Judging the Royals

For Royals, getting caught stealing can have hidden benefits

Kansas City Royals baserunner Jarrod Dyson tired to argue his case to umpire Marvin Hudson who called him out on the attempted steal during the seventh inning at Friday's ALCS playoff baseball game on October 10, 2014 at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Md.
Kansas City Royals baserunner Jarrod Dyson tired to argue his case to umpire Marvin Hudson who called him out on the attempted steal during the seventh inning at Friday's ALCS playoff baseball game on October 10, 2014 at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Md. The Kansas City Star

Is a caught stealing a wasted out? Nope; not according to the guys who play the game. Take Jarrod Dyson; he got thrown out on Friday night—with a little assist from a middle infielder who may have pushed him off the bag—but every time Dyson stands on first base he changes the game in ways that benefit his team.

Pitchers have to worry about Jarrod and disrupt their concentration by attempting pickoffs at first base; that can lead to bad pitches thrown to home plate. Just watch the quality of pitch thrown by a pitcher who attempts three pickoffs in a row—it’s rarely good.

The pitcher might also use a slide step to get the ball to home plate more quickly and slide steps can result in hittable pitches left up in the zone. The pitcher will also be more prone to throw fastballs; once again an attempt to get the ball in the catcher’s hands more quickly. When Eric Hosmer hit that eleventh-inning home run against the Angels, it was no accident that Lorenzo Cain was standing on first base at the time. Angels GM Jerry Dipoto thought there was no doubt that Cain’s base-stealing threat led to Hosmer getting a hittable fastball.

The Angels also thought they didn’t have to hold Billy Butler on first base and Billy shocked most of the world—and all his teammates—when he stole second. Friday night the Orioles were holding Billy on first base and that opened a hole on the right side for a left-handed hitter. And if the guy on first might steal, middle infielders have to stand closer to second base; someone’s got to cover the bag if the runner takes off.

All of this can help the hitter at the plate.

If you never attempt to steal a base, pitchers don’t have to throw pickoffs, they don’t have to pitch out of slide steps, they don’t have to throw fastballs, first basemen don’t have to hold runners and middle infielders can stand wherever they want to.

None of this means you run when you have no chance. But if you do have a chance and the situation calls for it, an attempted steal—even one that fails—has hidden benefits.

And the same goes for failed bunt attempts

Over the summer Nori Aoki—who likes to bunt—has picked up numerous hits when the third baseman was playing in and Nori hit a ball past him. If you never bunt the third baseman never plays in on the grass; why would he?

Even a failed bunt attempt can result in hits later in the game or season.

Why don’t the best relievers throw two innings more often?

In Friday night’s 8-6 win over the Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher James Shields scuffled and reliever Brandon Finnegan didn’t have it, so relievers Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis each threw two innings. That’s where the Royals got the game back under control. Those four shutout innings gave the Royals offense a chance to score and get the ball to closer Greg Holland.

They showed they can do it on Friday night; so why don’t the best relievers throw two innings more often?

For the same reason marathon runners don’t run the entire race in a sprint. Long-distance runners save something for a finishing kick and that’s what baseball fans are seeing here. The players are tired, but this isn’t July. In the middle of the summer the players are still pacing themselves. Get to October and the players can push themselves; the finish line is in sight.

How do pitch counts change in the playoffs?

During the regular season starting pitchers are generally going to throw somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 pitches; but once again things change in the playoffs. Starters might push themselves further, but pitching in the playoffs is high-stress; 85 pitches might seem like 120.

So even though they might be willing to throw more pitches, they might not be able to actually do it.

Why is it important for the starting pitcher to throw six innings?

The Royals have three shutdown relievers: Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland. If the starting pitcher can throw six innings the Royals can avoid middle relievers.

Same goes for the Orioles; they have Andrew Miller, Darren O’Day and Zach Britton. When the best relievers are on their game they can shut down the other team’s offense. The team that has the lead going into the seventh inning may never give it up.

How do the playoffs change the use of relievers?

Scheduled days off. Most relievers can throw two or three days in a row, then need a night off. If you know you’re getting a day off on Sunday, there’s no reason not to throw your best relievers on Friday and Saturday—they won’t miss a game because you’re not playing one on Sunday. Better relievers throwing in more games means scoring can get tougher.

Camden Yards and the home run

Just a bit of speculation: if the Orioles played 81 games in Kansas City they wouldn’t be first in home runs and if the Royals played 81 games in Baltimore they wouldn’t be last.

  Comments