On Sunday against the Boston Red Sox, Royals manager Ned Yost did not bring relievers Kelvin Herrera or Wade Davis into the game and got roasted for it. On Tuesday night against the Chicago White Sox, he did and the move didn’t work. Now ask yourself: What would have happened if Yost had once again refused to pitch Herrera or Davis out of their accustomed roles in that Tuesday game and the Royals lost?
He would have been hammered by fans and the media.
When Yost brought Herrera into Tuesday night’s game, he gave critics what they said they wanted. If it worked, great. If not, Ned was off the hook. He did what all his critics said he should do.
For better or worse, managers probably have to think about their critics. If sports talk radio and social media are all over you, getting fired might not be far behind. So, managers sometimes manage to cover their posteriors.
Here’s an example:
A manager pinch-hits or brings in a reliever, and the move backfires. He then has to face the media and gets asked why he did such a boneheaded thing, and the manager answers, “Have you seen the matchup numbers?”
The answer (most of the time) is no. So when the manager asks if we’ve seen them, we kind of assume they favor the move that the manager made. Otherwise, he would not have brought them up.
But when you get into matchup numbers for relievers, you often are looking at fewer than 10 at-bats. So a guy is 2 for 9 off a reliever, but hit three line-drive outs, the numbers favor the pitcher, but the batter actually hits that particular reliever well.
Or it might be reversed. Say the batter is for 4 for 9 off the reliever, but two of the hits were broken-bat flares. The hitter’s matchup numbers look good, but because of the small sample size, the numbers don’t accurately reflect what happened.
But if the manager follows the numbers, he’s safe. He can say he simply did what the numbers told him to do, and most of us don’t remember the line outs and broken-bat flares and accept what he says.
It may not be good managing, but it covers your posterior.
What makes Finnegan so good?
As of this writing, rookie pitcher Brandon Finnegan has looked like the second coming of Sandy Koufax. The Royals left-hander has pitched in four games, faced 15 batters, struck out six of them and hasn’t allowed an earned run.
So what makes Finnegan so good?
We could talk about his fastball, his change-up and slider, but we still would be overlooking a major factor: Not many hitters have seen Finnegan live.
Ask a veteran big-leaguer who was the toughest pitcher he ever faced, and he might say any guy he never faced before. Video and scouting reports only take you so far. You’ve got to face a pitcher live, in the batter’s box before you know for sure. That’s why you see hitters come back to the dugout and start talking to their teammates; they’re telling the other hitters what the pitches looked like and how they moved. Everyone is trying to get as much information as possible for before they face the new kid.
It also works the other way. A pitchers isn’t real sure about a hitter until he’s faced him a few times.
Wade Davis has said that when a new guy comes up, he has an idea, but until the new guy has enough at bats, no one knows for sure. After enough trips to the plate, the patterns become clear. The pitchers see the hitter’s hot zones — the parts of the strike zone that the hitter handles well — and they also see his cold zones, where you go to get that guy out.
Then the pitchers adjust. The rookie who was so hot suddenly can’t buy a hit. The kid who was striking everybody out starts to get whacked around the yard. That’s why they call baseball a game of adjustments. The league figures you out and adjusts, then you have to adjust. Either that, or you go back to the minors and adjust your game.
Brandon Finnegan may be the second coming of Sandy Koufax, but don’t be surprised if at some point the league starts to catch up to him. Heck, he might even give up a run.
▪ Alcides Escobar made a tag on Chicago’s Jose Abreu when he tried to advance. Abreu was called out after a video review. Make those tags firm enough, and the runner’s foot might come off the bag.
▪ Later, Escobar singled past Alexei Ramirez, and the Chicago shortstop did not attempt a diving stop. If a runner is fast and you go toward the outfield and dive, you’re not going to throw that runner out. If the runner is slow, get dirty.
▪ Lorenzo Cain hit a three-run home run on a hung 0-2 slider, which was a way too hittable a pitch in that count.
▪ Josh Willingham scored from first on a Salvador Perez single, and that takes a bit of explaining. There were two outs in the inning, and the ball was a flare. That allowed Willingham to get a running start while the ball hung in the air. Josh was running the ball out with his back to the play, and the ball dropped and bounced away from the defenders. Mike Jirschele, the Royals’ third-base coach, recognized what was happening and sent Willingham home. Willingham scored standing up while dancing away from the tag.
▪ Cain hit a single to the opposite field after pulling a home run, and that’s a good approach. When Clint Hurdle was hitting coach for the Colorado Rockies, he fined hitters who pulled a home run in batting practice then didn’t hit the next pitch to the opposite field. Hurdle did not want his hitters to get pull-happy.
▪ Escobar got hit by a pitch, the crowd booed, but the pitch was a slider. You don’t intentionally hit batters with breaking pitches. You hit them with fastballs.
▪ If you were looking at this Chicago series, the game that Chris Sale started probably seemed like the least likely game for the Royals to win. That is why they play the game. Ya never know.