Judging the Royals

Wrigley Field: one game, five home runs

On Friday Royals fans got to see how Wrigley Field plays when the wind is blowing out. Evidently the wind was blowing out to left field, because all five home runs that were hit were hit to left center. (TV dude Ryan Lefebvre also said the wind was blowing out to left field, so that was my second clue.)

Even Eric Hosmer’s 6th inning double went to left field and if Eric is smart enough to wait back on an 81-MPH curve and take it to left because that’s the way the wind is blowing, that’s some big league hitting.

One of the first things big league ballplayers look at when they walk on the field are the flags. (Actually, the first thing big league ballplayers look at might be the attractive women in the stands, but I know the flags are in there somewhere.) Ballplayers want to know which way the wind is blowing and how that will change the game. At least the smart big league ballplayers do and smart big league fans should do the same.

Especially in Wrigley Field.

Herrera give up a home run; pitch selection vs. pitch execution

In the seventh inning Kelvin Herrera was facing Addison Russell with a 4-3 lead. Kelvin started the at-bat with a 100-MPH fastball for a swing and miss. The next pitch was an 89-MPH changeup (incorrectly listed as a fastball on MLB.com) and Russell hit that ball out of the park to tie the game.

So when you throw 100, why throw a changeup?

Well, first let’s consider what people would say if Herrera had thrown another fastball and that pitch had been hit out of the park. I believe it would go something like this: "No matter how hard you throw you can’t just keep throwing fastballs to major league hitters."

And I’m pretty sure that’s what critics would say about Herrera because I’ve said it. At times I’ve thought Salvador Perez and Kelvin Herrera got fastball happy, pumped in too many of them in a row and someone timed one and hit it out.

But I think we criticize pitch selection because it’s easier to understand than pitch execution. And every pitcher I’ve ever met thinks pitch execution is more important than pitch selection. But even so, you have to select a pitch before you can execute it; why throw that changeup?

If Russell got 100-MPH blown past him, what would be his likely reaction?

Start sooner.

And if a hitter is attempting to start sooner on the fastball, a changeup is not a bad pitch; but Herrera did not execute the changeup the way he wanted to. Pitchers want changeups down: throw a pitch that looks like it’s low in the zone, but a strike. The hitter reads fastball strike, starts his swing and then the changeup dives down out of the zone. This changeup stayed belt high and Russell barreled it up for a home run and a tie ballgame.

The changeup was not the wrong pitch, it was the right pitch poorly executed.

How Salvador Perez got a ball called a strike

Left-handed batter Anthony Rizzo was at the plate and the count was 3-0. Salvador Perez called for a fastball away and then widened his stance by moving his left foot toward the right-handed batter’s box. If a catcher can receive the pitch between his shin guards it looks more like a strike; Sal’s already a big guy, widening his stance gave Edinson Volquez a better chance of keeping the pitch between Sal’s shin guards.

When the pitch arrived it was well outside the electronic strike zone they show on TV. Fans should not take those strike zones as gospel—I’ve seen the same pitch show up as a ball and a strike on two different web sites—but this pitch was well outside, but still in line with Sal’s left knee.

The other thing Perez did was keep his left elbow down and left thumb up. That makes the catcher’s body look more compact; throw an elbow out to the side and the catcher looks like he had to adjust to receive the pitch, keep everything quiet and it looks like the pitcher hit the mitt.

And finally, Salvador Perez stuck the pitch. We see Perez receive 100-MPH fastballs and don’t think of the hand and arm strength it takes to receive the pitch without the mitt moving. I’m pretty sure if someone throw a 100-MPH fastball to me and I managed to glove it, me, the ball and the mitt would wind up at the backstop.

So Sal used some catching techniques to make the Volquez pitch look more like a strike and home plate umpire Tom Hallion bought it. He called a 94-MPH fastball, well outside the zone, strike one. Anthony Rizzo didn’t like it and turned to complain, but maybe he should have aimed his criticism at Salvador Perez—he’s the one that turned a ball into a strike.

Anthony Rizzo went on to single, but Salvador Perez made him work for it.

Monday we’ll do an on-line chat

Monday I’m doing an on-line chat for the Star that could be a disaster. When I do sports-talk radio shows I generally have to explain to the person interviewing me that I don’t cover baseball in a traditional way. I don’t know much about other teams and I’m only vaguely aware that the Royals have minor league affiliates. I can’t tell you much about Alex Gordon’s contract negotiations.

But I can tell you how veterans try to intimidate rookies, why some managers prefer the safety squeeze over the suicide—it’s a CYA move—or when the pitcher is scuffing a baseball’s seams to get more movement on a breaking pitch.

If that kind of thing interests you, join in at noon on Monday.

In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter @leejudge8.