Judging the Royals

For Danny Duffy, throwing strikes is not enough

Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Danny Duffy worked against the Toronto Blue Jays during the first inning of Thursday’s game.
Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Danny Duffy worked against the Toronto Blue Jays during the first inning of Thursday’s game. The Associated Press

Against the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday night, Danny Duffy threw 96 pitches; 57 of them for strikes. But in the big leagues, throwing strikes is not enough; to survive, most pitchers need to throw quality strikes.

A quality strike is a pitch that not only finds the strike zone, but finds a certain part of the strike zone. Hang around with pitchers, coaches and managers long enough and you’ll hear about the quadrants of the zone: up and in, down and in, up and away and down and away. Unless a pitcher has ungodly stuff, he needs to be able to throw strikes to those quadrants.

As we saw in Danny’s previous start against Houston, when he throws a strike he can’t always control what part of the strike zone he hits. That’s why the Royals defense has to play straight up behind him. If the defense knows their pitcher can command the down-and-away quadrant, they can play the hitter to the opposite field. But if the pitcher aims for down and away, but leaves the ball up and in, the defense needs to play straight up: they might be going to their right or left.

And when a pitcher needs to throw a strike, it helps if he can do it with something besides a fastball.

A pitcher needs to throw off-speed stuff for strikes

MLB.com thinks Danny throws a curveball, he thinks he throws a slider. Whatever Danny’s breaking pitch is, he was having a hard time throwing it for strikes in the early innings.

So when Dioner Navarro found himself in a 2-1 count in the second inning he could be pretty sure he was getting a fastball — he did and hit it out of the park. Same thing an inning later when Russell Martin was in a 2-0 count: Duffy threw a fastball and it turned into another Jays home run.

That may have been why Danny reacted with frustration when Josh Donaldson homered on a breaking pitch; Duffy threw it for a strike and even that got hammered.

But you shouldn’t show emotion

Duffy’s reaction — throwing up his hands in frustration — is considered bad body language. You don’t want the other team to know you’re frustrated. In baseball, emotion is not helpful; it causes pitchers to overthrow and hitters to over-swing. Whatever the results, ballplayers are supposed to take it in stride and keep an even keel.

Early in his career Alex Gordon got criticized for his lack of emotion. His results weren’t good so people thought he didn’t care. Later in his career—once the results were better—Gordon’s stoicism was seen as a sign of professionalism and it is.

Duffy vs. Cueto

OK, back to Danny Duffy and command of the strike zone.

Most pitchers have to be very consistent with their mechanics to know where the ball is going. If everything else is consistent and the pitcher misses high, he knows he needs a small adjustment in his release point to put the next pitch where he wants it.

If his mechanics aren’t consistent, the pitcher has no idea what to do on the next pitch; maybe he needs to shorten his stride or get the ball out of the glove sooner or rotate a bit more with his hips. The list of possible adjustments is endless and finding the right combination can be an unsolvable puzzle.

That’s why Danny Duffy changed his windup; he was trying to find a set of mechanics that allows him to be consistent.

Now let’s take a look at Johnny Cueto.

The newest Royals pitcher seems to have an endless variety of windups, arm slots and deliveries. That means he can turn one pitch into three; the hitter might get the fastball he’s looking for, but what arm angle and delivery will Cueto use?

Duffy’s struggle to be consistent with one set of mechanics shows us how amazing it is that Cueto can use several sets of mechanics and still put the ball where he wants it.

Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland did find one thing that Cueto does consistently: he takes the ball out of his glove at the same time, every time. I know I could watch Cueto pitch for a month and never spot that, but Dave has taught me how important that is; taking the ball out of the glove at the right time allows everything else to fall into the right sequence. Be inconsistent with separating you’re hands and everything else that follows is likely to be inconsistent as well.

Royals fans will get to see what Cueto can do at 6:07 tonight.

(BTW: Who the starts a game at 6:07 — are they on metric time in Canada?)

Rusty exchanges numbers for the cycle

Just in case you hadn’t heard, when a new player comes in and wants a number that a current player already has, the new player can offer an incentive; in Johnny Cueto’s case, he’s giving Franklin Morales a nice watch for number 47.

The latest Royals addition, Ben Zobrist, wears number 18; the same number Rusty Kuntz normally wears. But instead of a luxury item, Rusty asked Ben for a leaf blower — according to Joel Goldberg — a “really nice one.”

During his long career Rusty has already finagled a lawn mower and a snow blower for exchanging numbers with a player. Rusty Kuntz is well on his way to exchanging numbers for the cycle.

I’m assuming a weed-whacker is next.

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