Judging the Royals

If you’re a big-league ballplayer, don’t read this

Royals first base coach Rusty Kuntz kept center fielder Lorenzo Cain calm while he looked at White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers after being hit by a pitch in Monday’s season opener. Rusty Kuntz says the thing is so contagious you don’t want to play catch with a guy who has it; you can actually catch the thing from a teammate.
Royals first base coach Rusty Kuntz kept center fielder Lorenzo Cain calm while he looked at White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers after being hit by a pitch in Monday’s season opener. Rusty Kuntz says the thing is so contagious you don’t want to play catch with a guy who has it; you can actually catch the thing from a teammate. The Kansas City Star

I’m not kidding; I know ballplayers don’t read our stuff as much as those of us in the media like to think they do, but just in case some ballplayer decided to check this story out, I’m saying he should stop reading.

So if you’re a big-league player, did you stop or are you still reading?

Hey, if you’re a ballplayer and keep reading, what happens next is on you, not me. Don’t come up to me in the clubhouse and complain; you had your warning and ignored it. Last chance — stop now because I’m about to write about something you do not want to read about:

The thing.

The thing I’m writing about is not a semi-entertaining science fiction movie, or one-quarter of the Fantastic Four. The thing is what ballplayers call the throwing yips; the inability to make a simple throw that ought to be easy for any pro ballplayer.

Catchers who can’t throw the ball back to the pitcher have the thing. When Steve Sax and Chuck Knoblauch couldn’t hit first base from second base, they had the thing. Jason Kendall told me he once had the thing when he tried to throw the ball to third base after a strikeout. If a guy was stealing third and Jason didn’t have time to think, no problem; but if the pitcher struck someone out, that would require Jason to throw the ball around the infield. In that case, Jason would have time to think and the ball had decent chance of going into left field.

The thing is a mental block and it’s considered serious and contagious; that’s why I told ballplayers not to read this and that’s why you never mention the thing to a player. Ask a player if he’s had or ever has had the thing and apparently there’s a pretty good chance the player might take a swing at you — they don’t want the thing in their head.

Rusty Kuntz said it’s so contagious you don’t want to play catch with a guy who has the thing; if he throws a few balls away, now you start thinking about it — you can actually catch the thing from a teammate.

If a guy has the thing he’ll try to hide it. I’ve got no way of knowing and if I ever get a chance I won’t ask him — because he’s bigger than me and I don’t want to get punched — but ever wonder why Jon Lester didn’t attempt a single pickoff throw in 2014?

If Lester has the thing — and once again I have no way of knowing — teams can take advantage of his reluctance to attempt a pickoff. Go ahead and take a big lead — he ain’t throwing over. On opening day of this season the Cardinals ran on Lester — who is now with the Cubs — four times and stole three bases. Afterwards Lester said his throwing issues have been blown out of proportion. Back in the 2014 Wild Card game the Royals ran on Lester three times and were successful on all three stolen-base attempts. I couldn’t say for sure, but if Lester has the thing it would make some of those numbers more understandable.

But if you’re a big-league ballplayer and you develop the thing after reading this article, don’t blame me — I told you to stop reading.

Readers’ questions

The other night the Royals waited until Adam LaRoche had a strike on him to go into a shift and I said that was because they thought it less likely LaRoche would bunt with one strike. That prompted a reader to ask this question:

Why wouldn’t a batter bunt with one strike and (a) shift on?

Here’s the logic: most guys teams shift on are left-handed pull hitters and not particularly good at bunting. Because most hitters do not like to hit with two strikes, teams figure a poor bunter will take his shot with no strikes and so they leave the third baseman closer to the line and in a position to field a bunt.

If the hitter bunts and does not get the bunt down or gets strike one in some other way, teams will often make the shift more extreme; they can move the third baseman away from the line and have him play short or send the third baseman to the right side and have the shortstop stay in his usual position. But bottom line; lots of teams think a hitter is less likely to attempt a bunt after he has strike one on him.

Here’s another reader question:

I have a question for you. In the bottom of the 6th inning last night, Hosmer was up and the count was 3-2. There were two men on base and 1 out. He fouled off a few pitches that seemed outside the strike zone at that count but ultimately hit into a double play. Morales was up next. In this situation, I think if you like a pitch take a swing, otherwise take the pitch. It’ll be either a walk or strikeout. Strategically that seems like a better option than expanding the strike zone and fouling off pitch after pitch. Am I crazy?

Hitters will expand the zone with two strikes because they don’t want to take a borderline pitch and leave it up to the umpire. Being called out looking — especially with a runner in scoring position — is frustrating and the only good thing about a strikeout in that situation is staying out of the double play.

Swinging at marginal pitches and fouling them off buys you another pitch and I’m sure Hosmer was hoping for a mistake by the pitcher. And when Eric hit that laser beam home run we saw what he can do with a mistake.

And finally: I don’t have a degree in psychiatry, but that’s not a crazy question. The invisible rabbit who talks to me said so.

Late game on Friday

The Royals are headed to the West Coast and play a late game on Friday. The plan this season is for me to post less often on the weekends, but if there’s something particularly compelling or interesting I might go ahead and write anyway.

And I plan on being on Twitter for pretty much every game; 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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