Judging the Royals

Lee Judge: Why you shouldn’t take spring training numbers too seriously

Players know not to get too excited or downcast over statistics they post during spring training games. A lot of behind-the-scenes factors can inflate, or deflate, their stats.
Players know not to get too excited or downcast over statistics they post during spring training games. A lot of behind-the-scenes factors can inflate, or deflate, their stats. jsleezer@kcstar.com

On Sunday, the New York Mets’ Matt Harvey pitched against the St. Louis Cardinals, and if he threw a breaking pitch I missed it; Harvey appeared to be throwing a whole bunch of fastballs and a few changeups.

In the second inning, that caught up to him ... and the Cards scored four runs. After he was pulled from the game, Harvey sat in the dugout and despite finishing the day with an ERA of 21.60 he appeared completely unconcerned.

I’m not the first person to say this, and I certainly won’t be the last, but it bears repeating at least once a year: you shouldn’t take spring training numbers too seriously.

At this time of year, we’re looking at very small sample sizes and unusual conditions; out in Arizona, the ground is hard and the air is dry, and that helps the baseball fly. Pitchers — especially those who have already made the team — might not be throwing their breaking stuff early in camp, and when they do throw that breaking stuff it might not do much because of the dry air.

And if the numbers are put up in the later innings of a spring training game, those numbers might be put up against a minor-leaguer.

It’s easy to get overly excited out about a player getting off to a hot start, or overly worried about a player getting off to a cold one, but on April 3 all the numbers go back to zero and the conditions change dramatically.

On opening day, it probably won’t be hot and dry in Minnesota, and the Twins won’t put a minor-league pitcher on the mound.

How to judge an infielder’s arm

Wait for a play that forces the infielder to go to his backhand side.

That will force him to make a throw flat-footed, and that will show you how strong (or weak) his arm is. And pay attention to what the ball does as it arrives at first base; is it fading and sinking, or is it still firm all the way into the first baseman’s mitt?

Lots of infielders’ arms look OK when they’re moving forward; it’s what they do on plays to their backhand side that reveals their arm strength.

How a strong arm can turn into a weakness

Guys with strong arms like to show them off, and that can be a problem.

Last week during a pregame radio show, Royals broadcaster Ryan Lefebvre told a story about new outfielder Jorge Soler. During practice, Soler threw the ball from right field to third base on the fly, which impressed the fans in attendance. But Soler had to do it again because that on-the-fly throw was too high to be cut off, and that would allow a trail runner to move into scoring position.

I don’t know if this is still the Royals’ policy — I’ll ask coach Rusty Kuntz when I see him — but I’ve been told Royals outfielders are supposed to make their throws on one hop. That keeps the ball low and allows it to be cut off, and that freezes the trailing runner.

A rotation at second base

Ned Yost has thrown the idea out there, but for a team that values defense, forcing your shortstop to work with a several different second basemen has its downside.

There are several ways for a second baseman to turn a 6-4-3 double play: coming across the bag, staying behind the bag or stepping over the runner. And different plays require different feeds from the shortstop.

Alcides Escobar will have to remember who’s playing second base and how he likes to be given the ball before he starts a double play. If you see the timing messed up on a 6-4-3, it might be because too many people are playing second base.

Pena’s stance

The other day, catcher Brayan Pena was behind the plate and at one point he took a stance with his right leg splayed out to the side.

Sometimes bigger catchers will do this because it helps them get low, but it also opens them up to a foul tip off the cup. I’m not sure how knowing that improves your life, but it’s something to look for in the future. And if Brayan takes one in the huevos rancheros, you can say you knew it would eventually happen.

Watch the on-deck circle

Smart hitters will be timing the pitcher’s fastball; guys who are a little less focused will be checking out the women in the stands.

Pay attention to the later innings

I also caught part of an Angels game on Sunday, and Mike Trout let a ball in the gap bounce on the warning track and over the fence.

Good call: The Angels don’t want Trout getting hurt diving for a ball in a spring training game. But later in the same game, No. 84 — I think it was a guy named Michael Hermosillo — laid out for a similar ball in the gap.

It’s easy to get bored in the later innings of a spring training game because both teams start running guys out there you’ve never heard of, but those later innings matter. If you’re playing in the later innings, you probably haven’t made the club and you’re trying to make an impression on the big-league coaching staff.

Mike Trout doesn’t need to get noticed; Michael Hermosillo does.

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