Judging the Royals

There are walks that hurt, and there are walks that hurt less than the alternative

Travis Wood showed relatively good control Sunday in Minneapolis. He walked only one in his one inning of work.
Travis Wood showed relatively good control Sunday in Minneapolis. He walked only one in his one inning of work. AP

In Game 1 of Sunday’s doubleheader, the Royals’ pitchers walked six batters, and three of those walks scored. The Royals’ pitchers got away with it because the Royals’ hitters scored six runs.

In Game 2, the Royals’ pitchers would not be so fortunate.

Six Twins walked in Game 2, and this time four of them scored. And that’s the margin by which the Royals lost.

If you’re going to understand big-league pitchers, you have to accept that they walk people on purpose all the time. I’ve seen Greg Holland walk the bases loaded with a one-run lead and Wade Davis walk Miguel Cabrera with the bases loaded because, as Wade put it, one run was better than four.

The best pitchers with the most nerve know they have three bases to work with, and if they face a hitter that can hurt them, they might just put him on and go to next customer. But if you do that, you better be sure to get the next customer out.

So there are walks that make sense — strong hitter at the plate, weak hitter on deck — and walks that don’t: weak hitter at the plate, strong hitter on deck.

And the score matters, as well.

When the Royals gave Ian Kennedy a two-run lead in the top of the first inning, the last thing he wanted to do was walk the Twins’ leadoff hitter, Brian Dozier. By himself, Dozier could not hurt Kennedy, even if he hit the ball to Saskatchewan.

(I should get points for spelling that right on the first try and have points deducted for not knowing that a long home run would land in Wisconsin, not Saskatchewan — assuming the Internet is right about the direction Target Field’s home plate faces.)

So when Kennedy walked Dozier, he brought the tying run to the plate — Robbie Grossman — and Grossman hit a homer to tie it.

Then Kennedy walked Miguel Sano, Max Kepler followed that with a homer and the Royals were down 4-2 just four batters into the bottom of the first inning.

Kennedy gave up another run in the second inning and it was pretty clear that he was struggling with his control after his long layoff.

That’s when Ned Yost brought in Chris Young.

Chris Young and long relief

If a long reliever had pitched well enough, he’d be in the starting rotation. But since he finished sixth in a competition for five spots, he’s sent to the bullpen and asked to provide long relief.

That means he pitches when his team is way ahead or looks like it’s going to lose.

It’s great if the long reliever pitches well, but if he pitches poorly he isn’t going to get pulled; he’s got to wear it and give his team innings. Another reliever might get pulled after minimal damage, but the long reliever takes a beating so the relievers at the back end of the ’pen don’t get used in a loss.

Young threw five innings on Sunday and allowed three runs, which didn’t help the Royals win Game 2 but might help them win Monday night against the Yankees.

Not much consolation for Young or the Royals’ fans, but that’s how baseball works.

Why pitchers attempt multiple pickoffs

If you didn’t watch Game 2 of Sunday’s doubleheader, let me give you the highlights: It wasn’t very exciting, but it only lasted 2 hours and 29 minutes — both teams looked like they had somewhere else to be, and they did. The Royals were headed for New York and the Twins were flying to Baltimore.

Now that I’ve summed up Game 2, I’d like to write something I’ve been meaning to get to: why pitchers attempt multiple pickoff attempts that seem boring and useless.

Let’s start with some math:

Let’s say the baserunner takes 3.3 seconds to run from first to second base on a steal attempt.

Now let’s say the catcher takes 2.0 seconds to catch a pitch and throw it down to second.

Let’s go one step further and say when the pitcher delivers a pitch, he can do it in 1.3 seconds.

Do the addition, and you can see that if everybody stays average there will be a tie at second base on a steal attempt.

But if the pitcher can tire out the baserunner by making him dive back to first base three times, or kill the runner’s legs by holding the ball in the set position, maybe that 3.3 running time to second base becomes 3.4 and the runner is out.

There’s almost always a reason for what you see on a baseball field and, if you hadn’t thought about it before, now you know why a pitcher makes those seemingly half-hearted pickoff attempts.

OK, that’s it.

The Royals play the Yankees tonight, and tomorrow morning I’ll be back here with something new.

Enjoy the game.