Judging the Royals

Royals beat the Rays 6-0: how to tell when an offense is about to break out

Whit Merrifield homered and then scored again, on a single and a fielding error by Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier on Thursday.
Whit Merrifield homered and then scored again, on a single and a fielding error by Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier on Thursday. AP

If you watched the Royals beat the Rays 6-0 on Thursday you already know Jake Odorizzi held the Royals scoreless for the first three innings.

But if you really watched those first three innings you knew the Royals were having good at-bats despite not scoring.

The Royals had two singles and a walk but lined out three times. Eric Hosmer hit the ball over the wall in the left-field corner, but Corey Dickerson reached over the fence and caught it.

An out is just an out in the scorebook, but how you’re making those outs matters.

This is why most big-league teams keep track of hard-hit outs: It helps them understand if a batter is swinging the bat well but hitting into hard luck.

So if you watched those first three innings closely, you liked the Royals chances.

Whit Merrifield hit a home run in the fourth, and after Odorizzi left the game, the Royals got to the Rays pen for five more runs in the eighth.

It probably drives fans crazy when a manager says his team was swinging the bats well despite not scoring, but if fans watch for hard-hit outs, walks and long at-bats, they might understand why a manager would say that.

Either that or they’ll discover the manager was trying to make his team look better by blowing smoke.

Jorge Soler and Whit Merrifield’s effort level

Jorge Soler hit a fly ball to the deepest part of Tropicana Field and took his time getting out of the box. Hard to tell if Soler took his time because he thought he hit the ball out, or because he knew he didn’t.

Either way, sauntering out of the box is a bad sign.

How a hitter comes out of the box is something coaches look for because it tells you something about the player.

Contrast that effort with Whit Merrifield’s trip around the bases in the eighth inning.

Whit hit a ground ball up the middle and, even though it appeared to be a routine single, busted it out of the box. So when Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier whiffed on the ball (again) Merrifield had no trouble circling the bases and scored standing up.

If a guy hits 30 bombs he can saunter out of the box all he wants and nobody’s going to say anything, but saunter out of the box on balls that don’t leave the yard and it might become an issue.

There is no stat for effort level, but it still matters.

Why base runners false start

Most of the time there’s a pretty good reason for everything you see on a baseball field and that includes false starts by a runner on first base.

If the runner starts to take off for second base and then stops, his team has learned something; they can see which middle infielder went to cover second and that opens up the possibility of a hit and run. And if nobody covered second base that means the other team was planning on conceding the base.

But smart defensive teams know when they gave away their plans for covering second and might switch things up on the next pitch.

If you pay attention this can be a pretty interesting game.

The ballboy’s play; watch the players behind him

When a foul ball is hit into the stands you can generally spot someone who’s played some baseball; they’ll be the one getting out of the way. People who haven’t played will usually reach for the ball.

In the top of the second inning Salvador Perez hit a rocket in the direction of the Royals bullpen and the ballboy made the ballboy play of the year with a leaping grab of Salvy’s line drive.

If you go back and watch the video, take a look at all the big-league players behind him.

They’re scattering.

They know how much damage a hard-hit baseball can do and they didn’t want any part of this one.

And check out the bullpen mounds

When the bullpens mounds are on the field, the pitcher is usually facing home plate, the bullpen catcher usually has his back to the hitter. (I say “usually” because I haven’t been to every park in America and maybe some misguided soul set things up differently.)

Having the pitcher face home plate tells you teams value their pitchers more than their bullpen catchers; the pitcher has a better chance of seeing a foul ball headed his way. And that’s why teams station a ballboy by those on-field bullpens; he’ll try to protect the catcher from taking one in the back of the head.

When I accused Royals GM Dayton Moore of always facing the field when giving an interview during BP he started laughing. Dayton’s smart enough to let the reporters take the risk of standing with their backs to the field.

Would you really want a GM who isn’t?

Before I go … Vargy pitched a great game

Hard to talk about Thursday’s game without mentioning Jason Vargas; he was brilliant.

Vargas sliced and diced his way through seven shutout innings with a fastball that topped out at 87 mph. Velocity is easy to measure; brains and heart aren’t.

Friday night the Royals start a three-game series against the Orioles, followed by a day off and another three-game series against the Yanks.

The next seven days will be a big factor in what the Royals decide to do at the trading deadline.

Enjoy tonight’s game.