Judging the Royals

Mike Moustakas gets plunked twice: What’s up with that?

The Royals' Mike Moustakas (left) high-fives Alcides Escobar as they walk off the field after the bottom of the eighth inning of Friday’s baseball game against the Angels in Anaheim, Calif.
The Royals' Mike Moustakas (left) high-fives Alcides Escobar as they walk off the field after the bottom of the eighth inning of Friday’s baseball game against the Angels in Anaheim, Calif. AP

Three more Royals batters got hit Friday night in Anaheim, and two of them were Mike Moustakas. (That sentence is probably not technically correct, but it’s early on a Saturday morning after a late Friday night game and it’s the best I can do until I have six more cups of coffee or find a reliable source for amphetamines.)

Anyway…

A buddy asked what was up with all the Royals getting plunked. The truth is I don’t know for sure, but I can make a pretty good guess in Mike Moustakas’ case: the pitchers were trying to go inside and missed.

Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki once told me the toughest hitters to face were the ones who had a plan and wouldn’t come off it. Pitchers and catchers want hitters to swing at every pitch in every location. Hitters who are up there hacking have a hard time covering the entire plate, especially if they’re willing to swing at whatever the pitcher decides to throw.

Guys who look for certain pitches in certain locations and won’t come off that plan are more difficult; they spit on the pitches they’re not looking for and when they get the pitch they are looking for they’re ready and have it timed.

Right now Moustakas’ appears to have a plan and opposition pitchers want him to come off it.

Recently Mike has been taking the ball the other way against the shift and pitchers want Mike to pull it; that’s why they put about 17 defenders between first and second base and then throw Moustakas off-speed pitches or fastballs inside. Pitchers hope Moose pulls those pitches into the shift. And if they can get Moose to try to get the bat head out early to get to those inside fastballs, then Mike is vulnerable to the pitch away; he’ll swing too soon and hook those balls to the right side of the field.

Mike showed his commitment to going the other way in the seventh inning of Friday night’s game when he hit a 79-MPH slider to left field; you can’t do that on an off-speed pitch unless you’re staying back on the ball. It doesn’t mean he’ll never pull; there are pitchers and pitches that Moose ought to pull, but right now Mike is trying to take advantage of what the defense is giving him.

If you’re thinking, "Man, Lee sure has written a lot about Mike Moustakas this season" you’re right. Baseball is changing and what’s happening to Mike is happening all over; teams are shifting and batters have to decide what to do about it and if you care about how the game is played that’s some pretty interesting stuff.

The Royals bullpen has depth and that makes the game easier

If a relief pitcher throws two days in a row there’s a good chance he’ll take the third day off. Some relievers can throw three days in a row and rest on the fourth, but two out of three is pretty normal.

That’s why I wondered if Greg Holland was available on Friday night after he’d thrown on both Wednesday and Thursday. It turned out the Royals didn’t want to push Holly this early in the season so Jason Frasor pitched the seventh, Kelvin Herrera pitched the eighth and Wade Davis pitched the ninth.

When a quality reliever isn’t available, having another quality reliever to fill in makes the game a whole lot easier — and when Luke Hochevar comes back the bullpen should get even deeper.

No Gatorade for Wade

One of the things I dig about Wade Davis is his mound demeanor; Wade looks serious as a heart attack and doesn’t go in for a lot of theatrics — the dude is intimidating. And maybe hitters aren’t the only ones intimidated: Friday night Davis got the save and the on-field postgame interview with Joel Goldberg.

Dumping a bucket of Gatorade on the guy getting interviewed has become so common that it’s now a surprise if it doesn’t happen — the gag is getting worn out — and I wondered if any of Wade’s teammates would have the poor judgment to try it on him.

Nope — no Gatorade for Wade.

Defense matters

Really? Someone, somewhere once said defense was no big deal? I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that whoever said that never played the game and if they still think that they haven’t watched a lot of Royals games.

In the top of the eighth inning of Friday night’s game, Alex Gordon got hit by a pitch and then reliever Mike Morin tried to pick him off. The throw bounced in front of first base and Albert Pujols made just about zero attempt to knock the ball down. Gordon went to second base and even though he didn’t score, Pujols’ glove work got the Royals another at bat with a runner in scoring position.

In the bottom of the eighth inning with two outs and Mike Trout on second base, David Freese hit a hot shot to Alcides Escobar at short and Esky knocked the ball down, picked it up, then bounced the throw to first base — Eric Hosmer scooped it, got the out, saved Escobar an error and kept what would have been the tying run at the time from scoring.

And when the Royals added an insurance run in the ninth, that meant Wade Davis had a little breathing room when he went out to get his first save of the year.

Defense matters.

I’m assuming whoever (should that be "whomever"?) said defense didn’t matter said it before the metrics community started making some attempts to measure defense in a more sophisticated way. I don’t think those measurements are completely accurate, but at least someone’s trying.

Just because we don’t know how to measure something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist or it’s not important. If you ever wonder why teams value players that don’t have numbers you find impressive, it’s probably because we haven’t figured out how to measure what makes that player valuable.

Assuming that we know everything that’s worth knowing is almost always a mistake — just ask the guy who said defense doesn’t matter.

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

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