Judging the Royals

The Royals won Saturday, but made some serious mistakes along the way

The Royals' Lorenzo Cain rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run in the 13th inning of Saturday's baseball game against the White Sox in Chicago. The Royals won 7-6.
The Royals' Lorenzo Cain rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run in the 13th inning of Saturday's baseball game against the White Sox in Chicago. The Royals won 7-6. AP

According to William Shakespeare, "All’s Well That Ends Well", but William Shakespeare never played in the big leagues. To understand and appreciate how the best professional athletes, coaches and managers think, you need to understand and appreciate the difference between results and process.

Fans and the media tend to focus on results: on Saturday the Royals beat the White Sox 7-6 in 13 innings—those are results. Process is how the Royals played during those 13 innings and at times they did not play well.

Professional athletes, coaches and managers focus on process because they know playing well is the key to getting the results they want. Play well and lose and you know if you keep playing well you’ll eventually win. Play poorly and win and you know if you keep playing poorly it will come back to haunt you.

The Royals won, but let’s take a look at some things they might want to clean up as soon as possible.

Pitching inside in the later innings of a tie game

Here’s a general rule of thumb about pitching and calling pitches: when a hitter is looking for a pitch on the inner half of the plate, you throw something on the outer half. On Saturday afternoon two pitchers and two catchers ignored that rule of thumb: Salvador Perez and Brandon Finnegan got away with it, Geovany Soto and Dan Jennings didn’t.

Here’s why you don’t pitch inside in the later innings of a tie game:

When teams get into extra-innings everybody’s tired, they want the game to be over and hitting a home run is the fastest way to make that happen. Here’s what Lorenzo Cain said after his 13th-inning homer: "I was hoping for anybody on this team to hit a home run at that point."

Lorenzo did not say he was hoping someone would work a walk and then someone else would bunt that runner into scoring position and then someone else would hit an opposite field RBI single. All that stuff takes too long when you’re exhausted and just want to go home. Everybody’s up there trying to end it with one swing and catchers and pitchers should know that.

So when Salvador Perez and Brandon Finnegan decided to sneak an inside fastball past Geovany Soto in the twelfth inning, people who know the game might’ve have winced. Even though the count was 1-2 it was likely that Soto was still looking inside—and he was. Soto doubled and came very close the ending the game.

It doesn’t mean you can never go inside late in a game; some people can’t hit one out even if they’re looking in there and some people need to see a pitch inside off the plate to set up a pitch away. But with nobody on and a big guy at the plate, pitch him away: he’s looking to turn and burn—don’t let him do it.

Forgetting the number of outs

Lorenzo Cain hit a home run in the 13th inning—more on that in a moment—and was the postgame hero. And Lorenzo deserved the praise: what he did in the 13th inning was hard, but don’t forget what he did in the 10th—he appeared to lose track of the number of outs.

Cain was on second base with one out when Eric Hosmer hit a line drive to center field. TV never showed exactly what Lorenzo was doing while the ball was in the air, but by the time Adam Eaton caught it, Cain was nowhere near second base and got doubled off.

That cost Kendrys Morales—the guy on deck, the guy who’s tied for first in the American League in the RBI category—a chance to drive Lorenzo in from second base. By the time the game was over everyone seemed to forget Lorenzo’s base-running mistake, but if the Royals had lost the game, I’m pretty sure we’d all be talking about it.

It’s why you focus on process; you don’t want to make that kind of mistake again because sooner or later it’s going to cost you.

The White Sox make a mistake and Lorenzo makes them pay

Here’s the part where we talk about Lorenzo’s home run. In an extra-inning game at some point a manager will decide to ride a reliever for a while; he can’t keep pulling pitchers after just one inning or pretty soon his backup outfielder will be on the mound trying to remember how he threw that curve back in high school.

White Sox manager Robin Ventura decided to ride lefty reliever Dan Jennings. In 2015 Jennings had never pitched more than two innings, on Saturday Ventura asked Jennings for three and two-thirds.

By my count Jennings had thrown 33 pitches and 19 of them were sliders when Lorenzo Cain stepped to the plate in the 13th. When a lefty faces right-handed hitters he can use his slider to throw a backdoor slider—start it in the left-handed hitter’s batter’s box and have it nip the strike zone at the last second—or he can sink it down out of the zone or he can use it to get in on the right-handed hitters hands.

As we discussed earlier, trying to go in on a hitter that’s looking in is a formula for failure. Cain saw two sliders and decided to look for a third; the pitch never got in on Lorenzo and since it was only going 84-mph Lorenzo hit the ball into the short part of the park. Soto and Jennings made a mistake, but didn’t get away with it.

