple steps and by that time, the speedy Ellsbury was on him.

Alcides ended up on the ground when he could have flipped the ball to Infante and let him make the out at second, then go across the bag and get out of Ellsbury’s way. Esky turned the double play and got up unhurt, but it’s always a little scary to see a player as valuable as Alcides Escobar lying on the ground.

Next time maybe Esky should give the ball to Omar.

Why Pineda was so concerned with Dyson

Jarrod Dyson singled twice and whenever he was on first base the Yankees’ starting pitcher, Michael Pineda was very concerned about him. Even though Pineda is built like an Amana freezer—the upright model—he actually gets the ball to home plate rather quickly. Pineda can do it in 1.1 to 1.2 seconds.

That kind of delivery time—1.4 is average—shuts down most base stealers; but not Jarrod Dyson. Everybody out here knows everybody else’s delivery time and how long the base runners take to steal a base. So everybody knows who is likely to go and who’s probably going to stay put—Dyson was a likely runner.

Pineda got him once (Dyson was picked off when he got caught leaning the wrong way and slipped) and Dyson got Pineda once (he stole second base in the sixth inning).

Mike Moustakas at first base

Get to the ballpark at 2:30 in the afternoon and you might see some interesting things; like Mike Moustakas taking groundballs at first base. When Moose came off the field I asked what was up and Mike said he was getting some work in at first base just to provide another option; what if the Royals want to pinch run for Billy Butler late in a game?

Moustakas could move over to first base and Christian Colon could step in at third.

My next question was whether Moose had ever played first base before and he said, yeah; he played some first base for Team USA. Then we talked about just how many responsibilities a first baseman has.

Obviously he has to handle throws from teammates and if he’s good at handling bad throws from teammates he makes everyone else on the infield better. He has to know how to work the bag; a good first baseman will shift his feet and use the width of the bag to get closer to the throw. He has to know when to come off the bag and keep the ball on the infield. He has to handle pickoff throws from pitchers; and if the pitcher actually picks someone off, he has to move toward the mound as he catches the ball—that way he’s out of the base path and has a clear throwing angle to second base.

A right-handed throwing first baseman has to learn to reverse pivot—turn counter clockwise—when he catches a ground and has to make a throw to second; it’s faster than turning clockwise to make the throw.

The first baseman has to get to the middle of the infield and act as the cutoff man for throws to the plate. When it’s a sure double with no throw to the plate, the first baseman has to trail the runner and try to sneak in behind him at second—you might get a cheap out if the runner rounds the bag too big. Let’s see, anything else?

Oh, yeah—catching pop ups. Bottom line, first base is much harder than many fans think; there’s an awful lot to do over there.

Just ask Mike Moustakas.