When Thursday’s game against the Tigers got rained out, I thought about what I might write on an off day. My first idea was to go back and see how Max Scherzer contained the Royals hitters. How often did Scherzer find himself in a fastball count and what did he throw in those counts?
Then I thought there was enough negativity in the air after the Royals lost their second game, so why not focus on something positive?
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I hadn’t paid a lot of attention to him before Wednesday’s game, so I got my first good look at Royals starting pitcher, Jason Vargas. He was excellent and because we’re all focusing on what went wrong in Wednesday’s game, hardly anyone is talking about how well Vargas pitched. Vargas threw seven innings, gave up one run, five hits and a single walk. He finished the day with a 1.29 ERA and gave the Royals a very good chance of winning a ballgame against a division champion with a Cy Young award winner on the mound.
How did Vargas do it?
When a pitcher falls behind in the count he might have to throw a fastball in order to throw a strike; that’s why they’re called fastball counts. They’re also known as hitter’s counts because when a hitter gets a fastball he knows is coming, those balls tend to get hit very hard.
Go back and look at what Vargas did and the main thing that jumps out at you is how seldom Vargas found himself in a fastball count. He faced 26 batters and—if I counted right—only six of them managed to work themselves into a fastball count.
And when Detroit’s hitters were in a fastball count they weren’t guaranteed to get a fastball. Jason Vargas threw 106 pitches and, by my count, only 12 of them were thrown in fastball counts—and that’s if you consider 3-2 a fastball count and it’s sometimes not. Of the 12 pitches thrown in fastball counts, five of them were fastballs, six were changeups and one was a curve. And of the seven off-speed pitches thrown in fastball counts, six of them were thrown for strikes.
So to sum up: Jason Vargas mainly stayed out of fastball counts, but when he was in one, he didn’t necessarily throw a fastball. But Vargas threw enough fastballs in fastball counts that the hitters couldn’t count on getting something off-speed. When Vargas did throw off-speed he could throw it for strikes. Hitting is timing, pitching is disrupting timing. Wednesday afternoon Jason Vargas disrupted a lot of timing—and catcher Salvador Perez deserves some credit as well.
OK, that’s it—we can all get back to being negative now.
The eighth inning of Wednesday’s loss
I’ve heard lots of criticism of Ned Yost, the bullpen and Billy Butler’s 3-0 hack, but not as much talk about the eighth inning. Salvador Perez started the inning with a double and Yost sent Jarrod Dyson out to pinch run for him. I’ve heard this move criticized—hell, I’ve heard
move criticized—but the Royals were in the eighth inning, they were down by one and it was only the second time all day they had a runner in scoring position. If Salvador Perez had stayed in the game and been thrown out at the plate on a single, can you imagine what people would say about not using Dyson to score the tying run?
First the Royals needed to tie the game, then they could worry about Brett Hayes behind the plate. And Brett Hayes did fine. There’s a reason you have back up catchers and situation like this is one of them.
With Dyson in scoring position and nobody out, Mike Moustakas was at the plate. If you think Ned should have had Moustakas bunt, then I trust you’re not one of those people who have criticized Yost for bunting too much. You can’t have your cake and eat it, too—unless you’re leaving anonymous comments on the internet.
Anyway, Moose needed to get Dyson to third one way or another—but he didn’t. Lorenzo Cain needed to find a way to get the ball in play—but he didn’t. In fact the only Royals to get a ball in play with Dyson on second base was Alcides Escobar, who also happens to have a better lifetime average against Scherzer than Moustakas or Cain. If Moustakas had done what Escobar managed—hitting a fly ball to right field—Dyson would have moved up to third. If Cain had done what Escobar managed—hitting a fly ball to right field—Dyson would have scored and the Royals would have won the game.
Pay attention to matchup numbers
When I first started this job I’d go to the post-game press conferences and hear someone question a managerial move. Ned Yost would often ask if the critic had seen the matchup numbers. I decided then and there to look that information up before I asked a dumb question. Now I ask a dumb question
seeing the matchup numbers, but nevertheless, the matchup numbers often explain the moves we see.
Someone wanted to know why lefty Tim Collins was still in the game pitching to the right-handed Ian Kinsler. I’m guessing it was because, before Wednesday, Kinsler had never had a hit off Collins in six tries and was punched out half the time. If you wondered why Alcides Escobar was not pinch hit for in the eighth inning, look up the numbers and you see he had the best (but still not good) batting average against Scherzer of the three hitters due up.
Bottom line; check the matchup numbers and a lot of questions get answered. If you check the numbers and the move
doesn’t make sense, either someone screwed up or they know something you don’t.
Your daily reminder
The book "Throwback: A Big League Catcher Tells How the Game Is Really Played" is due out May 13th and is being published by St. Martin’s Press. Jason Kendall and I co-authored the book and it’s available for pre-order right now.