Judging the Royals

Ask Lee: Why do big-league pitchers throw rookie hitters fastballs?

Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Wade Davis (17) throws in the eighth inning during Wednesday's baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds on May 20, 2015 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Wade Davis (17) throws in the eighth inning during Wednesday's baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds on May 20, 2015 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. JSLEEZER@KCSTAR.COM

Recently a reader sent me an email asking some questions and I figured I’d try to answer them here on the website. If you have a question you think I can answer — and yeah, I did tee that one up for anyone who wants to be snarky — email it to me and maybe it’ll wind up as part of a column. So here we go…

Hi Lee.

I read nearly every post you write, and I have some questions about the “behind the scenes” things that might be up your alley.

Why do pitchers throw nearly a steady diet of fastballs to rookie hitters? A rookie comes up for the first time, and gets a lot of hits, and it seems like he may have a bright future....then there’s a sophomore slump, and the explanation is that he saw a lot of fastballs as a rookie, and he timed them, sat on them, and hit them.....now that pitchers have seen him, they throw more curves/sliders/cutters...etc., and he’s not adjusting to them. So if the veteran pitchers have the nasty stuff that makes them look bad as sophomores, then why aren’t they using that stuff right out of the gate, and getting them out as rookies? 

Ego is part of it: “Oh, sure, the kid hit fastballs in the minors, but he hasn’t seen my fastball.” Wade Davis told me a story about a pitcher who was warned not to throw a certain hitter a slider and said, “Well, he hasn’t seen my slider.” The pitcher went ahead and threw a slider and the hitter crushed it for a home run — Wade said it wasn’t a short one, either.

Jason Vargas was listening to Wade tell the story and said: “You don’t know until you know.”

The general belief is that big-league fastballs are harder, have more movement and are better located and pitchers want to see if a rookie can handle them. The ones that don’t get sent back down. Plus pitchers tend to throw more fastballs than any other pitch and they’re not going to be intimidated out of throwing one to a rookie. Pitchers can throw fastballs to anyone; they just need to be well-located.

I once asked ex-Royal Russ Morman the difference between big-league and minor-league pitchers and he said the big-leaguers have three to five miles an hour the minor-leaguers don’t. A pitch that he whacked off the wall in Omaha was fouled back in Kansas City. And once Russ fell behind, then he’d see those big-league sliders and splitters.

Where do bullpen catchers come from? And does it involve birds and/or bees?

Bullpen catchers: Who are they? What are the qualifications? Are they considered a coach that can start there and move up in the system to catching instructor, to minor league coach, to bullpen coach, to 1st base coach to bench coach to manager....etc. down the road, or do they forever just catch when pitchers need warmed up in the pen? Do they have a baseball-playing background and can offer insight and tips to pitchers, or are they just someone who’s friends with Ned, and he gave them a job playing catch with the pitchers and getting to watch 162+ games a year and travel with the team and get a good view of every game? 

The Royals’ current bullpen catcher is Cody Clark. Cody played 11 seasons in the minors and played 16 games in the big leagues for the Houston Astros before going to work in the Royals bullpen.

If you want to catch big-league pitching, you better have a baseball background. If Ned Yost sent Jeff Foxworthy to the bullpen to catch Yordano Ventura, “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” would be looking for a new host.

Generally speaking, Cody will play catch with the starting pitcher, get him almost ready to go and then Salvador Perez will finish the job. That gives Sal a chance to see what the pitcher has that day. Cody says he’ll respond if a pitcher asks a question — like how’s my slider look? — but he doesn’t offer unsolicited advice. There’s a pitching coach for that.

The Royals former bullpen catcher, Bill Duplissea, also played minor-league ball and is now the guy who watches replays and tells Ned whether or not to challenge an umpire’s call, so I guess there’s some room for advancement.

If two pitchers are warming up, and there’s only one bullpen catcher, who catches for the 2nd guy? 

Probably bullpen coach Doug Henry, he at least owns a catcher’s mitt — I’ve seen it. The backup catcher might also get involved. There are only two bullpen mounds, so you only need two guys who can catch.

What’s up with hitting for the cycle?

Moose almost hit for the cycle the other night, which would’ve been pretty cool.....but why is hitting for the cycle so celebrated? If the homer had happened, and the previous 3 at-bats had been....say....2 doubles and a triple...or 2 doubles and 1 homer with the last at-bat being the 2nd homer of the night, it would have been a better game overall, but not the lead on Sportcenter, whereas had he hit a single, double, triple, and a homer, it would have been the center of the sports world that night...It’s no doubt a great night, but there are better nights possible that wouldn’t have been celebrated as much.

Now you’re asking me to explain how other people think and I don’t even understand how I think. But just because I don’t know what I’m talking about, doesn’t mean I won’t answer the question — this is the internet, after all.

In my opinion, part of the answer is media laziness; we like an easy story.

Maybe it’s because hitting for the cycle is rare, or it shows the hitter’s versatility, but hitting for the cycle is also easily explainable. Hitting for the cycle, grand slams, no-hitters and perfect games are all terms that are easily understood and talked about. Explaining that a runner went first-to-third because the right fielder is right-handed and was moving to his left when he fielded the ball and that meant the throw would be weak, takes a little more work.

Plus, you’re right — hitting for the cycle is pretty cool.

OK, that’s it for today. If you have any questions you’d like to ask send them to ljudge@kcstar.com and I’ll see what I can do.

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

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