Judging the Royals

Salvador Perez runs into one

Kansas City Royals' Salvador Perez (13) celebrates his solo home run in the eighth inning to make it 4-3 Royals during Sunday's baseball game against the Texas Rangers on June 7, 2015 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
Kansas City Royals' Salvador Perez (13) celebrates his solo home run in the eighth inning to make it 4-3 Royals during Sunday's baseball game against the Texas Rangers on June 7, 2015 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. JSLEEZER@KCSTAR.COM

If you’re a Kansas City Royals fan you probably already know that Salvador Perez hit an eighth-inning home run that provided the winning margin in a 4-3 victory over the Rangers. But do you know what pitch Sal hit?

Sal didn’t.

After the game I asked what pitch he hit out of the park and Sal said he didn’t know. There were two outs and nobody on and Perez was looking to do damage on a first-pitch fastball. Unfortunately, Salvador got a first-pitch breaking ball, didn’t recognize it and swung anyway. Perez swung at another breaking ball and the count was 0-2. Sal let a third breaking ball go by and with the count 1-2, someone on the Rangers—catcher Robinson Chirinos or reliever Keone Kela—got the bright idea of throwing Perez the fastball he was looking for and Sal parked it in the left field bullpen.

There are guys who hit home runs because they study the scouting reports, watch video and hunt certain pitches in certain counts. There are other guys who hit home runs because they swing hard and happen to run into one.

On Sunday afternoon, Salvador Perez ran into one.

MLB.com didn’t recognize the pitches either

After the game everyone was calling the first pitch from Keone Kela—the pitch Salvador Perez chased out of the strike zone—a slider. MLB.com called it a curve. But it also says Kela threw an 87-MPH curve and that pretty hard for a curve; more slider speed.

A curve is easier to recognize because it’s slower and has more arc in its trajectory; the slider was invented to look like a fastball and then dart out of the strike zone. I can’t tell you for sure whether Kela was throwing a curve or a slider, but whatever he was throwing he should have thrown one more of them.

Jeremy Guthrie and the off-speed strike

If you’ve been following along through this Rangers series, you already know Texas is considered a good fastball hitting team; that’s part of why they did well against Yordano Ventura and struggled against Joe Blanton. (If you’re confused by that, go back and read yesterday’s column.)

So when Jeremy Guthrie started on Sunday the first thing an astute observer might want to know is whether Guthrie could throw his off-speed stuff for strikes. If he could, the Rangers would scuffle; if he couldn’t, Guthrie would have to throw fastballs whenever he needed to throw a strike and the Rangers would be all over him.

After two batters it was clear Guthrie was throwing his curve and changeups for strikes and if I knew a reliable bookie I would have called him. Guthrie threw six and third innings and gave up two earned runs on three hits.

Jeremy Guthrie didn’t get the win, but he deserved to.

Kelvin Herrera and the fastball away

Guthrie started the seventh inning, got one out and then gave up a couple hits. I guess some second-guessers with access to the internet wanted to know why Kelvin Herrera didn’t start the inning. But at the start of the seventh Guthrie had thrown 82 pitches and given up one hit—plus he was a better matchup with a fastball-hitting club than the flame-throwing Herrera.

The first batter Herrera saw was Elvis Andrus. Herrera threw Andrus two 97-MPH fastballs and Andrus pulled the second one foul; that’s a hitter getting the bat head out early. So Herrera and Salvador Perez went to the changeup and Andrus fouled it off to stay alive.

Then Perez and Herrera went fastball away; if Andrus was pulling the ball maybe he’d pull a fastball away, rollover and hit a double play grounder. No dice—Andrus took the pitch for a ball. Then three more changeups hoping for a swing-and-a-miss, but Andrus either fouled them off or took the pitch for a ball.

So once again Herrera went fastball away, hoping for that rollover grounder—but Andrus has the reputation of being the kind of hitter that will look to pull early in the count and go to the opposite field if he’s down in the count. Apparently Herrera and Perez didn’t get that memo, so when Kelvin threw a 99-MPH fastball away that pitch played right into Andrus’ hands. Andrus did not rollover; he went with the pitch and singled to right.

