Judging the Royals

One pitch changed Saturday's game for Chris Young

Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost relieves starting pitcher Chris Young (32) in the seventh inning during Saturday's baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays on July 11, 2015 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost relieves starting pitcher Chris Young (32) in the seventh inning during Saturday's baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays on July 11, 2015 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. JSLEEZER@KCSTAR.COM

On Saturday afternoon Royals starter Chris Young threw 93 pitches; 92 of them turned out OK. The one pitch that changed the game was a slider to Edwin Encarnacion and it came in the fourth inning.

The Royals had taken a one-run lead in the bottom of the first and that’s where things stood until the fourth. Jose Bautista singled to start the inning off and that brought Edwin Encarnacion to the plate. The Toronto DH was only hitting .236 at the start of the day, but he did have 17 home runs and 51 RBIs; half of a decent power year.

When hitters have some pop you might want to pitch them away; don’t let them pull the ball into the short part of the yard—make them beat you up the middle or to the opposite field. Young threw Encarnacion a fastball away but Encarnacion wasn’t biting, he wanted something to pull. Edwin took the fastball and it was called strike one.

As Royals fans have seen, once some hitters get a strike on them they become aggressive to avoid two strikes. Young decided on throwing a slider that would be down and off the plate; with one strike maybe Encarnacion would get aggressive and chase the slider. In that case he’d swing and miss, or if he hit it, he’d have to lean out to do it and that would rob Encarnacion of any power—let your rear end go one way and your hands go another and you’re looking at an easy groundball.

But the slider wasn’t down and off the plate; it was up and just clipped the edge of the strike zone. And Edwin Encarnacion is not just any hitter; the guy’s had three 30-plus home run seasons in a row and it looks like he’s headed for a fourth.

The slider wasn’t far enough away or down to get Edwin off balance; Encarnacion got just enough of the ball to carry it over the left-field bullpen fence. One mistake pitch was enough to give Toronto a lead it would never give back.

Did the pickoffs have anything to do with it?

Right before Chris Young threw that slider, he attempted two pickoffs. I asked him if he thought that had anything to do with making a mistake on his next delivery to the plate. Sometimes pitchers can lose their rhythm after multiple pickoff attempts.

Chris said that can happen, but in this case he didn’t think it was a factor.

I asked if he every attempts a pickoff on his own, and he said he did one on Saturday. Most of the time he relies on the bench: "I don’t have eyes in the back of my head."

Most of the time, the bench controls the running game. They keep an eye on the runner and signal the catcher if they want a pickoff, a slide step, a pitchout or hold (holding the ball in the set position). That’s why catchers look into the dugout before a pitch; they’re not getting pitches called, they’re getting signs about what to do with the runner. Then the catcher relays those signs to the pitcher.

Leaving the running game up to the bench allows the pitcher and catcher to concentrate on the hitter. Most of the time, that’s the guy that’s going to hurt you.

Those left-handed shifts and second base positioning

Infield positioning is getting more and more exotic, and you’re never quite sure what alignment you’re going to see with certain hitters at the plate. But you are sure to see second basemen playing back on the grass at times. Sometimes that pays off and sometimes that can hurt you.

In the sixth inning, it hurt the Royals when a ball skipped on the grass and went through Omar Infante’s legs. Balls come off dirt and grass differently and Omar came up too soon on a Justin Smoak grounder; had the ball bounced on dirt, I’m betting Omar Infante would have made that play.

Infield in, outfield in

With a runner on third and less than two outs, a team might decide to play the infield in to prevent the run from scoring. But you should also check the outfield: If the run is so important that you risk playing the infielders in—it cuts down on their range—why would you leave your outfielders back?

If they catch a fly ball in their regular position the runner on third will tag and score. Saturday the Royals had their infield and outfield in and with a runner on third base a fly ball was hit to Jarrod Dyson. Because Dyson was in—and he’s already shown the Jays he can throw—the runner did not attempt to score.

The best outfield arms might not have the most assists

And that brings up a point worth mentioning: if you try to decide which outfielder has the best arm by looking at assists you’re making a mistake. Teams rarely run on the guys with the best arms; they run when they think the guy doesn’t have a chance of getting the runner. When the outfielder proves he has the arm strength and accuracy to make the throws, they stop running on him.

If Dyson continues to throw well, his opportunities for an assist will go down.

Some good base-running from Alex Rios

The other day I pointed out when Alex Rios made two bad decisions on the bases, so it’s only fair to point out the good base-running decision he made on Saturday.

With the score 3-1 in the seventh inning Rios hit a lead-off double and Omar Infante then hit a fly ball to center field. The Jays centerfielder, Kevin Pillar, set up to catch the ball, but he caught it over the wrong shoulder. With a runner on base and trying to advance, outfielders want to catch the ball over their throwing shoulder. That closes up their front side and puts them in a position to make a strong, quick throw.

Catch the ball over the glove-side shoulder and the outfielder is in a bad throwing position: it will take time to reset his feet—and having to reset his feet kills any momentum going forward.

Pillar caught the ball over the wrong shoulder and Rios tagged and advanced easily. That meant he was on third when Paulo Orlando hit a groundball to short; allowing Rios to score.

Why Alex Gordon is Alex Gordon

Well, if you saw the pregame ceremonies you saw the Royals get their All-Star jerseys and one guy wasn’t on crutches when he got his—Alex Gordon. Apparently Alex has already thrown his crutches away and has stopped taking the pain killers.

They say he’ll be out eight weeks, Alex intends to be back sooner than that—and if anyone can do it, it’s Alex Gordon.