Judging the Royals

What’s wrong with the Royals offense?

Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus (1) forces out Royals designated hitter Kendrys Morales (25) at second and completes the double play on Alex Gordon at first to end the seventh inning as shortstop Hanser Alberto (68) looks on during Friday's baseball game at Kauffman Stadium.
Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus (1) forces out Royals designated hitter Kendrys Morales (25) at second and completes the double play on Alex Gordon at first to end the seventh inning as shortstop Hanser Alberto (68) looks on during Friday's baseball game at Kauffman Stadium. JSLEEZER@KCSTAR.COM

I don’t really know, but here’s something to think about:

A very smart pitcher named Wade once told me that if a pitcher throws strike one to a hitter, a lot of at bats are over because most hitters do not enjoy hitting with two strikes. They don’t have a two-strike approach (choking up, waiting longer and trying to take the ball to the opposite field), so they try to avoid ever having two strikes. And if a hitter wants to avoid having two strikes, he’ll start expanding the zone and chasing pitches after just one strike.

Friday night rookie pitcher Chi Chi Gonzalez faced 30 Royals hitters. If I counted right, of those 30 hitters only two of them took a called strike two. So once a Royals hitter had one strike on him, he was pretty much in swing mode and a hitter in swing mode won’t be very selective—he’ll take a hack at anything close.

The Kansas City Royals get praised by metric fans because they’re the hardest team in the American League to strike out, but that can be a weakness; the Royals are hard to strikeout because they often hack early in the count.

The Kansas City Royals get condemned by metrics fans because they have the fewest walks in the American League. But they’re hard to walk for the same reason they’re hard to strikeout; they hack early in the count.

A hitter who has a good two-strike approach is more comfortable taking pitches; he’s not afraid of hitting down in the count. A hitter who doesn’t have a good two-strike approach will swing the bat to avoid that situation.

And that can get you shutout by a rookie.

Kansas City manager Ned Yost discusses the Royals' declining hitting and what is meant by seeing the ball.

Why a rookie can look sensational

Right now a middle-aged man with halitosis and a bad toupee in a Westport singles bar has a better chance of scoring than the Kansas City Royals. They’ve lost seven out of the last nine, scoring two runs or fewer in all seven losses—and Friday night, two runs would have seemed like a lot.

The Royals faced rookie pitcher Chi Chi Gonzalez, got shut out and had a total of three hits. One of them was a bunt single by Eric Hosmer and another one was a single by Mike Moustakas that he tried to turn into a double. Moose was initially ruled safe, but the call was overturned on review.

(And if anyone can figure out what the heck the review rules are—I thought there had to be clear and convincing evidence to overturn a call and on this one there wasn’t—please let the rest of us know. At this point I’m pretty sure replay officials are making things up as they go along.)

So where was I?

Oh, yeah: Chi Chi Gonzalez. Players will tell you that watching video and reading scouting reports helps, but you don’t know for sure what a pitcher has until you step in the box and face him. That’s one of the reasons rookies can look sensational for a while, then everybody begins to figure out how to attack the rookie’s weakness and the kid who looked like he was headed to the Hall of Fame is suddenly headed back to Triple A.

Friday night the Royals did nothing that would send Gonzalez back to the minors; Chi Chi threw a complete game shutout. This week I was asked to review the month of June and one of the things I said—OK, one of the things I repeated because someone else said it to me—was that the Rangers would hit and the Royals needed to get their offense going if they wanted to beat them.

That didn’t happen last night and the Royals lost 4-0.

One rookie shines, but another one scuffles

Rookie Chi Chi Gonzalez looked awesome, rookie Joey Gallo didn’t; Gallo came into the game hitting .417, but had four strikeouts in four at bats.

One of the reasons rookie hitters often look like world beaters is because big league pitchers throw them lots of fastballs; which is kinda dumb. If a kid works his way through the minors he can probably hit a fastball. But big league pitchers have egos and tend to respond: "Sure, but he hasn’t seen my fastball."

Ask about the difference between a big league and minor league fastball and you’ll hear more about movement and location than velocity. Lots of minor leaguer pitchers throw hard, but it’s either straight as a string or poorly located. So big league pitchers figure their stuff is better than that, throw fastballs to a fastball-hitting rookie and in the process, make him look like an All Star.

Credit the Royals for taking a smarter approach.

Gallo saw 18 pitches and only four of them were fastballs—and they were fastballs thrown at the right time. In Gallo’s first at bat Edinson Volquez threw him three off-speed pitches, slowed his bat down and then froze him with a 95-MPH fastball on the hands. So if you’re Gallo you might be thinking that you see the pattern: the Royals would start him off-speed—wrong.

Next AB the fastball came on the first pitch; Gallo did not look ready for it, took it for a called strike one and then it was nothing but changeups for another strikeout.

So now Gallo might be thinking he was going to get a fastball somewhere in the at bat; just be ready for it. Nope; in the third at bat Volquez threw Gallo nothing but off-speed pitches and Gallo struck out again.

OK, fourth at bat and no hitter wants to wear a "Golden Sombrero"—a four strikeout game. This time Gallo was facing Luke Hochevar and Hoch started him with cutters; a pitch that looks like a fastball, but isn’t. After two cutters Gallo was probably thinking wait a bit, these aren’t fastballs, and that’s when Luke cut loose with 95. Gallo fouled that off, probably cussing at himself for missing a fastball and just about the time he was thinking "be quick" Hochevar threw two knuckle curves. Once again Gallo’s bat was slowed down and then Luke finished Gallo off with a 96-MPH heater that froze him.

There wasn’t a whole lot to cheer in Friday night’s game, but I wondered if the Royals would challenge Gallo with fastballs and to their credit, they pitched to him: they slowed his bat down, then sped it up, then slowed it down, then sped it up again.

Chi Chi Gonzalez had a wonderful night; Joey Gallo had a nightmare.

It’s time for "Ace" Ventura

One of the things a true ace does for his team is break up losing streaks—and that’s a comfort. No matter how bad things are going, a team with a true ace knows that they have an excellent chance to win every fifth day. The ace also takes pressure off the offense because they know it won’t take much to win; scramble for two or three runs and the ace will take care of the rest. So if Yordano Ventura wants to be "Ace" Ventura, today would be an excellent time to start.

The Royals need him.


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