Judging the Royals

The Twins beat the Royals; a sixth-inning walk changed the game

Kansas City Royals' Alex Gordon (4) follows through on a solo home run in the seventh inning in front of Minnesota Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki (8) during Thursday's baseball game on August 28, 2014, at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
Kansas City Royals' Alex Gordon (4) follows through on a solo home run in the seventh inning in front of Minnesota Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki (8) during Thursday's baseball game on August 28, 2014, at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. The Kansas City Star

Bruce Chen giving up six runs in the tenth inning is going to get a lot of attention, but if you want to dig a little deeper, take a look at the sixth inning. The Royals tied the game in the fifth; 4-4. Starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie went back to the mound needing a shutdown inning and couldn’t provide one; he walked the Minnesota Twins leadoff hitter Chris Parmelee and things went downhill from there.

Eduardo Nunez laid down a sacrifice bunt and Parmelee moved into scoring position. Jordan Schafer doubled, Parmelee scored and the next two batters made outs. No leadoff walk, no run scores and Alex Gordon’s seventh-inning home run gives the Royals a one-run lead with Kelvin Herrera and Greg Holland to protect it the rest of the way.

Why Bruce Chen?

Basically, Ned Yost rolled the dice and tried to win the game in nine innings—something he’s done successfully the last two nights and because the Royals won those games, nobody thought to complain.

Here’s what happened on Thursday night:

Guthrie threw 103 pitches, gave up five runs and was pulled after six innings. Francisley Bueno got two outs in the seventh, then with Trevor Plouffe coming to the plate Ned went to right-handed reliever, Jason Frasor. That move worked and Frasor got the final out of the inning.

After the game Yost said Frasor was coming back out for the eighth inning, but then Alex Gordon hit a home run, tying the game. Ned then gambled that Herrera and Holland would hold the Twins scoreless (which they did) and his team would score in either the eighth or ninth (but they didn’t). So when the game went to the tenth inning Wade Davis wasn’t available to throw because he’d pitched the last two nights, Scott Downs is a lefty-0n-lefty specialist that hasn’t pitched since August 2nd and that left Bruce Chen as the only available option.

Chen was not sharp and got whacked all over the yard. It was a reminder of how good the pitching has been for much of the year; we haven’t seen a lot of six-run innings.

Game notes

  • In the first inning Alcides Escobar popped up bunt, nobody caught it, but the Twins pitcher Tommy Milone picked the ball up and forced Nori Aoki out at second base. It was actually the right play by Aoki; he couldn’t tell if the ball had been caught and held up. If a base runner goes too far and a ball is caught it’ll turn into a double play; take a conservative lead and if the ball lands safely the force will only be worth one out. Bottom line: it’s better to have too short a lead than one that’s too long.
  • Billy Butler hits 78 points higher when he takes the ball to the opposite field.
  • Before the game Kurt Suzuki said he was scuffling and needed some hits; he wound up with three. When Suzuki gets two strikes on him he tries to hit the ball to right field and that’s what happened when he singled in the third inning.
  • Kurt took a cup shot and wound up staggering around home plate for a while, walking off the pain—but he never took his mask off. That’s a Jason Kendall rule and Suzuki is a Kendall protégé; catchers should go unnoticed and taking their mask off is a "Hey, look at me" move.
  • Christian Colon had excellent at-bats all night. He lined out to third in the second inning, took a two-strike pitch to right in the fourth inning, hit the ball to the right side with a runner in motion in the sixth inning, took another two-strike pitch to right in the eighth inning and tried to work the count in the tenth inning, but wound up striking out. The box score will show he was 1-5 on the night, but he had at least four excellent plate appearances.

Did Jarrod Dyson make a good base running play or a bad one?

Let’s go back to the eighth inning of Wednesday night’s game against the Twins and set the scene:

The score was tied 1-1, there’s was one down, Mike Moustakas was on second base and Jarrod Dyson was on first. Nori Aoki hit a ball into the left center gap that required Minnesota’s left fielder, Jordan Schafer, to go to his left to field the ball. Schafer did not even attempt a throw home; instead, Schafer fired the ball to third base and nailed Jarrod Dyson who was attempting to take an extra base.

So was that a good base running play by Dyson or a bad one?

Here are a couple things to think about: once Schafer had to move sideways to field the ball, he had little chance of throwing Moustakas out at the plate. He’d have nothing on the throw—that’s why he chose to throw the ball to third. So there was no reason for Dyson to try to draw the throw; Moose was going to be safe no matter what. Schafer had a much easier and shorter throw to third.

Look at the play again and you see Jarrod is just rounding second when Schafer has the ball in his hand and there’s a reason for that; guys as fast as Dyson are warned not to run up the back of a slower runner—they need to think station-to-station. You don’t want a fast guy getting a great jump, think he’s going first-to-third while the slow guy decides to shut it down and stay at third base. That’ll give you one too many base runners standing on third base.

And one more thing about that play: Dyson slid into third head first. Base runners are urged to come into third base and home plate feet first. Third basemen and catchers are generally bigger than middle infielders and you don’t want to lose a player because a 250-pounder decides to drop a knee in front of the base and drops that knee on a base runner’s hand. So back to the original question: was that a good base running play by Dyson or a bad one?

In retrospect probably a bad one.

Should left-handed hitters bunt against a shift?

As long as we’re re-winding, let’s go back to the fifth inning of Monday night’s game against the New York Yankees; left-handed Raul Ibanez  came to the plate and three fourths of the New York infield stationed themselves between first and second base. The only guy between second and third was shortstop Derek Jeter and he was positioned right next to third base. Once Ibanez got two strikes on him, Jeter shifted over to his regular shortstop position.

So what gives?

Jeter was positioned like a third baseman just in case Ibanez bunted for a hit. Once Raul was in a two-strike count the Yankees didn’t think he’d bunt and moved Jeter back to his usual spot. But should left-handed hitters like Ibanez or Mike Moustakas bunt against defensive shifts that are wide open on the left side of the field?

One argument is you don’t want a hitter coming out of his game; after all, in that Yankee game Moustakas hit a ball over the shift into the right field seats and that seemed to work pretty well. But when you’re doing something that’s worked 15 times a season you’re playing pretty long odds. Ned Yost has said if a hitter will bunt twice against a shift, he’ll quit shifting—Ned says he’s not in the business of giving up base hits.

If a hitter will use batting practice to work on bunting and hitting the ball the other way, it would seem like he could beat the shift and force the opposition to play him straight up. It might be worth foregoing a couple shots at a long ball to make the other team abandon those shifts.