Judging the Royals

Royals pitchers making it tough for Salvy Perez to throw out runners

Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez.
Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez. jsleezer@kcstar.com

On Wednesday night, the Yankees beat the Royals 3-0 and in the sixth inning of that game Yanks catcher Gary Sanchez stole second base.

This is news because Sanchez steals a base about as often as Melania and Donald Trump hold hands.

Sanchez is a catcher and, up until Wednesday night, had a total of one stolen base attempt in his 76-game career … and he got thrown out the one time he tried it.

Needless to say — but apparently I’m going to say it anyway — Sanchez does not seem like a guy who would run with Salvador Perez behind the plate.

In 2016, Salvy threw out 48 percent of would-be base stealers and any catcher who can throw out 30 percent is considered very good. But this season Salvy has only thrown out 25 percent of guys trying to swipe a bag.

So what’s up with that?

Let Terrance Gore explain. Back when Terrance was on the team and stealing bases, he stole one and afterward a reporter asked Terrance if he’d stolen the base off the catcher or the pitcher.

In other words: did Terrance run because of the catcher’s arm or did he run because the pitcher did a poor job holding him and/or getting the ball to home plate in a timely manner?

Terrance said you always steal off the pitcher.

A big-league catcher takes about 2.0 seconds to receive a pitch and throw it to second base. If a catcher takes longer than that, someone is going to work with him to get his time down or the catcher is going to have a have a hard time staying a big-league catcher.

A catcher’s time to second base will remain fairly constant, so the variable is the pitcher’s delivery time to home plate.

If the pitcher is slow enough, the runner can go.

Sanchez stole the base when the pitcher was Jason Hammel, and Hammel is 6-foot, 6-inches tall. Watch the pitch Sanchez ran on and Hammel did not use a slide step; maybe because he didn’t think Sanchez would run. And without a slide step, it took Hammel a while to unwind all that 6-6 and get the ball on its way to the plate.

If a pitcher isn’t going to slide step he better do something else to slow down the runner: multiple pickoff attempts to tire out the runner’s legs or the simplest thing of all — holding the ball in the set position.

Bottom line: Sanchez stole the base off Hammel, not Perez.

But it’s a warning sign: when guys like Gary Sanchez start stealing bases with Salvador Perez behind the plate, Royals pitchers need to do a better job of holding runners and getting the ball to home plate in a hurry.

Max Scherzer and the set position

If the simplest thing a pitcher can do to stop a runner is hold the ball in the set position, why don’t more pitchers do it?

Like most of us, pitchers are creatures of habit and holding the ball a long time before delivering a pitch feels uncomfortable.

The only guy I’ve ever seen practicing holding the ball in the set position is Max Scherzer and that might be one of the reasons Max is 129-72 over his career.

Pop-up slide

Back to that Sanchez steal: Salvy’s throw went into center field and Sanchez advanced to third.

He was able to do that because he came in feet first and did a pop-up slide. When the ball got away, Sanchez was ready to take another 90 feet. Guys who come in headfirst have a harder time getting up and going.

Friday night’s game

The Royals play the Indians Friday night at 6:10 and they’ve got Ian Kennedy and Mike Clevinger listed as the starters. The last time Clevinger pitched against the Royals he went 5  2/3 innings and allowed one hit and no runs.

Royals fans better hope he isn’t that sharp.

Facebook Live with Trevor Vance

Assuming we both show up, I’ll be talking to Royals grounds keeper Trevor Vance at 3 p.m. Friday on Facebook Live. If I can get him to tell you some of the stuff he’s told me, it should be fascinating.

Tune in to see what happens.

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