Judging the Royals

The Kansas City Royals are winning in a different way

Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez congratulated Lorenzo Cain after his solo home run in the sixth inning.
Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez congratulated Lorenzo Cain after his solo home run in the sixth inning. JSLEEZER@KCSTAR.COM

When Moneyball was all the rage, people were fixating on walks and home runs. Despite the fact that the Oakland A’s consistently fell flat on their face in the playoffs, some people thought that walks and home runs were the key to winning. The Kansas City Royals are 26th in home runs, last in walks and first in the American League Central.

I once asked a Royals front office guy how many home runs he thought Adam Dunn would hit in Kauffman Stadium and the answer was: “Adam Dunn wouldn’t play here.” If you make your money hitting a baseball out of ballparks, you don’t want to play in one the size of the Grand Canyon. To get a power hitter to come to Kansas City the Royals would have to overpay and then they wouldn’t get what they paid for.

Smart teams look for undervalued players, and the Royals decided athleticism was undervalued. They went after good athletes figuring their athleticism would show up on the base paths and on defense. Tuesday night those athletes put on a defensive clinic. Ben Zobrist made an error in the second inning, but after that the Royals made at least five highlight-reel plays. The defense was so good that after the game people were debating which play was the best.

The one that stood out to me was the Jarrod Dyson-to-Alcides Escobar-to-Salvador Perez play at the plate to nail James McCann.

A few days ago, in the White Sox series, third base coach Mike Jirschele sent Mike Moustakas home in the same situation; part of his reasoning was the White Sox would have to make two perfect throws to get him and Jirsch was right, the White Sox couldn’t do it.

Tuesday night the Royals could.

If you’re not watching these guys, you’re missing some great baseball — and missing a team that’s winning in a different way.

But Don Wakamatsu disagrees

Say that to the Royals bench coach Don Wakamatsu — and a while ago I did — and he laughs and then asks what’s more traditional than a team winning with pitching and defense?

And Don’s right; a lot of fans — and front offices — forgot just how well those two can work.

Why Yordano Ventura needs to pitch inside

Tuesday night Yordano Ventura threw six shutout innings. Yordano can throw a baseball about a billion miles an hour, so a big key for him is whether or not he can do anything else. They say major-league hitters can time a bullet, so if Yordano does nothing but throw fastballs in the upper nineties, big league hitters can time that.

Tuesday night Ventura went to his secondary pitches early and that was a good sign. And in the second inning with the bases loaded, Ventura got out of it with his off-speed pitches and that was an even better sign.

Ventura threw 104 pitches and by my count, 49 were something other than a fastball. After the game I asked Ned Yost about Ventura’s secondary pitches and Ned said a key for Ventura was establishing the inside fastball. Once a pitcher does that, hitters have to open up their front side to get to it, especially if the pitch is 99 mph, and that makes them vulnerable to anything off-speed.

That pickoff was not a called play

In the fifth inning Salvador Perez picked Anthony Gose off first base, and I wondered if it was a called play or spur of the moment. Eric Hosmer said the Royals do have a pickoff play that’s called in advance, but that wasn’t it.

Whenever a pitch takes Perez toward first base it forces him to catch the ball backhand. Catching the ball backhand puts him in a good throwing position — it closes up his front shoulder — and with a runner on, that’s when Sal might snap a throw off to first base. Hosmer saw where the pitch was and headed back to first base in case Perez cut loose with a pickoff throw and it worked.

Tyler Collins drops a ball

If you’re a certain age — old — you probably remember coaches yelling “two hands” every time you tried to catch a ball in Little League. So if you’re a Detroit fan you might have been screaming “two hands” at Tyler Collins when he dropped that Eric Hosmer fly ball in the eighth inning: but big-league players don’t use two hands anymore.

We had to use two hands back then because our gloves stunk. They’ve got much better — and bigger — gloves now and a one-handed catch allows you to extend your arm further and watch the ball into your glove.

Something Collins didn’t do.

How fear of the stolen base helped Eric Hosmer hit a home run

The Royals jumped out in front when Eric Hosmer hit a two-run home run in the first inning. Lorenzo Cain was on first base and Detroit’s pitcher — Anibal Sanchez — threw Hosmer a fastball while using a slide step.

Pitchers use a slide step to get the ball to home plate more quickly, but it can backfire. After the game, I talked about slide steps with Luke Hochevar and he said some pitchers might actually throw harder out of a slide step, but most pitchers lose some velocity — they don’t get their weight back before delivering the pitch. The slide step can also cause some pitches to go flat and stay up in the zone.

To be sure, pitchers also give up home runs when they’re not using a slide step, but pay attention and you’ll see how often fear of a stolen base causes pitchers to make bad pitches.

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

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