Judging the Royals

Lee Judge: You can’t watch baseball with a football mentality

Royals manager Ned Yost
Royals manager Ned Yost jsleezer@kcstar.com

Saturday night the Royals beat the Astros, and suddenly everyone is much more optimistic; maybe the Royals aren’t going 0-162 after all.

After the Royals lost three games to the Minnesota Twins, I saw comments from people who were ready to break up the team, fire Dayton Moore and jump off a bridge.

It might drive some fans crazy when Ned Yost seems insufficiently freaked out after a loss, but big-league managers know you can’t live and die with every game played; that’s football, not baseball.

If you’re a very good team and win 90 games you’re also going to lose 72 times.

If you’re a very good hitter and get 200 hits in a season you’re also going to make about 400 outs.

You can’t fire a helmet off a dugout wall and beat a water cooler to death 400 times a summer.

And you can’t watch baseball with a football mentality.

(Actually, you can, but you’re going to have a high bridge in your future.)

Hosmer and advanced defensive metrics

As fans of sabermetrics will be happy to tell you, Eric Hosmer is not that good on defense. As big-league baseball players will be happy to tell you, fans of sabermetrics don’t know what they’re talking about.

In the first inning of Saturday night’s game Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar buried a throw to first base. Hosmer got a bad hop but saved Esky and made the play.

But making the play did nothing to improve Hosmer’s Ultimate Zone Rating, one of the metrics people quote to show Hosmer isn’t that good with the glove (or in Hosmer’s case, the mitt).

This winter I called Baseball Info Solutions (UZR, Dewan’s Plus/Minus system and Team Runs Saved all use BIS data) and was told they don’t include a first baseman’s ability to handle bad hops because it has nothing to do with range.

I guess they never saw Billy Butler play first base.

Billy had a tendency to stretch for the throw too soon, and that limited his ability to handle throws that were off-line. Hosmer has much quicker feet than Butler, so he can shift to his left or right to handle errant throws. That’s range around the bag, and it gives the other infielders a bigger target at first base.

If you want to know how much the ability to handle bad hops is worth, ask Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel.

In the fifth inning he bounced a throw to his first baseman – Yulieski Gurriel – and Gurriel couldn’t handle the hop. Keuchel got an error, and the runner wound up on second base.

Mixing-and-matching might look like great managing, but it’s risky

Depending on your Bud Light consumption you might have noticed things changed when Dallas Keuchel came out of the game and reliever Luke Gregerson came in.

Gregerson didn’t have it and got lit up like Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

Mixing and matching your relievers against the other team’s hitters can be risky. It might look like great managing when Buck Showalter uses three relievers to get three outs (plus it gets Buck camera time), but use enough relievers and you might find one who doesn’t have it that night.

Saturday night Gregerson didn’t have it, and four batters into his outing the Royals took the lead.

Danny Duffy and the slide step

If a pitcher takes 1.4 seconds or more to deliver a pitch, base-stealers will eat him alive. At one point Danny Duffy was taking 2.6 seconds, so he had to learn to slide step: barely pick up his front foot and slide it toward home plate.

That speeds up a pitcher’s delivery, and if you want to know what happened to guys stealing 100 bases in a season, the slide step is the answer.

Anyway, Danny realized his slide step could also mess up the hitter’s timing so he sometimes uses it with no runner on base. But as Ryan Lefebvre pointed out, Danny has to show he’ll use the slide step on all his pitches or hitters will know what’s coming every time he does it.

Analytics and outfield positioning

The Houston Astros are a very analytics-oriented team and that showed up in their outfield positioning. If the Astros play their outfielders shallow, it’s because they believe they’ll get burned more often by the flare than the drive.

But Alex Gordon has burned the Houston outfield twice in this series.

Both of Gordon’s doubles landed well short of the fences, but the Astros outfielders couldn’t get back in time to make a catch.

In today’s game, keep an eye on outfield depth; so far the Astros outfielders have been playing shallow and because they believe Alcides Escobar and Raul Mondesi can get back to handle flares just beyond the infield, the Royals outfielders have been playing deep.

Mike Minor, Josh Reddick and chin music

With a five-run lead Ned Yost used Mike Minor to pitch the ninth inning. Minor gave up a leadoff double to Carlos Beltran and then faced Josh Reddick. Minor’s second pitch almost took Reddick’s lips off, and the Astros outfielder wound up on his backside.

These days when a pitcher accidentally hits a batter or puts him on the ground, you’ll often see that pitcher tap his own chest; the universal sign for “my bad,” and old-school ballplayers think that’s dumb.

Don’t let the hitter know the pitch was an accident; use it.

As Ryan Lefebvre said after Reddick got dumped, neither his heart nor his backside was still in the at-bat. Minor threw a fastball well outside, and Reddick waved at it for strike three.

Nate Karns and his off-speed stuff

Nate Karns made his first start Sunday, and you might want to keep an eye on his off-speed stuff. By my count Karns threw 11 off-speed pitches in his first outing in Minnesota and only three of them were strikes.

Karns was getting squeezed, but if hitters notice a pitcher can’t throw his off-speed stuff for strikes (and they will notice); they’ll sit fastball every time the pitcher needs to throw a strike and probably won’t miss it when they get it.