Judging the Royals

Why Mike Moustakas swings at the first pitch

Mike Moustakas
Mike Moustakas jsleezer@kcstar.com

On Saturday, against the Cleveland Indians, Mike Moustakas had four at-bats and one intentional walk; every time the Indians pitched to Moose he swung at the first pitch and, if you still had to throw four pitches to intentionally walk a guy, Moose might have swung at the first pitch he saw in that plate appearance, too.

Why?

Why do so many big-league hitters swing at the first pitch they see?

Because big-league pitchers often throw first-pitch fastballs to get ahead in the count, and that first-pitch fastball might be the best pitch the hitters will see.

For instance:

With a team batting average of .230, the Royals are currently the worst-hitting team in the American League, but when they get the first pitch in play, the Royals hit .316 and slug .505.

Moustakas is currently hitting .260, but this season, when he gets the first pitch in play, he’s hit .367 and slugged .667.

Attacking the first pitch – as long as it’s a good one – can be smart hitting.

Let that good pitch go by, let the pitcher get ahead in the count, and after that the hitter’s likely to see sliders, curves and change-ups.

For instance:

If the Royals hitters fall behind 0-1, after that they hit .202.

If Moustakas falls behind 0-1, after that he’s hit .232.

If you’ve heard this before, bear with me, because you’re about to hear it again:

When a hitter swings at the first pitch and makes an out, we get upset about his lack of patience; when a hitter swings at the first pitch and gets a hit, we praise his aggressiveness.

On Saturday Mike Moustakas singled twice and hit a first-pitch homer, so being aggressive paid off.

If Moustakas is aggressive again on Sunday and it doesn’t pay off, remember: He’s got a pretty good reason for swinging at that first pitch.

Why you can’t read a big-leaguer’s autograph

Saturday’s game was on FS1, and the two announcers – Justin Kutcher and Tom Verducci – were talking about getting a big-league player’s autograph and how, over the years, those autographs have become illegible.

There’s a reason for that.

These days big-league players are asked to sign more often.

Walk into a big-league clubhouse, and it’s not uncommon to see a waist-high stack of boxes sitting by a player’s locker. Those boxes contain baseballs, and if player is asked to sign 144 baseballs in a row, he’s going to figure out how to do it quickly.

The approved method is to make your initials big, add some squiggles in between and tack on your uniform number so fans can figure out who signed the ball.

I once asked Mike Moustakas when he changed his signature and he said right after he signed his first baseball and it took him 15 minutes. (Moose might have been exaggerating, but with a name like “Moustakas” he probably wasn’t exaggerating by much.)

Fans want players to sign a lot of items so if you get a signature you can’t read, it’s at least a little bit our fault.

Will Soria and/or Herrera be available on Sunday?

A lot of relievers can throw two days in a row and then need a day off; some relievers can go three days in a row before sitting down.

So far this season Ned Yost has not used Joakim Soria three days in a row; he’s used Kelvin Herrera three days in a row twice.

Soria and Herrera pitched on Friday and Saturday, so if the Royals need them on Sunday, they may or may not be available – a statement that has the twin virtues of being vague, but true.

You’ll sometimes see relievers playing catch before a game and they’re often testing out their arm; if they feel good and think they can throw that day, they’ll let the pitching coach know. If their arm is stiff and cranky, they’ll let the coach know that as well.

If the Royals take a lead of three runs or less into the eighth and ninth innings, Soria and Herrera’s availability will become an issue.

Enjoy today’s game.

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