Judging the Royals

What's wrong with Mike Moustakas? Do we still need umpires?

The Royals' Mike Moustakas singles during the July 25th game against the Astros at Kauffman Stadium.
The Royals' Mike Moustakas singles during the July 25th game against the Astros at Kauffman Stadium. JSLEEZER@KCSTAR.COM

Readers send me questions and every once in a while the question is worth answering on the website. I figure if one baseball fan wants to know something, others might be interested in the same information. So let’s get started:

Lee, In your view, are we going to live (I am same age as you) to see the home plate umpire's responsibility of calling balls and strikes replaced by a computer? With current technology, we can now see that the home plate umpires make many mistakes and their mistakes often are inconsistent during a game or even during an AB. I am not suggesting that calling pitches is an easy job by any means but it seems to me everyone would be better off if the strike zone was consistent in all games and at all times. And the technology is available to implement it. Sure, the umpires union would make a fuss but the HP umpire would not need to be replaced, at least not yet, as his job would be to relay the call from the computer and also make other calls as is done currently. Any opinion?

Dude, you and I aren’t probably aren’t going to live long enough to see Eric Hosmer settle down and get married. I’d like to live long enough to see everything, but using technology to call balls and strikes is not on the list. First, I’m not so sure we have all the bugs out of the system. A couple of seasons ago TV reporter and all-around irritant Brad Fanning and I had our laptops set up as we watched a game.

I was looking at MLB.com and Brad was looking at some fly-by-night website. Some of the borderline pitches were registering as a ball on one site and a strike on the other or strike on one site and ball on the other. I’m assuming these systems are set up and have to be calibrated and if that’s off, the strike zone would be off.

I don’t know if this is still true, but I do know you used to be able to use two radar guns on the same pitch and get different readings; some models were considered "hot" and consistently registered a few more miles an hour on pitch velocity. We shouldn’t blindly trust technology — there can still be mistakes.

And then there’s the human element.

I talk about that a lot on this site: the stuff that can’t be measured, but still affects a game. If you could get the strike zone perfected it would eliminate the need to "frame" a pitch. And then all the cool tricks a catcher uses to get a borderline pitch called a strike would go out the window. Watching a catcher employ the tools of his trade to help his pitcher makes the game more interesting — a lot more interesting than watching a computer call balls and strikes.

And don’t forget the relationships between catcher, hitter and umpire.

Billy Butler used to show up umpires by stepping out and rolling his eyes — he wanted to make sure the crowd knew he disagreed with the call. Watching for an umpire to pay Billy back on a borderline call later in the game added some drama to the affair.

We watch the game because it’s interesting and the human element umpires bring to the game adds interest. This season whenever they show a disputed play on the scoreboard, the whole stadium freezes, watches the replay and reacts to what they saw. If we absolutely knew every call was right, I think the game would lose something.

And we’d have a whole lot less to talk about.

What’s happened to Mike Moustakas?

OK smart guy. Why has Moustakas quit taking the ball to left field and what will his batting average be when he finally figures this out.—Mark H

Dear Mr. H: I find you’re your question to be an almost perfect blend of the elements ruining social media. You start with an insult, ask for a prediction of the future, stir it up nicely with a snark sauce and deliver it anonymously — my compliments. If you don’t have a Twitter account you should get one right away. It’s what you were born to do.

Nevertheless…

I haven’t talked to Mike about this lately so I couldn’t tell you what’s currently going through his mind. But if you want to know why Mike has quit taking the ball to left field as often — although he did it a couple times in Cleveland — I can offer a theory.

In 2104 teams were shifting Mike to death and for most of the season he continued to try and hit the ball through or over those shifts. Pitchers could throw a ball on the outer half of the plate and Mike would still try to pull it. In 2015 Mike decided to take those pitches on the outer half to left field and we all saw the results.

Once Mike made his adjustment, other teams made theirs: a lot of them began playing Mike straight up — he no longer had a big hole on the left side to shoot for and that would mean fewer balls hit to left. And now when teams do play a shift, pitchers are staying inside; Mike’s not getting as many of those pitches on the outer half because pitchers know he’s now willing to take them the other way.

But it’s only a theory. As always, I could be wrong.

Starting on July 17 Moustakas hit three home runs over seven games. Maybe he just got pull happy. If that’s the case, at some point I’m guessing hitting coach Dale Sveum will step in and talk about an adjustment.

Players are much calmer than fans

Do you sense any weirdness among the Royal players, now that they are considered front-runners? Does it seem odd to them, or is it just our own uncomfort, as "long-suffering" fans, to look up and not see another dog's butt leading our way?

Fans freak out easy. After Friday night’s loss I listened to Josh Vernier’s call-in show and you’d think the sky was falling and Prohibition was coming back. Fans were freaking out about a first-place team, now eight games ahead in the standings and 21 games over .500.

Say you’ve got a good team and win 95 games; you’re still going to lose 67 and players are well aware of that. That’s why they develop the if-we-lost-tonight-we’ll-get-‘em-tomorrow attitude; you just can’t go around crying woe is me over every loss. You’d be in freak-out mode all the time.

And remember: Royals fans have been suffering for 30 years, but the players haven’t. Start talking about three decades of frustration and players are likely to ask what you’re talking about: the current players just got here. Most of them have done their fair share of winning along the way. Eric Hosmer and Co. have won championships before and they’re used to being out front.

And even though I’ve followed the Royals through the lean years, I’m not sure I’ve ever been comfortable with a dog’s butt in my face.

Game’s at noon today: keep an eye on that turf

The Rogers Centre artificial turf has already been a factor in the first three games of this series and might be factor in today’s game as well.

It’s the kind of turf that has bits of ground up rubber — that’s what you’re seeing spray up when a player plants a foot — and it’s a very slow surface. That probably means infielders play in a bit because a ball is unlikely to shoot past them and the infielders have to charge hard on slow rollers.

The turf also had an effect on some outfield plays: Lorenzo Cain misjudged a hop when the ball came off the turf and Cain and Ben Revere made some awkward leaps for balls at the wall because they didn’t know where they were; the warning track is not dirt, it’s just different colored turf — which kind of defeats the purpose of having a warning track. The players can’t tell their approaching the wall when the surface underfoot changes; with this turf it stays the same, so they’re not quite sure how close the wall is.

I’ll be on Twitter @leejudge8 during the game so check and see if I think of anything worth saying.

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