Judging the Royals

Jason Hammel and the importance of the first pitch

Royals starter Jason Hammel gave up just one run and three hits in six innings in a 3-1 win over the Indians on Friday at Kauffman Stadium.
Royals starter Jason Hammel gave up just one run and three hits in six innings in a 3-1 win over the Indians on Friday at Kauffman Stadium. jsleezer@kcstar.com

Coming into Friday night’s game against the Cleveland Indians, Royals pitcher Jason Hammel vowed to be more aggressive about throwing strikes.

That might sound overly obvious (throwing strikes is a good thing for a pitcher to do), but as usual there’s more to it than meets the eye.

Let’s take a look at the first pitch of an at bat to see a pitcher’s dilemma. (We’ll use the numbers from the Royals’ last full season because the numbers from 2017 are still bouncing around pretty good.)

In 2016, if a Royals pitcher threw a first-pitch strike and got ahead 0-1, opposing hitters batted .226 after that. If a Royals pitcher threw a first-pitch ball and fell behind 1-0, opposing hitters batted .281 after that.

So far it seems pretty simple: strike good, ball bad.

But in 2016 when opposing batters put that first pitch in play, they hit .329 and slugged .561.

That being the case, pitchers are understandably reluctant to throw a first-pitch fastball down the middle in order to get ahead in the count; especially if the game is on the line.

It’s not just strikes; it’s quality strikes

Friday night against the Indians Jason Hammel pitched six innings, gave up three hits, two walks and one run; a terrific outing that any team would take. Hammel threw strikes 61 percent of the time and a first-pitch strike to 13 of the 22 batters he faced.

Once again it seems easy; just throw strikes.

But now take a look at Hammel’s previous outing against the Minnesota Twins:

Hammel only pitched three innings, gave up six hits, three walks and five runs; a bad outing by anyone’s standards. But Hammel once again threw strikes 61 percent of the time and a first-pitch strike to 14 of the 19 batters he faced.

So it’s not just throwing strikes; it’s throwing quality strikes.

Big-league coaches will tell you: In the minors it’s enough to throw strikes, in the big leagues you have to hit spots.

So, next time you watch a game — and the Royals play Saturday afternoon at 3:15 — pay attention to the first pitch of each at-bat and you’ll have a better idea of how that at-bat will come out.

Or you could go ahead and crack a cold one, say to heck with it and I wouldn’t blame you.

What Roberto Perez’ stolen base attempt tells you

In the third inning of Friday night’s game, Indians catcher Roberto Perez tried to steal second base, and that’s significant: Until Friday night, in 170 games across four seasons, Roberto Perez had never even tried to steal a base.

Even so, Roberto Perez beat Salvador Perez’ throw, but came off the bag and was called out.

The fact that a catcher with no stolen-base attempts in his career would try to swipe a bag off the best-throwing catcher in baseball tells you something: Royals pitchers are taking too long to deliver the ball to home plate.

Smart fans already know that and I’ve mentioned it before, but Roberto Perez trying to steal second base and beating the throw is a new low.

Unless the Royals are content to let anyone with two working legs become base-stealing threats, the pitchers have to speed up their delivery times to home plate.

Figure it out: Eric Hosmer is not going to hit .192 or .441

On April 24 Eric Hosmer went 0 for 4 against the Chicago White Sox and finished the day batting .192.

At that point, all kinds of people were giving up on him.

Then, Hosmer went on a nine-game hitting streak and according to my math (always questionable) batted .441 and slugged .706.

They play this game every year, and yet every year somebody overreacts to small sample sizes put up early in the season.

We no longer have to wait an hour for a meal to cook; we can microwave our food and get it hot in 90 seconds. We no longer have to write a letter and wait weeks for a response; we can text someone and get an answer immediately. We no longer have to dig through an encyclopedia for information; we can Google our question and the answer instantly appears.

But baseball still requires us to wait.

It takes months for us to learn who’s going to make the playoffs or have a good season; try to rush that process and you’re going to jump to conclusions and look like the south end of a northbound horse.

In this day and age anything that requires patience seems like a good thing.

And now if you’ll excuse me I have to go churn some butter, crank up my Model-T and run down to the telegraph office to send someone a telegram.

Enjoy today’s game.

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