Judging the Royals

Salvador Perez’ playing time, optimal pitches and Kelvin Herrera’s pitch count

Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez (13) tags out Pittsburgh Pirates' Starling Marte (6) at the plate after trying to score on a hit by Pittsburgh Pirates' Jung Ho Kang in the eighth inning during Tuesday's baseball game on July 21, 2015 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez (13) tags out Pittsburgh Pirates' Starling Marte (6) at the plate after trying to score on a hit by Pittsburgh Pirates' Jung Ho Kang in the eighth inning during Tuesday's baseball game on July 21, 2015 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. JSLEEZER@KCSTAR.COM

Every once in a while I get an email or comment that’s worth answering at length. And if one fan is interested in the answer, I figure other fans might feel the same way. I guess we’ll find out, won’t we?

Why did Herrera pitch the eighth?

Last Tuesday the Royals played the Pirates and Kelvin Herrera came out to pitch the seventh inning. Herrera went 1-2-3 and then came back out to pitch the eighth. That inning did not go so smoothly and eventually Ned Yost had to bring in Wade Davis to get the third out.

At the time I said there was probably a good reason Herrera came out to pitch the eighth, but since I went to Clint Hurdle’s press conference instead of Ned Yost’s, I didn’t hear what it was. A reader ventured a guess:

1) He threw only 8 pitches to record the three outs in the 7th.

2) It was a tied game.

If the Royals had the lead, and you knew that six outs with no runs wins the game, then going to Davis and Holland makes a ton of sense. But since extra innings were a likely outcome - Cole was a beast - trying to extend HDH for an extra inning would give the offense another chance to win.

My guess is that if the Royals hadn't broken through in the eighth with the three runs, you would have seen Davis come back out for the ninth, and then Holland for the tenth if needed.

After that game Clint Hurdle and I talked about Herrera and handling relievers. Clint said he looks for advantageous matchups between the time his starter leaves and the eighth inning, but in the right circumstances he generally likes to have his set-up man pitch the eighth and his closer pitch the ninth—it keeps them in their "comfort zone."

He then said look at Herrera; lights out in the seventh and scuffled in the eighth.

The numbers make sense; at eight pitches Herrera had something left in the tank, but then you’re asking Kelvin to do an "up-down" (sitting down and then going back out to pitch) and he’s not used to that. And next time he comes out to pitch he might be thinking he should save something; if the first inning goes well he might be asked for another.

And you don’t want these one-inning guys saving anything: they’re good because they put the pedal to the metal and bring it.

And then there’s Wade Davis; when he came in the game was tied 0-0 and the Pirates had a runner in scoring position and their number three hitter—Andrew McCutchen—at the plate. That meant Wade had no margin for error; make a mistake and the Pirates would take the lead.

There’s a reason managers like to give their relievers a "clean" inning and in this case, Ned Yost didn’t do it. But Wade struck out McCutchen and the Royals scored three in the bottom of the eighth, so all’s well that end’s well—I guess.

Optimal pitches

Here’s another reader’s email after I wrote about Yordano Ventura throwing fastballs in fastball counts.

Please break down the counts and what the optimal pitch is for the various situations. 

There is no optimal pitch because there are too many factors and they’re constantly changing. A slider might be a great pitch unless your pitcher has a crappy slider that night. A fastball in might be a bad pitch unless the wind’s blowing in from left. A changeup might be a great pitch unless you just threw the batter one and he fouled it straight back—he’s on it, go to something else.

The idea that there’s just one answer and the odds remain constant is false; everything changes every night.

"How do you avoid a "fastball count"??

Fastball counts are 2-0, 2-1, 3-0, 3-1 and sometimes 3-2. Throw strikes early in the at bat and then you can throw any pitch you like. Fall behind and you might have to throw a fastball to throw a strike—and hitters will be waiting for that.

Salvador Perez and playing time

Here’s another reader email:

I had on the MLB channel yesterday morning, and across the bottom of the screen, it said, "Royals to manage Perez's playing time" or some such.

That makes sense to me. His offensive production cratered in the second half last season when he caught the most games in the league and most by any catcher in many years.

And I know that offense matters a lot more to us fantasy baseball players than normal people, and that Sal is a gold glover at the most important defensive position. But this weekend, they ran him out there for a day game after a night game, the day game lasted 13 innings, and then they ran him out there again for another day game. Then he gets creamed in the forearm with a foul ball so that he can't take practice swings on deck, but he takes his at bat and then catches the last two innings. 

So I guess I wonder what managing his playing time is going to look like.

The reader then went on to ask this:

 

I know there are layers upon layers to these decisions, but I am curious whether you think they will actually manage his playing time or whether they will just talk about how much they need to manage his time while running him out there every day?

If you’re a regular reader you know I generally refuse to even attempt to tell the future. Some sportswriters do it all the time and the nonsense they put out there just adds to the cloud of misinformation that’s readily available to baseball fans.

Having said that…

If the past is any indication they’ll talk about managing Salvy’s playing time and continue to overplay him. Teams like fans to think of them as one big, happy family all striving for the same goal, but in reality, different people have different agendas and timetables.

The General Manager might have a five-year game plan; the manager probably can’t afford to think that way.

If Ned Yost had not played Perez as much as he did last year, would the Royals have made the playoffs? And if the Royals didn’t make the playoffs in 2014 would Ned Yost still be the Royals manager in 2015?

This year is shaping up a little differently; if the Royals can maintain a healthy lead in the division Yost can rest Perez more often and then maybe Sal will have something left in the postseason.

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