Judging the Royals

Has KC Royals closer Greg Holland lost something?

Royals relief pitcher Greg Holland follows through on a home-run pitch to the White Sox's Adam LaRoche in the ninth inning of Friday's baseball game at Kauffman Stadium.
Royals relief pitcher Greg Holland follows through on a home-run pitch to the White Sox's Adam LaRoche in the ninth inning of Friday's baseball game at Kauffman Stadium. JSLEEZER@KCSTAR.COM

Friday night the Royals beat the White Sox 3-2; Greg Holland came in to close the game with a two-run lead and made things interesting by giving up a long home run to Adam LaRoche. Saturday morning I received this email from a Royals fan:

Lee, is it just me or has Holland lost something? No longer is it a near certain win with a lead going into the 9th, and nobody talks about it. A 1-2-3 inning is a rare thing from him anymore. In your opinion, does he have arm or back trouble or has he just lost something?

Depending on who you’re listening to, Holland has been talked about a lot. According to the website FanGraphs, in 2012 and 2013 the average velocity on his fastball was 96.1 mph. Greg could step on the gas and throw harder than that when needed, but 96.1 was the average.

In 2015 his average velocity is 93.7 mph. That might not seem like a big difference, but I once got to face former Royals closer Jeff Montgomery in an amateur game — he blew my doors off — and afterwards asked him how the hell he ever got hit in the big leagues. Monty said: "I lost three miles an hour."

Those three miles an hour can be the difference between a swing-and-miss and a double in the gap. One day when we were talking pitching, Holland said you don’t get to throw 98 forever, but in the same conversation he said some of his problems were because of pitching mechanics that could be worked out.

So the radar gun says Greg Holland has lost something when it comes to velocity, but velocity isn’t the only thing that matters. Look at Yordano Ventura.

Holland can still do some magical things with a slider. He has 24 saves, and only five guys in the league have more. Greg has three blown saves and there are plenty of teams which would be happy to have someone in their bullpen with that ratio. Holland also has the right attitude; some guys can’t handle the pressure of closing and Holland can. Even when things aren’t going his way, he stays calm and continues to make pitches.

Holland has been on the DL this season, but beyond what’s already known, I have no inside information on arm issues — players and teams tend not to talk about that stuff until they have to. But Holland is on pace to throw fewer innings and have fewer saves in 2015 than 2014 and 2013. Last year his ERA was 1.44 and this year it’s 3.21.

But look closer — specifically June 15 in a game against the Milwaukee Brewers — and you see Holland was brought in after five days off to pitch in a non-save situation and had a bad outing; three earned runs, no outs. It didn’t cost the Royals the game — they still won 8-5 — but that outing damaged Holland’s ERA; he went from 1.76 to 3.52 in one game. One bad outing can make a reliever look mediocre for a long time; they don’t get enough innings to whittle down that ERA quickly.

Has Greg Holland lost something?

According to the numbers, the answer is yes: it looks like he’s gone from being awesome to being very good. Greg Holland put up tremendous numbers in 2013 and 2014; putting up merely very good numbers in 2015 has some Royals fans disappointed. How quickly we get spoiled. But assuming the Royals make the playoffs — and the odds say they will — how Holland pitches now is less important than how he’s pitching in October.

Why Mike Jirschele sending Mike Moustakas was the right decision

Back to Friday night’s game against the White Sox: in his post-game press conference Ned Yost was asked about Mike Jirschele sending Mike Moustakas home on an Alex Rios double in the fifth inning. Ned was asked that because even though Moose scored, "A good throw would have got him."

True enough — Mike slid under a high throw — but here’s why you send Moose anyway.

First, there were two outs; stop Mike at third and you’re going to need another two-out hit and you’re going to have to get that two-out hit off John Danks. The Chicago pitcher beats the Royals like a drum and on Friday night he’d already put up 4 2/3 scoreless innings. And in those 4 2/3 innings the Royals had only one hit.

Second, stop Moose at third and the guy you’re asking to come up with that two-out hit is Omar Infante — a guy hitting .228. Omar’s matchup numbers against Danks are slightly better — .241 — but Danks had already struck out Infante in his first at-bat, so maybe the odds of Omar getting a hit were even worse Friday.

Third, Alcides Escobar was up after Infante. First base was open and Danks would not have to give into Omar; if he tried to make perfect pitches and fell behind in the count to Infante, Danks would not have to give in and throw him a "cookie." Danks could walk Infante and go after Escobar, and Esky only hits .115 off Danks.

Fourth, Melky Cabrera was in left field. I don’t know what the Royals have on him — I’ll ask — but they were running on Melky’s arm all night and getting away with it. Throw in that Cabrera had a long run for the ball — it died in the left-field corner — and was going to have to make the throw flat-footed with no momentum. Melky is also a left-handed thrower, and that meant he’d have to do a 360-degree spin after picking up the ball. That spin would slow things down even more.

Now if you’re thinking Jirschele wasn’t thinking about all that, I can tell you different. Good third-base coaches are constantly running scenarios in their mind and staying ahead of the game — they’ve thought about what they’re going to do before they do it. They know the matchup numbers of the hitters in their lineup, which outfielders have good or poor arms and whether they’re right or left-handed.

OK, so with all that information in hand, the question isn’t whether Mike would be out if the White Sox made good throws; the right question is which decision gives you a better chance of scoring that run?

For comparison’s sake, let’s pull a number out of the air and say if you stop Mike at third base the odds of him eventually scoring were 20 percent. If Mike Jirschele thought sending Mike Moustakas home would work 21 percent of the time, Jirschele should send him.

In baseball, you don’t get to be perfect

That was one of the first things I had to get my mind around when I started managing an amateur baseball team; I wanted all my decisions to work 100 percent of the time and that’s not possible. Even so, fear that I would be wrong kept me from making good decisions; back then I might not have sent a runner home because he might be out.

But that’s the wrong way to look at it.

You don’t make decisions based on whether or not they’ll work; you make decision based on which option gives you the better chance of success. And if one option is going to work 40 percent of the time and the other option will work 30 percent of the time, you take the 40 percent option and live with the results —a ny other decision gives you even worse odds for success.

If Moustakas had been thrown out at home plate it would not mean Jirschele made the wrong decision. Sending Moose home gave the Royals a better chance of a scoring a run than stopping Moose at third and hoping for another hit. Jirschele made the right decision and because he did, the Royals won a ball game.

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