Judging the Royals

Is Billy Butler getting overexposed?

Minnesota Twins' Chris Parmelee (27) grounds into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded as Kansas City Royals first baseman Billy Butler makes the force-out at first during the second inning of a baseball game, Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, in Minneapolis.
Minnesota Twins' Chris Parmelee (27) grounds into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded as Kansas City Royals first baseman Billy Butler makes the force-out at first during the second inning of a baseball game, Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, in Minneapolis. AP

"Overexposure" is a baseball term for a guy who gets to play too much and shows people the holes in his game. A player can look fine for a while, but have him out there long enough and you begin to see some problems.

On Friday night first baseman Billy Butler could not pick a bad throw from Jason Vargas. If a first baseman can’t pick a bad throw, at the very least he wants to knock the ball down and keep it on the infield—but Butler couldn’t do that and the throw went to the outfield allowing Holt to advance to second.

Later in the game Butler made a bad decision on a groundball by Lonnie Chisenhall. There was a runner on first when Chisenhall hit a weak groundball, Billy picked it up and looked to second base—but the ball was hit too softly to make a play at second and Billy needed to go directly to the line and tag Chisenhall as he came past. Instead Butler hesitated, then ran to the bag late and that allowed Chisenhall to run right past him. It was scored a single, but there was an easy out there and Billy didn’t make the right play.

Butler has struggled with pop-ups, knowing when to come off the bag on bad throws and handling short hops. There are people who think Butler has played the position well, but the Royals have had Mike Moustakas taking groundballs at first base; they’re considering using him as a late-inning defensive replacement after Butler has had his last at-bat.

On most plays Billy Butler is fine at first base, but give him a difficult play and he might get overexposed.

Can a hitter have a good at-bat without getting a hit?

Thursday night against the Minnesota Twins Christian Colon went 1-5 and I wrote that he had at least four excellent at-bats. That comment led to this question from a reader:

Your article shows Colon had four "excellent" at bats when he made four outs in five ABs. What is excellent about ANY at bat when the "hitter does not get a hit'?

Well, let’s go back and see why I wrote what I did.

In his first at-bat Colon worked the count to 2-0 and then lined out to third base. Any time a hitter lines out that’s a good at-bat; they did their job—they hit the ball hard. Colon got unlucky when he hit it right at someone.

His second at-bat was especially impressive: he pulled a ball foul to make the count 1-2 and was then smart enough to change his approach. Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki had a pattern; when a Royals hitter pulled a ball foul, Suzuki would often call for something away on the next pitch. If the hitter was getting his bat head out in front, Suzuki was going to take advantage of that. Colon had picked up on that pattern and looked to hit a ball to the opposite field and got the job done; an RBI line-drive single to right.

In his third at-bat Colon saw Lorenzo Cain take off from first base and thought quickly enough to hit a grounder to the right side. When a runner takes off for second base someone has to cover the bag and with a right hand hitter at the plate, most of the time it will be the second baseman. Christian once again got unlucky; the Twins switched up the coverage—the shortstop took the bag and the second baseman stayed put and Colon hit the ball right at him.

In Colon’s fourth at bat he took a 1-2 pitch the other way—always a good two-strike approach—but flew out to the right fielder.

In his fifth and final at bat Colon came to the plate in the tenth inning with his team down by six. He did the right thing and took a strike; the Royals needed base runners. But once he fell behind in the count, Colon had to protect the plate and chased a slider for strike three.

Five at bats and at least four excellent efforts; if you don’t think a hitter can have a good at-bat without getting a hit, you don’t understand the game.

When a base stealer gets thrown out, who deserves the credit?

Cleveland catcher Yan Gomes throws out over 32% of would-be base stealers, but when it comes to the stolen base, giving too much credit or blame to a catcher is probably a mistake. Here’s the math again for those of you who may have missed it the first time:

A big league base stealer takes—on average—about 3.4 seconds to steal second base. A big league catcher—on average—takes about 2.0 seconds to receive a pitch and throw a ball to second base. So the big question is how quickly the pitcher gets the ball to home plate; do it in 1.3 seconds and the catcher has a good shot at the runner, do it in 1.5 seconds and the catcher doesn’t have much chance.

So if Yan Gomes is throwing out base runners at a high rate, give him some credit; sure—but if the Cleveland pitchers weren’t getting him the ball on time, Gomes wouldn’t be throwing anyone out.

The heat is on; the Royals try to finish strong

It’s late August and it’s smoking hot outside. Players—and members of the media—are dragging. These guys have been playing baseball since mid-February and they’re getting tired. In past seasons a guy could just go through the motions and it wouldn’t matter; the Royals would be out of the hunt early and people were just playing out the string. But now they’re in the playoff hunt and it’s pedal-to-the-metal—guys can’t afford to slack off. They’ve got to bear down on every pitch.

So how do players get through the grind?

One day Wade Davis walked by, heading to the outfield carrying a fungo bat. I asked what was up with that and Wade said; "Savin’ bullets." Instead of throwing the ball back to the infield when he’s shagging fly balls he’s using the bat to hit them back in. Why put more wear and tear on his arm if he doesn’t have to?

During Thursday night’s batting practice the Royals had all their relievers come off the field early—only the starting pitchers who weren’t throwing that night stayed. Any reliever might pitch on any night; why have them on their feet when they can be up in the clubhouse resting for that night’s game?

Outfield coach Rusty Kuntz says you can look at a hitter’s spray chart and tell what month it is; they’re more likely to pull the ball when they’re fresh at the beginning of the season and as the season grinds on their bats slow down—balls start getting hit to the opposite field. And guys are going to lighter bats; a hitter who was swinging a 34 inch, 32 ounce bat early in the season might keep the same length, but start swinging a 31 or 30 ounce bat.

Players have to adjust their workload. Alex Gordon—a notoriously hard worker—has had to back off his pregame workout. Instead of shagging balls for two hitting groups during batting practice, Alex has cut back to one.

If you’ve never played 162 games, you can’t imagine what a grind it is. Hell, I’m only writing about 162 games and I’m worn out. If the season’s a marathon, the Royals are trying to find a way to have something left for a finishing kick.