In the ninth inning of Wednesday’s game against the Oakland A’s, Royals outfielder Alex Gordon singled and drove in what turned out to be the winning run. Then Gordon tried to steal second base and was thrown out.
The Royals didn’t want Gordon to get thrown out, but they can still use that failed steal attempt to their advantage.
Scouts are at every game and someone from the Cleveland Indians saw Gordon try to steal second base: that will go into the scouting report.
Opposing teams are much more interested in what a player has done lately than what a player has done over the entire season. Because Gordon attempted two steals against Oakland, one successful and one not, the scout will report that Gordon is currently healthy and running.
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And even the threat of a stolen base changes the game.
It’s one of the reasons Royals base running coach Rusty Kuntz has some of the slower Royals runners try delayed steals or run when he doesn’t think there will be a throw down to second base; it puts those runners in the scouting report as a guy who will attempt to swipe a bag.
With the exception of Mike Moustakas and Drew Butera, every guy likely to be in the starting lineup against the Indians this weekend has attempted at least one stolen base this season.
And, with a runner on first base, that might force Cleveland pitchers to pitch out of a slide step and throw more fastballs. It also forces at least one of the middle infielders to stand closer to second base to receive a catcher’s throw and it makes it harder for a Cleveland catcher to “stick” a pitch.
That’s when a catcher receives a pitch and holds it in place to give the umpire a good look. With a runner on first base, catchers are less likely to stick a pitch if they think the runner might turn rabbit.
That might turn a borderline strike into a borderline ball and that might give the Royals an advantage.
How players intentionally change the scouting report
In his 15-year career, former Royals catcher Jason Kendall had 8,702 plate appearances and put the first pitch in play 534 times.
When we were working together on the book “Throwback” Jason said he didn’t swing at the first pitch much, but he might do it in the final game of a series. If his team was well ahead or behind in the later innings of that final game and Jason could afford to give away an at-bat, swinging at the first pitch changed the scouting report.
The advance scout would then go back to his team and report that, while Jason didn’t swing at the first pitch all that often, he was doing it now and the pitchers should be careful about laying one in there on the first pitch of an at-bat. That might encourage the pitchers to nibble on that first pitch and that’s just what Jason wanted.
Over his career, when Jason fell behind 0-1, after that he hit .267; but if Jason got ahead 1-0, after that he hit .303.
Jason was using a fairly meaningless at-bat in game that was already to decided to improve his odds in what might be an extremely important at bat in the next series.
I should have thought of it earlier, but the first one makes it sound like Jason was making an out on purpose when he actually hit really well on first pitches, but was just changing his approach to affect the next series.
When we see a player get thrown out stealing a base or swing at the first pitch and make an out, remember; the ultimate results of that play might not be known for a while.
Gordon has to get on base first
At this point some smart-aleck (which is very close to the term I really want to use) might say, yeah, but Gordon has to get on base to for any of this to matter.
Gordon was benched on August 8, but was used as a defensive replacement that night and has appeared in every game since. And after two days, Gordon was back in the starting lineup on August 10 and since then has hit .250.
Nobody should make predictions based on 26 plate appearances, but it appears Gordon has made some adjustments and .250 is better than he had been hitting.
So if Alex Gordon is standing on first base when some Cleveland Indians pitcher throws a fastball or hanging breaking pitch out of a slide step, and some Royals hitter gets a base hit, Gordon’s failed steal against the Oakland A’s probably had something to do with it.
Because even a failed steal attempt can attempt against the A’s can help the Royals against the Indians.