Judging the Royals

The Royals miss an opportunity

According to the guys on TV, James Shields has now gone at least eight innings five times and hasn’t won any of those games. Some of that can be explained by match-ups: number one pitchers tend to face other number one pitchers—at least early in the season—so the lack of run support for Shields isn’t surprising considering who was pitching for the other teams. But this game appeared to be a mismatch: James Shields against Jarrod Parker. Parker had an ERA over 6.00 coming into the game and Shields is one of the best pitchers in the league. James not only pitched eight innings, he struck out nine, only walked one, gave up just two runs and still didn’t win.

The Kansas City offense managed five hits, two walks and one run. When you get a mismatch you need to win.

The Royals missed an opportunity.

Game notes

Second inning:

Eric Hosmer drove a fastball to left field for a single and afterwards, first base coach Rusty Kuntz leaned in and spoke to him. When a first-base coach does that he’s reminding the base runner of the pitcher’s delivery time to home plate and the "key" the runner should look for. The key is usually a body part or something in a pitcher’s delivery that gives away his intentions and lets the runner know if the pitcher is going home or coming over to first base.

Hosmer promptly got picked off first base, but it was probably because he mistimed a walking lead, not because he misread a key. A walking lead works like this: the runner takes a short lead so when the pitcher looks over, he doesn’t sense a threat. When the pitcher’s attention goes back to home plate, the runner starts walking and never stops—when the time is right the runner breaks into a full sprint. But mistime the walking lead—get too far off before the pitcher delivers the ball home—and someone will yell "runner" and the pitcher has an easy pickoff.

Before the attempt the Royals were 30 for 34 in stolen base attempts so far this season. (That’s another one I got from the TV guys, so thanks to Ryan, Rex and Joel.)

Third inning:

David Lough had two hits and drove in the Royals only run with one of them; a bloop double that included a nice slide at second. When a throw is coming from the catcher, base runners aim for the outfield side of the bag (it makes the throw longer because of the width of the base) and the reverse is true when the throw comes from the outfield. Lough touched the front of the bag and then swung around to infield side, making the tag longer and more difficult.

Fourth inning:

Eric Hosmer pulled a 3-2 changeup and hit a groundball to Daric Barton, the A’s first baseman. People who should know have said Hosmer’s swing is still long and that’s why he’s taking so many pitches to left field. If he pulls a ball, it’s likely to be an off-speed pitch—more on that shortly.

Lorenzo Cain started his plate appearance 0-2, worked the count to 3-2—fouling three balls off after he had two strikes—and walked on the ninth pitch. It didn’t change much, but it was such a good plate appearance, it seemed worth mentioning.

In the bottom of the fourth Lough threw out Brandon Moss when he tried to stretch a single into a double. The throw required a full 360 which meant David was at a dead stop when he threw the ball, which makes the throw even more impressive.

Seventh inning:

An Oakland A’s coach could be seen in the dugout, giving a series of signs by touching his face in different places. Those signs were probably for the running game, most big-league catchers call their own game. The signs for the running game include pitch-out, slide step or pickoff. The A’s coach could have also been a decoy and the real signs were being delivered by someone else in the dugout doing something seemingly innocent like taking off his cap or putting his hands behind his head.

In the top of the inning Salvador Perez took a big swing at a 1-1 pitch—probably too big a swing. When a hitter muscles up, his muscles get tight and that includes the muscles in his neck. Tight neck muscles mean the hitter’s head moves as he swings the bat and he’ll end up looking at the third base coach or even in the third base dugout. It’s hard enough to hit when your head is still; and almost impossible when your head is moving.

In the bottom of the inning Josh Donaldson tied the game up with a home run to left on a 3-1 fastball. James Shields threw a pitch just at the bottom of the zone when the count was 2-1 and didn’t get the call. If the count had been 2-2, Shields probably does not throw a hittable fastball on the next pitch.

Eighth inning:

If I counted correctly Shields gave up what turned out to be the game-winning home run to Adam Rosales on his 105th pitch. Rosales was leading off the inning and after the game Ned Yost was asked if he had considered pulling Shields after seven innings. Ned said no, James was still throwing well and had just struck out the side in the previous inning. So if Yost leaves Shields too long he’ll get criticized and if he pulls Shields too early he’ll get criticized, but it does seem fair to ask what was different about this game: Ned said he pulled Shields against Chicago because he didn’t want him to pitch that well and lose the game. So why leave him in this one? Doesn’t the same principle apply?


But there was one big difference: against Chicago, Shields had pitched eight and was able to hand the ball off to closer Greg Holland. In this game if Shields had left after seven he probably would have handed the ball to Kelvin Herrera and Herrera hasn’t exactly been automatic. I don’t know if that played into Ned’s thinking, but it’s possible. Fans and the media want explanations and then want the manager’s strategy to be consistent, but strategy is dependent on what’s happening that particular night and situations might seem similar only because the public doesn’t have all the facts.

On the other hand, sometimes managers actually are being inconsistent.

Ninth inning:

If Eric Hosmer’s swing is long, then his best chance to pull a ball for home run would be on an off-speed pitch. Grant Balfour threw Hosmer a slider up in the zone on a 1-1 count—just what Hosmer and the Royals needed—but Hosmer fouled it off. As it turned out, that might have been the last chance the Royals had; Hosmer struck out on the next pitch, a 94-MPH fastball.

David Lough

David Lough started in right field and there are several things fans might read into it, but remember Ned Yost has a history of getting a guy just up from the minors into a game right away. Ned thinks the longer a guy sits, the more pressure builds up on him. Getting a new guy in a game immediately can take some pressure off—get the player out there right away and get it over with.

