Judging the Royals

How Jorge Bonifacio used his head to win a ballgame

Kansas City Royals’ Jorge Bonifacio is using his head to hit, writes Lee Judge.
Kansas City Royals’ Jorge Bonifacio is using his head to hit, writes Lee Judge. jsleezer@kcstar.com

Friday night, against the Cleveland Indians, Jorge Bonifacio broke up a tie ballgame when he hit a two-run double in the eighth inning.

The Royals took a 6-4 lead and never looked back.

Andrew Miller, who came into the game with an ERA so small you needed a microscope to see it, was the victim. After the game Bonifacio said he was looking for a fastball, but when he got it and missed, started looking for a slider and that’s what he hit.

Timeout for a related anecdote:

When Wade Davis was still with the Royals he told me he would no longer throw Miguel Cabrera a curveball. When I asked why, Wade said it was because Miggy kept his head still and saw the pitch too well.

If Wade threw it for a ball, Miggy would take it; if Wade threw it for a strike, Miggy would hit it.

Now back to Friday night.

Some guys start with their weight back and then shift forward, which moves their head; Bonifacio was in a spread-out stance which limited his head’s movement.

You see all kinds of stances and swing mechanics that hitters make work, but there is one constant; if you don’t see the ball well, you’ll have a hard time hitting.

As Dayton Moore puts it: the more your head moves, the less you’re going to hit.

Bonifacio kept his head still, saw Miller’s down-and-in slider and led the Royals to their twentieth win.

The Ramirez homer; a fastball in a fastball count has to be well located

Fastball counts are counts where a pitcher needs to throw a strike and a fastball is his best chance of doing so. Think: 2-0, 2-1, 3-0, 3-1 and, depending on the situation, 3-2.

So when Jose Ramirez found himself in a 3-1 count in the second inning, odds are he was looking for a fastball from Ian Kennedy.

If a pitcher can throw some other pitch in a fastball count, that comes in handy, but if he wants to throw a fastball in a fastball count, he needs to think location; the speed isn’t going to fool the hitter, maybe the location will do the trick.

With the count in his favor Ramirez probably wasn’t looking to hit an opposite field single, he probably wanted to pull the ball and do damage – so Salvador Perez set up on the outside corner. If Ramirez pulled an outside pitch, it had a good chance of turning into a groundball to the second baseman.

Unfortunately, Ian Kennedy missed location and hit the inside corner and Ramirez got what he wanted; a fastball to pull and that fastball ended up in the cheap seats.

What should a hitter try to do with nobody on and two outs?

The answer to that question depends on how fast the hitter is.

If the hitter singles with two outs, his team is still two more singles from scoring and coming up with three two-out singles ain’t easy.

But a fast guy without power can think single and then steal second; now his team only needs one more single, not two.

A slow guy with a little pop might think extra bases; eliminate the need for three two-out hits by making the first hit a double.

Jose Ramirez falls somewhere in-between; in his career he has 44 stolen bases and 26 homers.

Ramirez isn’t a Jarrod-Dyson-type burner so the odds are he was looking for something to pull and when Kennedy missed his spot, an inside fastball wasn’t going to fool him.

In the big leagues, strikes aren’t enough

If you’ve ever been to a kid’s baseball practice you’ve probably been treated to the sight of a father throwing batting practice and having trouble throwing strikes.

At some point the dad will probably get frustrated with his own lack of skill and give the kids some awful advice; he’ll encourage them to swing at anything close – which makes it seem like their fault, not his.

But that’s another column.

Here’s the point of this one: if you ever have to do it, you’ll find out it’s hard to throw strikes.

And in the big leagues throwing strikes isn’t enough; big league pitchers talk about hitting thirds of the plate.

Give them a little bit on each corner of the plate and pitchers are still trying to hit a target a little more than seven inches wide and they’re trying to hit it with a variety of pitches.

So when Brandon Moss was at the plate and Mike Clevinger tried to hit the down-and-away third of the plate (a zone Moss has hit .125 on), but missed down-and-in (a zone Moss has hit .375 on), the Royals got back in the game with a three-run homer.

From 60 feet, six inches away, Clevinger probably missed his spot by about nine inches or so, and that changed the game.

These guys are in a tough business.

Is a first-pitch changeup a bad pitch?

In the ninth inning Kelvin Herrera threw a first-pitch changeup to Bradley Zimmer and Zimmer singled.

Zimmer had never faced Herrera before and throwing a 91 mph changeup (and it’s ridiculous that anyone can do that) might have given Zimmer a chance – a lot of guys throw 91.

If Herrera had shown Zimmer 98 and then threw 91, maybe Zimmer doesn’t hit it.

Some pitchers and pitching coaches don’t like first-pitch changeups because the batter hasn’t had his bat sped up yet.

So when the Royals get back into town I’ll find someone in uniform who knows more than me (and that might include some of the bat boys) and ask what they think about first-pitch changeups.

Saturday’s game

Game time is 3:10 today and Jason Vargas is taking the mound. Today we’ve spent a lot of time talking about location and when Vargas is on, he’s about as good as it gets when it comes to hitting the mitt.

Ned Yost has failed to let me know who’s catching today – the lineups aren’t out yet – but if the catcher’s mitt doesn’t move much, the Royals’ chances of winning goes way up.

Enjoy the game.