Judging the Royals

How Mike Jirschele made the right decision and got a runner thrown out

The Royals’ Cheslor Cuthbert was tagged out by White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers while trying to score on a hit by Paulo Orlando in the first inning Friday.
The Royals’ Cheslor Cuthbert was tagged out by White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers while trying to score on a hit by Paulo Orlando in the first inning Friday. JSLEEZER@KCSTAR.COM

Today you get two columns for the price of one. Because I spent so much time talking about Kris Medlen and his changeup, I didn’t get to a play that happened in the second inning of the Royals’ 12-1 loss to the White Sox on Friday night. Let’s go back and take a look at what happened.

The White Sox were up 3-0, but the Royals had a two-out rally going. Cheslor Cuthbert had doubled and then Paulo Orlando singled to left field. Third base coach Mike Jirschele sent Cuthbert home and Cheslor was thrown out by a comfortable margin.

Fans were unhappy, but here’s why Jirschle waved Cuthbert home:

With two outs a base coach is going to take more risks to score a run than if there were no outs or one out. Stop a runner at third base with two outs and you’re asking the guy on deck for another two-out hit. In this case the guy on deck was Alcides Escobar, and coming into Friday night’s game Esky had a .115 average against the Chicago pitcher, John Danks. There are times a base coach sends a runner knowing that if the throw is a good one, the runner will be out. The base coach is gambling that the odds of a bad throw are greater than the odds of the guy on deck getting a hit.

So if Esky had about a 10 percent chance of getting a hit off Danks (and he’d already struck out once against him) and Mike Jirschle thought left fielder Melky Cabrera would make a bad throw two out of 10 times, Jirschele needed to send Cuthbert.

He did and it didn’t work out, but it doesn’t mean Jirschele made the wrong decision. Neither decision had an overwhelming chance of working; Jirsch just took the one with the best odds.

Why was Alcides Escobar was in the lineup?

Once the reasoning behind Mike Jirschele’s decision was explained on Twitter — and doing it in 140 characters or less was a chore — a fan wanted to know why Alcides Escobar was in the lineup if he couldn’t hit Danks.

My guess is that the Royals felt it would be better to play the game with a shortstop than without one and hardly anybody else on the Royals hits Danks all that great either.

When attempting to explain big-league decision making, you sometimes run into this attitude: the fan doesn’t like hearing about reality and decides to ignore the real-world choices a team has to make and says if all the options were bad, the GM must suck — he should’ve given his team better players and better choices.

I’m sure every big-league manager would love to have a .300 hitter lounging around the dugout, ready to be called upon whenever needed, but it doesn’t tend to work out that way. In the real world the talent pool and baseball budgets are limited.

Making the best of bad situation

Friday night Alcides Escobar was playing short and Ben Zobrist was playing second. Zobrist came into the game hitting .130 off Danks, so if you put Ben at short and put Omar Infante at second, you pick up some average from Omar (.241 off Danks), but lose range at short. With the exception of Eric Hosmer and Jonny Gomes, nobody on the Royals hits Danks well — probably why Danks beats them like a rented mule. So with limited offensive options, you might want to keep your defense together.

There are two sides to the ball.

The metric community has a hard time measuring defense so in many cases that’s led to ignoring that side of the ball. The metric community is now doing some things to correct that blind spot and defense is now getting more attention.

Friday night Alcides Escobar wound up going two for four off Danks and made at least one spectacular play to rob a Chicago hitter of a knock. In the big leagues they don’t care if you put numbers on the board or keep them off; either one of them helps you win ballgames. But even after having a good night Alcides Escobar is only hitting .167 off Danks and I’m guessing Melky Cabrera does not make a perfect throw to home plate more than eight times out of ten.

It wasn’t pretty, but Mike Jirschele made the right decision.

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

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