Ned has resisted saying it’s a platoon situation and that’s probably a smart move. If it appears to be a platoon situation the media will ask if it’s a platoon situation and if Ned say yes, we’ll be happy to paint Yost in a corner and point out the inconsistency if Yost ever decides to start Jeff Francoeur against a right-handed pitcher or Lough against a lefty.

Ned has also got a history of going with the hot hand and Lough went two for four so we’ll see what tomorrow brings.

How things work

Yesterday I wrote about pitching with a scuffed baseball (balls can get scuffed during a play and go right back to the mound) and how young pitchers will often give a scuffed ball back because they don’t know what to do with it. I also mentioned that veterans—who know what to do with a scuffed ball—think the kids are nuts for throwing the ball out of play. That prompted a very good question from a reader:

If the veterans are shaking their head when a young pitcher throws out a scuffed ball because they don't know how to throw it, but the vets do know, then why don't the vets help the young guys to learn how to throw them? It seems beneficial to have the vets teach them how to throw them during Spring Training, or even on off days during the year if needed, so that they don't throw the "gift" away when they get it during a game. If a young pitcher gets a scuffed ball in a close game, and using that to strike a hitter out (especially someone like Cabrera or Prince Fielder, who can make some big damage) can be a big benefit, it seems like they should use that ball instead of throwing it out, and that the vets would want them to use that ball. Any thoughts or input on that (from you or the unnamed pitcher)?

I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ll tell you what I’ve observed:

Much of the time the young guys are trying to take the old guys’ jobs. Everybody wants the team to win, but everybody also wants to stay employed, so it can get complicated. If a guy is trying to take your spot, do you go over and show him how to do it? And if you’re trying to take away a guy’s job, is it OK to ask him for help?

It’s my impression that if a young guy asks for help, it’s given; but the young guys usually have to ask. Most successful ballplayers acknowledge that somewhere along the way a veteran helped them. Helping out a younger guy is a way of paying back the debt—but what if the younger guy doesn’t want your help? A lot of young players have dominated every league they’ve ever been in and think they’ve already got it figured out. Pitching coach Dave Eiland told me that the best pitchers want to know everything—maybe Dave knows something that will help. The guys that are hard to work with are the younger guys because they sometimes think they know everything already.

So you’re a veteran, this kid is trying to replace you, and on top of that, he’s arrogant. Most veterans figure let the kid fall on his face and if he’s smart enough to ask advice after that, then you help. Here’s a story that might help make the point:

I got to hit with George Brett every Wednesday the winter before he retired (it took a while to figure it out why I was so lucky, but George needed someone to stand at the other end of the batting cage by the pitching machine and keep it from jamming). Right before he went to spring training I thanked him and then George thanked me. He said working with me made him go back over the basics and reminded him of what he should be doing when he was at the plate. I was surprised and said that I assumed he got asked for help all the time. George said no, lots of major leaguers didn’t want to ask for help and a lot of the young guys thought they already knew what they needed to know.

Being humble is a big part of baseball and one of the keys to this website: I approach the players and coaches with the attitude that they know more than me—because they do—and I want to know what they know. Ask in the right way and they’ll bend over backwards to help you out; come in thinking you know everything and they won’t waste their time. I get inspirational emails from Pittsburgh Pirates manager, Clint Hurdle, on a regular basis—I’m on a list—and here’s a quote from one he sent me last week:

 "The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him."

- Leo Tolstoy, 1897

OK, so the veterans have very good reasons not to help young players and young players often don’t want the help anyway, so how about the coaches? I try to attend all the practices and I’ve watched the coaches work with the young guys for hours on end; the coaches really want to help. But if a young guy gets stubborn and he and the coach get sideways, who’s in trouble? The club might have millions invested in the kid and he’s seen as a big part of the team’s future; I don’t know what they’re making these days, but in the past I knew coaches who were making less than a hundred grand and had one-year contracts. The kid is staying, the coach might be gone. So a coach can suggest, but it’s hard for a coach to get too tough with a player unless he knows the manager and front office will back him. It also helps if the coach has a good relationship with the players: I’ve seen Eddie Rodriguez scold Mike Moustakas for throwing his glove in frustration during a practice and I thought that was a very good sign. Eddie was secure enough to get on Mike and Mike was mature enough to accept it.

(Man, this answer is even longer than I thought—I hope you’re getting some idea of how complicated this stuff can get.)

Everybody’s on the same team and everybody wants the team to do well, but most people are afraid of confrontations; nobody wants to step on another player’s toes. Going over and offering unsolicited advice can be seen as an insult; it’s basically saying a teammate needs to get better. And the advice is likely to be rejected unless it comes from the right source. It’s hard for a pitcher to tell a position player what to do and vice versa: the position player might think the pitcher doesn’t know what he’s talking about and the pitcher might think a position player is nuts for making a suggestion about pitching.

If you wonder why the Royals signed Jason Kendall and keep him around to this day, that’s part of the answer: he can talk to pitchers about pitching, catchers about catching and position players about anything. And that’s one dude who is


afraid of a confrontation. If Jason thinks beating the crap out of you would be helpful, he’ll offer. He’s a guy who wouldn’t be afraid to tell a rookie pitcher that he needs to get his ass down to the bullpen and figure out how to use a scuffed baseball. To me, the fact that Dayton Moore is smart enough to realize Jason’s worth is another very good sign.

Because Dayton’s got a good idea of how things work.

(I’m going to stop here because I could write a book about this subject—I came damn close—and still not say everything there is to say. Before I started doing this website I had the same response as the reader: why doesn’t someone tell the rookies what to do? After being around a ball club for a while, I started to figure out it just wasn’t that simple: there are office politics in almost every job, including a big-league clubhouse. And when some of the workers make more money and are more secure than the management, things gets complicated. Even though it’s only my impression of what I’ve experienced, I hope this article provides a glimpse of how things work inside a team.)