Next Leonys Martin hit a grounder to right field, but if it had been six feet to the left it would have been the double play ball the Royals were looking for. But it wasn’t six feet to the left and the game was tied up.

Did Wade Davis want to avoid the fastball?

OK, so we’ve figured out that the Texas Rangers are a good fastball hitting club and a guy like Kelvin Herrera might have problems with them. Wade Davis has an excellent curve and cutter so it seemed like he might get better results.

After Sunday’s game I asked Wade if was consciously avoiding throwing fastballs for strikes—he threw 12 pitches and only three were fastball strikes—and he said no; you can throw fastballs to fastball hitters, but they have to be well-located. Miss with a fastball and the fastball hitter will do some damage.

Wade also said it depends on what the starter has established: say the starter has already thrown a ton of off-speed stuff and the hitters have their bats slowed down—then you might want to throw the hard stuff to give them a different look. On the other hand, if they ain’t hitting the soft stuff, maybe you just want to keep throwing it.

And if anyone knows which tactic is the right one before a pitch is thrown, I’m sure the pitchers would love to hear it.

Does Greg Holland actually throw a splitter?

As I may have mentioned before, MLB.com will misidentify pitches, so after the game I asked Greg Holland if he really throws a splitter—I thought he threw a couple different sliders.

Greg said he throws a couple different sliders on a good day; when he has a feel for it he can control downward and lateral movement—adding more or less of either depending on the situation. I asked when he knew he’d have that kind of control and Greg said usually when he’s playing catch.

Holland also said when he gets beat it’s because he doesn’t have his good slider and he tries to throw it down-and-in to lefties. For a lot of left-handed hitters down-and-in is a hot zone and Holly can get a lot of swings and misses by appearing to throw his slider to that hot zone, but then have it break down out of the zone—a pitch that’s called a back foot slider because if the catcher didn’t catch it, that’s what it would hit.

When Holly’s slider isn’t good it stays in the hot zone and lefties whack it. And when Holly’s slider isn’t good that’s when he’ll break out the splitter—yes, he has one. And when neither pitch is working?

"That’s when you hope Lorenzo Cain catches the ball."

That Yordano Ventura pick off

During Saturday’s game against the Rangers a frustrated Yordano Ventura whirled around toward first base and attempted a pickoff throw at about a billion miles an hour. OK, that might be a slight exaggeration, but it probably felt that way to first baseman Eric Hosmer.

Catchers call for pickoffs, but even if it’s not called, pitchers can attempt a pickoff any time they feel like it. And if a pitcher is hot under the collar, he just might feel like it.

So first baseman have no idea when the pitcher is going to attempt to pickoff the runner; if there were a sign that could be seen by the first baseman, it could also be seen by the runner and first base coach. When they’re holding a runner on, first basemen have to stay on their toes and be ready at all times, but even though Hosmer was ready, Ventura still almost caught him off guard.

Most pickoffs are dart throws: the pitcher takes the ball out of the glove and his hand goes up toward his ear. From there the pitcher throws the ball like a dart; it’s a short, quick throw, without much backswing.

But on this pickoff attempt, Ventura took the ball out of glove and his hand went down; he was using a full arm motion. At that point Hosmer knew he was in trouble: because the throw would take longer they’d be unlikely to pick off the runner, but the full arm swing told Hosmer that the pickoff was coming in hot.

At that point Eric Hosmer wanted to accomplish two things:

1.) Keep the ball from getting past him

2.) Keep the ball off his body

Somehow Hosmer accomplished both and if you watch the play again you’ll see it wasn’t easy. That pickoff was part of why Hosmer talked to Ventura in the dugout. He knew Ventura was frustrated, but Hosmer encouraged him to handle his frustration in a way that didn’t include 100 MPH pickoff throws.

On-line chat today

I believe we’re doing an on-line chat today at noon. Check kansascity.com and send in your baseball questions. I’ll do my best to answer them.

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