Judging the Royals

If Clayton Kershaw’s on the mound, hit the first good pitch you see

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw (left) celebrated along with catcher Austin Barnes after striking out Kansas City Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar to end Sunday’s game.
Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw (left) celebrated along with catcher Austin Barnes after striking out Kansas City Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar to end Sunday’s game. The Associated Press

Some people, usually people who don’t have to hit baseballs for a living, think taking pitches and being passive at the plate is a good approach to hitting.

But a good approach to hitting depends on who’s pitching.

Good pitchers believe in their stuff and tend to be aggressive early in the at-bat. They’ll throw a first-pitch fastball or a get-me-over breaking pitch to get ahead 0-1. If the hitter does not put that pitch in play, the pitcher will then start working the edges of the zone.

With a good pitcher on the mound, hitters need to be aggressive; the first pitch is often the best pitch to hit.

Bad pitchers don’t trust their stuff, so they nibble at the edges of the zone early in the at-bat. If they fall behind in the count, and they probably will because that’s what makes bad pitchers bad, the pitcher will then come into the heart of the zone.

With a bad pitcher on the mound, hitters can show patience; the 2-0, 2-1 or 3-1 pitch will often be the best pitch to hit.

So before a hitter goes to the plate he needs to think about the pitcher; is he likely to make multiple mistakes in a single at bat or is he someone who rarely makes any mistakes at all?

Clayton Kershaw doesn’t make many mistakes, so if a hitter gets one, he better hit it.

Eric Hosmer’s approach

On Sunday, with Clayton Kershaw on the mound, the Royals had six hits; Eric Hosmer had three of them.

What gives?

How did Hosmer go 3 for 4 while the rest of his teammates went a combined 3 for 29?

It’s never just one thing, but let’s concentrate on Hosmer’s approach; in all four at-bats Hosmer swung at the first strike he saw and got it in play. Hosmer did not let Kershaw get ahead in the count and that’s a good approach to an outstanding pitcher.

Over Kershaw’s career, batters who fall behind 0-1, go on to hit .165; batters who find themselves in a two-strike count hit .137.

On Sunday, Kershaw faced 33 batters, threw 99 pitches and only fell behind 2-0, 2-1 or 3-1 to three batters. The Royals who did not get the first strike in play were 3 for 23 and struck out 13 times

There is no “right” approach

When ballplayers think about it — and they usually don’t — it drives them crazy to have someone look at the numbers and decide what’s true overall is true every night.

Baseball is a game of adjustments and hitters have to adjust their approach every time they go to the plate. Emphasizing walks and taking pitches will work with some pitchers; other times hitters have to be aggressive.

This season Clayton Kershaw has walked a batter about once every six innings; on Sunday, Kershaw threw a complete game and didn’t walk anybody.

So when hitters are making quick outs, think about who’s pitching:

If the pitcher in question has control problems, being aggressive early in the count might be a mistake; the hitter might get a better pitch to hit or work a walk.

But pitchers who throw strikes force a hitter’s hand, there’s no point in trying to work a walk that isn’t coming.

And if Clayton Kershaw’s on the mound, hit the first good pitch you see.

The All-Star break

After getting swept by the Dodgers, the Royals stand 44-43 at the All-Star break; in third place in the AL Central and three games behind the Indians. On Friday, the season resumes and the second half should be pretty interesting.

Most of the Royals will now take a break, but over the next four days I’ll continue to write.

Please stop by.

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