In his book “The Mike Schmidt Study” here’s what Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt had to say about hitting: “Every at-bat will contain at least one fastball to hit. Your job is to find it.”
Pitchers throw fastballs because they need to throw strikes and hit locations and that’s harder to do with off-speed pitches. When hitters take or miss those fastballs they fall behind in the count and then have to deal with a pitcher’s curves, sliders and change-ups.
And Tuesday night’s 7-0 loss to the Seattle Mariners provided an excellent example of that. Let’s take a closer look at the second inning to see what went wrong.
▪ Alex Gordon started the second inning by reaching base on a fielding error after he smoked a fastball.
▪ Salvador Perez singled on a 2-0 fastball.
▪ Alex Rios fouled off two fastballs, fell behind 2-2, then struck out on a change-up.
▪ Omar Infante took a fastball strike, fell behind 0-2, then struck out on a change-up.
▪ Alcides Escobar took a fastball strike, fell behind 1-2, then struck out on a curve.
In each at-bat, the last three hitters got a fastball strike, either took it or missed it, fell behind in the count and then struck out on an off-speed pitch. Now let’s examine the fourth inning of Wednesday night’s game to see the difference.
▪ Alcides Escobar singled on a 2-1 fastball.
▪ Mike Moustakas saw five off-speed pitches and then with the count 3-2, homered on a fastball.
▪ Kendrys Morales popped up a 1-0 fastball.
▪ Eric Hosmer singled on a 2-1 fastball.
▪ Salvador Perez flew out on a 2-0 fastball.
▪ Alex Gordon walked on a 3-2 change-up.
▪ Alex Rios was hit by a 1-2 fastball.
▪ Omar Infante took a change-up and then doubled on an 0-1 fastball.
▪ Jarrod Dyson doubled on an 0-2 fastball.
The Mariners changed pitchers, but the hit parade wasn’t quite over.
▪ Alcides Escobar doubled on a 1-1 fastball.
▪ Mike Moustakas lined out softly on an 0-1 fastball.
By now the pattern should be pretty clear: getting a hittable fastball doesn’t guarantee a hit, but the odds of hitting the ball hard go up. On Tuesday night, the Royals either took or missed their fastballs — or in some cases chased unhittable fastballs out of the zone — but in the fourth inning on Wednesday night the Royals got their fastballs and for the most part didn’t miss them.
It’s not like curves never hang or sliders never stay flat and when that happens hitters can do some damage on those pitches. But most of the time hitters want to get themselves in a situation where the fastball is the percentage pitch and then when they get that fastball, hit the heck out of it.
And if they’re lucky, that’s what the Royals will do on Friday against the Oakland A’s.
Why pitchers try to pick off runners
In the first inning of Wednesday night’s game Austin Jackson singled to start things off and then Danny Duffy spent the rest of the inning trying to pick him off. Or did he?
Duffy threw to first six times, but it’s unlikely that every throw was a serious attempt to pick off Jackson.
▪ If the leadoff batter gets on, pitchers will throw over to see if the next guy’s bunting; maybe the guy at the plate will give it away by squaring around too soon and the defense can make the necessary adjustments.
▪ Pitchers will also make a bad pickoff throw, try to lull the runner to sleep and then go over to first with their ‘A’ move.
▪ Or they might throw over to just to make the runner aware that the pitcher hasn’t forgotten him; maybe the runner will take a less aggressive lead.
▪ And, finally, pitchers will throw over to see if the runner reveals his intentions; a guy who gets back easily wasn’t planning on stealing second, a guy who flinches before going back to first was about to take off.
When a pitcher attempts a pickoff, watch the batter or runner and you might get a good idea of what’s going to happen next.
And as long as we’re on the subject, here’s what to do if you get picked off
The other day I came out of the Royals dugout and there was base-running coach Rusty Kuntz standing at first base, talking with the guy who is eventually going to replace him, Mitch Maier.
There are a whole bunch of unwritten rules in baseball and one of those rules is reporters are supposed to stay off the grass. The grass is for players and if they don’t want to talk to the media all they have to do is walk out on the grass and you can’t follow.
So I stood on the dirt track that runs around the field and yelled at Rusty: “I can stay over here and then once you come off the field ask you to repeat everything you said to Mitch, or I can come out there and listen.”
That’s how I ended up standing at first base, getting a lesson on what to do if I ever get picked off. It probably won’t come up because I would have to get to first base to get picked off, but you never know when I might get hit with another pitch. On the other hand, if I ever do make it to first base, the odds of me getting picked off are excellent, so knowing what to do next might come in handy. So here we go:
Let’s say you’re a base runner and you decide to steal second base.
After you take off for second, you still need to keep your eye on the pitcher to see what he does with the ball. If he throws home, put your head down and keep going. But if he throws to first base, put your head down and keep going. By now you might be wondering why you watch the pitcher: if you’re going to do the same thing no matter what the pitcher does with the ball, what difference does it make?
The path you take to second base can change.
When a runner breaks for second base the first baseman does two things: first, he lets the pitcher know by yelling something like “Runner!” Second he takes a couple steps toward the mound. That way, when the first baseman gets the throw from the pitcher he’s out of the base path and has a clear throwing lane to second base.
So if you’re the guy who’s picked off you veer into that throwing lane; take a path that puts you on the infield grass.
A good-throwing first baseman — and Eric Hosmer is on that list — will probably still make the play. But a poor-throwing first baseman — and there are a whole bunch of them out there — might launch the ball into the outfield when he tries to throw around the runner.
So now you know what to do if you ever get picked off ... and you didn’t have to stand on the grass to find out.