Judging the Royals

Pro baseball is played at 80 percent

Royals coach Rusty Kuntz says young professional ballplayers — fresh out of high school or college — will come to him and ask how they do it. How do they get through a much longer professional baseball season?
Royals coach Rusty Kuntz says young professional ballplayers — fresh out of high school or college — will come to him and ask how they do it. How do they get through a much longer professional baseball season? The Kansas City Star

We’ve all heard about giving ”110 percent” and playing as hard as you can every moment you’re on the field, but most of us aren’t pro ballplayers. Ask the people who actually have to play the game and they will tell you it’s a long season and you better pace yourself.

Professional baseball is played at 80 percent.

Royals coach Rusty Kuntz says that young professional ballplayers, fresh out of high school or college, will come to him and ask how the veterans do it. How do they get through a much longer professional baseball season?

Rusty advises them to play the game at 80 percent. When they go after a fly ball, go at 80 percent. When they run down the line to first base, run down the line at 80 percent. And then when they need it, when they have to turn on the jets to get to that fly ball or beat out that infield hit, they automatically will give it their all.

The 100-percent effort will be there when it’s needed.

Because most of us have never played sports at a professional level, it is easy to romanticize how we would approach the game. But the professionals have to deal with reality. These guys have been playing baseball since mid-February, and they’re getting tired. And if playing the game at 80 percent means they will have 100 percent when they need it, that is how they will play the game.

But if you see a guy give less than 80 percent, that’s a problem.

It’s different for bench players

If you’re not playing every day, you can give it your all on every play. That applies to high school players, college players and bench players in the pros. That’s one reason why September call-ups can look so good. These players know they won’t play every day, they want a chance to show what they can do, and they bust a gut when they get that chance. But the guys who have to do it every day for 162 games (and beyond) have to find ways to pace themselves.

The small stuff that changes big games

In the third inning of Tuesday night’s game against the Rangers, Texas’ Leonys Martin was on first base when Elvis Andrus hitting a bouncing ball up the middle. Omar Infante caught the ball, tagged second and threw to first base to complete a double play — and it never should have happened.

Martin never slid. He ran right past Infante and did nothing to break up the double play. He could have knocked Infante into left field but passed up the chance.

In the sixth inning, Nori Aoki doubled and Jarrod Dyson came out to pinch-run. The Royals had trouble moving runners from second to third all night, and this was no exception.

Infante is known as a bat handler and was not asked to bunt. He tried to hit the ball to the right side. That would have moved Dyson from second to third. But Omar hit the ball in the air. If the ball is hit on the ground to the right side, the runner can leave right away. Hit the ball in the air, and the runner has to hold. Dyson held and never scored.

An inning later, Eric Hosmer led off with another double, and this time it was Billy Butler’s turn to hit the ball to the right side, but Billy appeared to be trying to pull the ball and struck out swinging. Failure to move runners over to third plagued the Royals all night.

When the Royals finally did get a run in, it was on a questionable pitch by the Rangers’ Jon Edwards. He had Salvador Perez swinging at sliders away, one of which was nowhere near the strike zone. But with the count 1-2, Edwards decided to come inside with a fastball. Perez smoked the pitch down the line, a play that Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre couldn’t handle. When a guy is swinging at sliders out of the zone, why give him a hittable fastball?

Aaron Crow came out to pitch the ninth inning and was all over the place while warming up. Clearly, Crow was having trouble throwing strikes. He then started the inning by throwing ball one and ball two to Adam Rosales. So what do you think happened next?

Instead of taking ball three, Rosales swung at a marginal pitch and popped up to shortstop Alcides Escobar. That pop-up let Crow off the hook. Had Rosales started the inning with a lead-off walk, the game might have ended differently.

The Royals aren’t the only team that sometimes struggles with pitch selection.

How Gore got thrown out at third

In the bottom of the eighth inning of that same Tuesday night game, Mike Moustakas doubled and Terrance Gore came out to pinch-run. Dyson tried to bunt and fouled the pitch off, then took a called strike. With the count 0-2, Jarrod was swinging away and hit the ball to the Rangers’ first baseman, Adam Rosales. Rosales threw the ball to third base, and Gore was out trying to advance.

So how did that happen?

I asked first-base coach Rusty Kuntz if Gore’s lead was too short, and Kuntz answered by asking, “Did you see his secondary?” Unfortunately, no. My attention wandered elsewhere. Rusty said that Gore had a short initial lead because the shortstop was right there at second base. But then he took a very healthy secondary lead. The lead was not the problem.

What made the play go wrong was Rosales’ positioning. Even though Dyson had two strikes on him, the Rangers thought he still might bunt and had Rosales playing in. A runner on second does not have the time or angle to read a ball hit to the first baseman. The runner’s job is to break for third, and that is what Gore did.

Terrance got unlucky. The ball was hit at Rosales, and the Rangers’ first baseman made a nice play. Gore did not screw up.

Now on Twitter

I’ve resisted for quite awhile, but I’m going to experiment with tweeting during ballgames. I haven’t wanted to do this because I felt like I needed to concentrate on the game, but times change, and so do baseball writers. I tried it Sunday night, and, for the most part, thought I did a lousy job.

Figuring out what to comment on in a timely manner isn’t as easy as it seems. You don’t need me to tell you Alex Gordon hit a double, but maybe I can be of use if I point out that the pitcher then wants Billy Butler to pull the ball and Billy needs to hit the ball to the right side.

We’ll see.

If you want to follow along as I stumble through this learning process you can do so @leejudge8.