Judging the Royals

Baseball questions and answers from spring training

A Kansas City Royals fan caught a ball from second baseman Christian Colon before a spring-training game against the Cleveland Indians at Goodyear Ballpark in Goodyear, Ariz., last Saturday.
A Kansas City Royals fan caught a ball from second baseman Christian Colon before a spring-training game against the Cleveland Indians at Goodyear Ballpark in Goodyear, Ariz., last Saturday. jsleezer@kcstar.com

It’s 5 a.m. and I’m in Arizona. I flew in Thursday and I still don’t have the two-hour time change down, so I’m getting up and going to bed like I’m 90 years old, think driving a golf cart in traffic is perfectly normal behavior and can’t wait to eat my dinner at the Golden Corral at 4:30 in the afternoon.

(Golden Corral crushes it out here and yes, people drive their golf carts in traffic.)

Before I went to bed at 9:15 last night, I forgot to ask Rustin Dodd or John Sleezer the Internet network password where we’re staying, so I can’t get online right now and get the information I need to work on some of the stories I’m preparing. That being the case I tried to think of something I could work on and came up with this:

Baseball questions and answers.

Never mind that you haven’t asked me these questions; I’ll act like a politician and answer the questions I wished you’d asked me.

When young hitters struggle, why aren’t they sent back to the minors?

This came up when the young hitter was Eric Hosmer and Royals GM Dayton Moore said at the time it’s very difficult for a player to advance beyond the level of his competition.

In other words: to learn how to hit big-league pitching you have to face big-league pitching.

Dayton also said the Royals already knew what Hosmer could do at Class AAA. Hosmer was a beast when he was there and I’d give you those numbers, but I can’t get on the Internet.

Why do first-base coaches have stopwatches?

They’re timing how long it takes the pitcher to deliver the ball to home plate or throw a pickoff to first base. Anything under 1.4 seconds to home is decent; pickoffs take about 1 second flat.

The coaches already have that information in the scouting report, but they double check to see if the pitcher is any faster or slower than normal on that particular night. The coaches then pass that information along to the runners, which is what they’re talking about at first base.

Is it bad managing to have a lineup with three left-handed hitters in a row?

Putting three lefties in a row is an invitation to the other team to bring in a left-handed reliever and I used to assume it was bad managing to make out a lineup that way. But then I realized if Ned Yost did it, the middle lefty would have a right-handed alternative on the bench. That prevented the other team from bringing in a lefty to get three outs without having to face a right-handed pinch hitter.

Why do rallies die?

We’ve all seen it: a team gets a couple runners on or loads the bases and can’t cash those runs in. It’s easy — but often incorrect — to assume the hitters at the plate couldn’t perform in the clutch.

That might be the case, but lots of pitchers pitch differently with runners in scoring position. Until they have a runner on second or third base, pitchers might throw more fastballs; they’re easier on the elbow. But once they have a runner in scoring position pitchers might throw more breaking stuff and the rally dies.

What off-speed pitch will a hitter see with a runner in scoring position?

So you’re less likely to get a hittable fastball with a runner on second or third base; what pitch should you look for?

Pay attention to the pitcher and what he has that night; what secondary pitch is he throwing for strikes? That’s probably the pitch the hitter will get in a fastball count with a runner in scoring position.

What do the batters hands tell you?

When a hitter has his bottom-hand pinkie off the knob of the bat he’s looking to pull the ball and do damage, so pitchers might want to throw chase pitches; sliders, curves and splitters in the dirt. With his hands all the way down on the bat the hitter will have a hard time stopping his swing.

If the hitter is choked up,\ which you don’t see as often these days, he’s less likely to chase so you don’t want to fall behind by throwing pitches in the dirt.

How can you tell when a pitcher has a good sinker?

A sinker from a right-handed pitcher to a right-handed hitter will move down and in, so check the positioning of the third baseman and shortstop. If they’re closer to the third-base line than normal, the pitcher has a good sinker going that day; if they’re positioned more up the middle the pitcher’s sinker isn’t that hot.

Why will the infield play a hitter to pull while the outfield plays him straight up?

Lots of hitters are more likely to pull when they hit a groundball, but spray the ball when they hit it in the air.

The first step in a marathon

OK, that’s it for today — but today was just the first step in a marathon.

From here on in, I’ll be writing about the Royals and baseball almost every day until the 2017 season ends. I’ll do my best to talk to the coaches and players and bring what they tell me back here. I hope you take the time to check out “Judging the Royals” every day.

And I really hope every day doesn’t start at 5 a.m.