A bad mound visit

Let’s go all the way back to the third inning when Jeremy Guthrie was still pitching. Salvador Perez made a mound visit when Guthrie had Jose Abreu 1-2. I know catchers who will tell you that’s a bad mound visit; you don’t go to the mound when the pitcher is ahead in the count—he’s got the batter on his heels, don’t disrupt what’s going on. Go to the mound when the count’s 2-1; that’s when the pitcher might need a moment to gather himself.

After Sal’s mound visit Guthrie threw a ball and then hit Abreu with the next pitch. You can’t say the mound visit is why that happened, but whatever it was supposed to accomplish, Sal’s poorly timed mound visit clearly didn’t help.

Let’s stick with Guthrie for a minute

On Saturday I wrote about Chris Young and pitch counts; Chris thinks they’re overrated. Depending on how you feel on a given day, Chris believes you might be able to throw 100 pitches and still be good for another inning. On another day, you might be done after 70.

If I counted right Jeremy Guthrie threw 72 pitches to get through the first four innings. I’m always saying the manager of a team knows things we don’t, so take this next bit with a grain of salt; I can only tell you what I saw.

Guthrie finished the fourth with a single, a single and a lineout. The White Sox hitters were squaring him up pretty good. It was another hot day and I figured you’d want to keep a sharp eye on Guthrie in the fifth; the score was 3-2 and you didn’t want to give that lead away by sticking with him too long.

Ned Yost likes to get his starting pitchers the required five innings for a win; starters who get pulled early with a lead are not happy people. They always think they could have gotten out of whatever mess they were in and that’s why you have a manager; pitchers are not always rational people. You need someone with a little less emotional investment in who gets the W to make the decision.

So Guthrie went back out for the fifth and started with two more singles; one a line drive, the other a hard grounder. If you’ve been keeping count that means Guthrie got barreled up by five hitters in a row and that’s probably not a coincidence.

But Ned stuck with Jeremy and he then gave up two fly balls, a double and the lead. There was a mound visit and after that Guthrie got a strikeout to end the inning, but his chance for a win was gone—the game was tied 3-3.

A mound visit that didn’t happen—probably

When the bottom of the ninth inning was over, I suddenly asked myself if anyone had made a mound visit while Greg Holland was blowing a save. I went back and fast-forwarded through the inning and never saw one. If Salvador Perez did come out to the mound and I missed it, he has my apology in advance; but if Sal didn’t come out to the mound, why not?

Holland had a two-run lead, got two quick outs and then gave up a single to Adam LaRoche. Robin Ventura sent out Gordon Beckham to pinch run for LaRoche which made no sense at all; LaRoche was not the tying run, why did you need speed there?

Anyway, back to the Royals problems.

Alexei Ramirez, who walks about as often as Raymond Burr did on the TV show Ironside—Google it, kids, there’s a joke there—was at the plate and he was the tying run. Perez and Holland kept throwing chase sliders (balls that end up out of the zone) and after the first one, Ramirez wasn’t biting.

You could see Alexei take those pitches and not be tempted; he was not out on his front foot—he was sitting back comfortably watching the sliders dive out of the zone. After throwing four sliders in a row the count was 3-1 and by the time Holland went to his fastball he’d lost the feel for the zone and walked Ramirez.

This would have been a good time for a mound visit: let Holland take a moment to collect himself and talk about how you want to go after the guy at the plate. That didn’t happen and J.B. Shuck doubled to tie the game.

Afterwards, Holland was kicking himself for letting his team down, but he didn’t do it all by himself—or maybe he did. Nobody came out to help him get through the ninth inning.

Almost done, I promise

One last thing: that Shuck double went over Dyson’s head and people immediately started asking why Dyson was playing so shallow. Normally a team plays no doubles in that situation: back the outfielders up because a single won’t beat you.

After the game Ned Yost said with Holland on the mound the Royals don’t play no doubles. They think his stuff is so good a weak fly ball is more likely than a deep line drive. Most pitchers will tell you that if the ball gets hit over an outfielder’s head it’s on them; but if a weak flare drops in-between the outfield and infield, it’s on the defense. If a pitcher makes a good pitch he wants an out, if he makes a bad one he has to live with the results.

Dyson was playing in left and Shuck is a lefty that according to Baseball Reference hits .091 when he goes the other way and then does it without much power. So the Royals played the smart odds and Shuck did something very unusual for him.

Tip your cap.

Game four at 1:10 today

I know this thing is getting long, but they played 13 innings; what do you expect? It’s Danny Duffy against Chris Sale and let’s hope they finish this one in nine innings. I’d rather not have to write another version of War and Peace to describe what happens.

You can follow along on Twitter @leejudge8.

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