Judging the Royals

The percentage pitch: How Paulo Orlando hit that grand slam

Kansas City Royals' Paulo Orlando watched his grand slam head over the wall on Tuesday.
Kansas City Royals' Paulo Orlando watched his grand slam head over the wall on Tuesday. JSLEEZER@KCSTAR.COM

Smart hitters look for the percentage pitch; the pitch a hitter is most likely to see in a given situation. That’s why so many hitters look for fastballs; it’s the most common pitch and it’s the pitch that often gets thrown when the pitcher needs to throw a strike.

Unless the pitcher has a good secondary pitch ... like a changeup.

According to information found on the Internet (which is famous for never being wrong), in 2015, Tampa Bay reliever Brad Boxberger has thrown his fastball about 56 percent of the time; but that doesn’t mean a hitter should always look fastball. In some counts and situations Boxberger probably throws it more than that, in other counts and situations less.

Boxberger also has a curve that he throws just over 6 percent of the time. The rest of the time — about 37 percent — Boxberger throws his change-up. Hitting coach Dale Sveum told Paulo Orlando to look for it; it was a pitch Boxberger would throw for strikes.

With the score 5-5 in the bottom of the ninth, Boxberger started things by throwing three pitches to Kendrys Morales — two were change-ups — and Morales grounded out. Then Boxberger threw five pitches to Eric Hosmer and Hosmer singled on that change-up. Four pitches to Alex Rios (two change-ups) and Rios also singled. Four pitches to Omar Infante (two change-ups) and Omar walked.

So when Paulo Orlando walked to the plate with the bases loaded, Brad Boxberger had thrown 16 pitches and seven were change-ups. Dig a little deeper and you see that the two guys in front of Orlando — Rios and Infante — were started with fastballs that missed and with the count 1-0 Boxberger threw a change-up.

It was a pattern he’d repeat one too many times — when Boxberger started Orlando with a fastball that missed, the change-up became the percentage pitch.

Pitchers will tell you any pitch is a good pitch if it’s well-executed, but this pitch wasn’t; change-ups are supposed to finish low in the zone and this one stayed high. Catcher Curt Casali’s mitt moved up — almost always a bad sign — to receive the ball, but it never got there. And throwing a pitch at 81-mph allows a hitter to get the bat head out in front of the plate and pull the ball into one of the corners. That’s what Orlando did.

Paulo Orlando hit the percentage pitch in a 1-0 count and the Royals walked off with a 9-5 win.

A short swing; what’s that mean?

After the game Ned Yost talked about Orlando’s short swing. Here’s what that means:

All hitters reach something called “launch position.” It’s the moment their front foot hits down and their hands are back, ready to strike. If a hitter has a lot to do to get to that spot — if he has a hitch or a toe tap or needs to say a rosary before swinging — he has to start his swing earlier to get to launch position.

And starting your swing earlier means it’s easier to get fooled.

Guys with short swings don’t have much to do to reach launch position; they can start later and then take the bat head directly to the ball — no loop in the swing. Like a boxer who can knock you on your backside with a six-inch punch, the hitter with a short swing achieves power with the follow-through. That’s what Orlando did and we all saw the results.

Alex Rios had a rough day

Look at the box score and you’ll see Alex Rios had two hits and a walk in game one of Tuesday’s doubleheader. But if you were there, you saw Alex Rios have a rough day.

In his first at-bat, Rios came to the plate with the bases loaded and one out. In that situation a pitcher wants a groundball, a hitter wants something up in the zone. Rios chased an 0-1 curve down in the zone and gave the pitcher what he needed; a double-play groundball.

In his next at-bat Rios singled, advanced to second on an error, but was doubled off when he misread a line drive that was caught on the infield.

In the fifth inning Rios walked, stole second, but then misread another ball — this time a fly ball to the outfield — went back to tag, but did it too late and was thrown out trying to advance to third base. That ended the inning, and the rule of thumb is you don’t make the first or third out at third base; in one case you might have a big inning going with a runner already in scoring position, in the other case you’re already in scoring position with two outs.

Things got better for Alex in the ninth inning when he singled and became part of the Royals dramatic grand slam walk off.

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