Judging the Royals

Lee Judge’s lineup of what Royals fans can watch for down the stretch

Alcides Escobar makes his main contribution to the Royals with his glove.
Alcides Escobar makes his main contribution to the Royals with his glove. The Kansas City Star

Baseball is a heck of a lot more enjoyable to watch if you pay attention. But there’s so much going on, it’s sometimes hard to know what to pay attention to.

Here are a few suggestions.

The pitchers

Do they throw strike one? Lots of hitters don’t like to hit with two strikes, so if a pitcher can get ahead by throwing strike one, some hitters will start chasing marginal pitches right away.

Do they pitch ahead or behind in the count? If a pitcher gets into a fastball count — 2-0, 2-1, 3-0, 3-1, and sometimes 3-2 — can he throw something other than a fastball? If he shows that the only thing he can get over the plate is a heater, the batter will be ready for that fastball. If the pitcher has shown the ability to throw something other than a fastball in those counts, hitters might be more cautious.

And if the pitcher does throw a fastball in those counts, location is important. You can get away with a fastball in a fastball count if it’s located down in the strike zone or on a corner of the strike zone.

The position players

Salvador Perez, catcher: Watch his mitt. If the pitcher is on that day, Perez’s glove shouldn’t move too much as he receives the pitch. But if Perez is set up on the inside corner, and the pitch is on the outside corner, the pitcher is missing his spots. And if you see Perez catch the ball and then pull it back into the strike zone, even he doesn’t think that pitch was a strike.

Eric Hosmer, first base: When the Royals’ currently injured first baseman gets a pitch to hit, does he get it in play? If Hosmer overswings, he might foul the ball off and then have to take a less aggressive approach for the rest of the at-bat.

Omar Infante, second base: Considered a very good situational hitter. With a runner on second and nobody out, does Infante hit the ball to the right side of the field and move the runner to third? With a runner on third and fewer than two outs, does he get the ball in the air to the outfield?

Alcides Escobar, shortstop: May be the most underrated shortstop in the game, probably because he plays in Kansas City. Manager Ned Yost once said Esky’s RBIs are in his glove (even when he isn’t hitting well, he saves runs with his defense). Pay attention as his above-average defensive plays rob the other team of hits and runs.

Mike Moustakas, third base: When he faces an infield shift, does he try to hit the ball to the opposite field? Watch Moose’s head; if he finishes a swing looking down the first-base line, he’s pulling the ball and/or overswinging.

Billy Butler, first base/designated hitter: If he’s playing first base, how does he handle bad throws from teammates? If the other infielders lose confidence in him, they’ll eat the ball on tough plays — they don’t want a throw to him to go into the dugout. When he’s at the plate, pay attention to his pitch selection. Pitchers have been throwing him pitches down in the zone in an effort to get him to hit a roll-over ground ball to the left side — especially if the double play is in order. If Butler gets a pitch up in the zone, he’s a much more dangerous hitter.

Nori Aoki, right field: When Aoki’s at the plate, check to see where the third baseman is standing. Aoki will bunt for a hit, so the third baseman is probably in on the grass. He has also picked up quite a few hits when he didn’t bunt but slashed the ball past a drawn-in third baseman.

Lorenzo Cain, center field: Same thing as Moustakas — watch his head. When Cain gets in pull-mode, his head will come off the ball and pitchers are free to throw off-speed stuff down and away — you can’t hit what you can’t see. When Cain is looking to go the other way, he’ll stay on that pitch and — if it’s up in the zone — hit it to the right side.

Alex Gordon, left field: With this guy, you have to pay attention to something that doesn’t happen. Because Gordon’s been so efficient throwing out runners, they’ll often shut it down and make no attempt to go first-to-third or second-to-home. Balls hit down the left-field line that would be sure doubles with most left fielders turn into singles when Gordon’s out there. That saves runs.

Jarrod Dyson, outfield: When Dyson hits a line drive, his batting average is over .700. When he bunts for a hit, it’s over .450. When he keeps the ball on the ground, his average is over .250. When he hits the ball in the air, his average is less than .200. Dyson’s formula for success, then, is simple: Keep the ball out of the air.

To reach Lee Judge, send email to ljudge@kcstar.com. Follow his Judging the Royals blog at KansasCity.com.

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