Judging the Royals

When it comes to hitting, the odds change nightly

Mike Moustakas followed through on a pop-up that fell out of the glove of Chicago White Sox third baseman Gordon Beckham in the sixth inning Wednesday at Kauffman Stadium.
Mike Moustakas followed through on a pop-up that fell out of the glove of Chicago White Sox third baseman Gordon Beckham in the sixth inning Wednesday at Kauffman Stadium. The Kansas City Star

On opening day Ned Yost made out a lineup with Mike Moustakas hitting second. Apparently, a lot of people thought it was a dumb idea, so I tried to explain why a manager might do what Ned did. Here’s what I wrote:

If you freaked out because Moustakas was batting second in the order, remember that what a guy has done in his career is less important than what he’s done the last 7-10 days. A future Hall of Famer can be in a slump. A No. 9 hitter can be smoking hot. Moose hit well in spring training, so they got him some extra at-bats, and if that gets him jump started, so much the better.

A reader objected to that reasoning and couldn’t understand why a larger sample size was less important than a smaller sample size. Why would the last 10 days — say, 40 plate appearances — be more important than what a guy had done over his career?

Because the hitters do not stay the same and the odds change nightly.

Here’s an example. Say that over his career, a guy has handled the outside pitch well, but over the past week he’s been getting blown up with fastball inside. That night, he comes out with an open stance (his front foot is farther away from home plate than his back foot). The hitter is trying to get to that inside fastball by creating space with a new stance, but now he’ll have a tougher time getting to that pitch away.

Just because he’s handled the outside pitch well over his career does not mean he’ll handle the outside pitch well tonight. He’s made an adjustment, and a smart catcher and pitcher will notice that adjustment and adjust in response. Assuming that the numbers and odds remain constant is a mistake.

These are human beings playing the game, and human beings can be erratic. The numbers may say throw a fastball to this hitter, but if your pitcher is short 3 mph that night, a fastball might not be a good idea. A hitter might have a hard time handling a slider, but if your pitcher’s slider is flat that night, throw something else.

Where the numbers guys and the players part company

Big-league players, coaches and managers believe numbers can be helpful, but numbers can also be misleading. If you take a number and think it tells the entire story, you’re making a mistake. A number can tell you what happens most of the time, but in reality you have to deal with what’s happening tonight.

A guy might be a terrific fastball hitter most of the time, but if you find out that the hitter in question was in a strip club until 2 a.m. and he then stumbles to the plate smelling like a liquor store, that hitter ain’t a terrific fastball hitter tonight. Throw him fastballs.

Actual games are played with specific people, and those specific people interact in specific situations and change the odds of every situation. That’s why managers and coaches are paid to manage and coach. They’re supposed to have the specific information that pertains to tonight’s situation.

The overall numbers might say steal, but that night the manager knows the runner has a slight hamstring pull and can’t steal second base without risking a blowout.

The overall numbers might say don’t let this guy pull the ball, but that night the catcher might notice the flags blowing in from left field and realize he can throw an inside pitch. Let a right-handed hitter crush it, and watch the wind hold the ball up for an easy pop-fly out.

The overall numbers might say you don’t want to challenge a certain outfielder’s arm, but that night the third-base coach might know the grass is wet after a rain delay and a ball hit to the outfield will be too slippery to make a strong throw. Taking an extra base might be possible.

Every night on every ball field there are countless factors affecting a baseball game, and those factors aren’t included in any mathematical formula. Knowing what happens most of the time is a starting place, but only that. The guys on the playing field have to fill in the rest of the information that matters. They have to know what’s likely to happen tonight.

And if a hitter is hot, you might stick him in the two-hole.

Stuff from the Royals’ 7-5 win over the White Sox

▪ According to MLB.com, Tyler Flowers hit a three-run home run in the second inning off a Danny Duffy 86-mph fastball, which seems kind of suspicious because Danny throws his fastball harder than 86.

MLB.com said that the pitch before Duffy’s 86-mph fastball was an 86-mph changeup. But after the game, Ned Yost confirmed that both pitches were in fact changeups.

Ned also pointed out that throwing two changeups to a hitter that was having his first at-bat of the night might not be a great plan. What are you changing up off of? You haven’t forced him to speed his bat up to catch a fastball yet, and if the second changeup in a row is up in the zone, it might also be out of the park.

▪ Before the game, Lorenzo Cain was reminded not to lunge at first base the way he did on opening day. When he slipped off the bag and crashed, lots of people wearing blue kinda freaked. Lorenzo said he had been good during spring training about not lunging, but he got caught up in the excitement of opening day.

Cain is supposed to run straight through the bag, not lunge for it. He has had enough leg injuries already, and the Royals don’t want to see him have another.

▪ A former teammate of Alex Rios told me that Rios runs easy. Fans should not be fooled into thinking he’s not going all-out. He is. Rios just doesn’t have to strain to do it.

▪ The first out of the game was Chicago’s Adam Eaton hitting a grounder to first baseman Eric Hosmer. Eaton busted it down the line.

Watch a guy run balls out, and you get some kind of idea what kind of player he is. If it’s a fly ball to the outfield that has every appearance of being caught, you still are supposed to run down and touch first base. Some big stars don’t do that.

▪ If you see that Salvador Perez had a stolen base last night and wonder how that happened, it was part of a double steal. Sal was trying to draw a throw to second base so Alex Rios, who was on third, could steal home. The White Sox didn’t bite, and Perez eventually sauntered into second base.

▪ If you wonder why teams wait until the batter has one strike to go into an exaggerated shift, it’s because they figure the batter won’t bunt against the shift with one strike. That’s why the Royals waited until Chicago’s Adam LaRoche had a strike before moving into their shift.

It’s a day game

The Royals and White Sox play at 1:10 p.m. Thursday. If you can’t get to the game, keep a smartphone or laptop handy, and I’ll try to make semi-intelligent comments on Twitter. You can follow me @leejudge8.

To reach Lee Judge, call 816-234-4482 or send email to ljudge@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @leejudge8.

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