Judging the Royals

Why the Royals were able to jump on the Twins in the first inning

Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Kyle Gibson threw in the first inning of Tuesday’s game.
Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Kyle Gibson threw in the first inning of Tuesday’s game. jsleezer@kcstar.com

Nine pitches into Tuesday night’s game against the Royals, Kyle Gibson. the Twins starting pitcher, was down 4-0 and Minnesota had another pitcher warming up in the bullpen.

So what happened? Gibson came into the game 9-9 with a 3.84 ERA ... how did he get blown up so fast?

After the game I asked Ned Yost if the Royals had planned on "ambushing" Gibson, but Ned said no; the Royals did not have a meeting and decide to swing at the first fastball they saw, even though that’s what happened with three of the first four Kansas City hitters.

Kyle Gibson is known for having an excellent two-seamer with lots of movement, but in the first inning he didn’t have it working.

The Royals were looking for pitches up in the zone, got them early in the count and barreled them up. By the end of the first inning Gibson had found the feel for that two-seamer and after that, the Royals didn’t have much success.

Now here’s an a theory on why that happened

Let’s start by me admitting I’ve got no clue as to why Gibson did not have that two-seamer working right away, but Royals pitchers Chris Young and Wade Davis recently offered up an interesting theory.

Fox News reporter Morgan Uber and I were talking about how pitchers throw differently once they have runners in scoring position and that’s when I spotted Chris Young sitting at his locker.

I suggested we go ask Chris about the subject since he’s pitched in the big leagues and I have yet to make my debut. (Apparently, guys who throw in the high 60s are not in great demand.)

Anyway, Chris said some interesting stuff about pitching with runners in scoring position and then somehow we got on the subject of warming up in the bullpen and how relievers have an advantage: they get to go straight to the mound after they warm up.

Wade Davis was sitting there and Chris said we ought to ask him about it and Wade said, yeah, that’s one reason why a lot of starting pitchers have worse road ERAs: they warm up and then have to sit through the all the pre-game stuff and the top of the first inning. And if that top of the first inning is a long one, the visit pitcher can cool down and lose the feel for his pitches.

How one bad pitching performance leads to another

Then Wade and Chris started talking about Edinson Volquez’ Sept. 3 start against the Detroit Tigers. In the top of the first inning Edinson saw seven batters, threw 38 pitches and gave up three runs.

After sitting around watching all that happen — and it took forever — the Tigers pitcher Matt Boyd came out, saw seven batters, threw 38 pitches and gave up two runs. Chris and Wade thought there was a good chance the two performances were related: Volquez took a long time to get through the top of the first and that probably led to Boyd cooling down and having a rough time in the bottom half of the inning.

And it continued in the next inning

Boyd returned for the bottom of the second inning and saw four batters, gave up four hits and four runs. Kyle Ryan replaced Boyd and saw four more batters, but got out of the inning unscathed.

But it was still another long inning; eight batters, 31 pitches and one pitcher taking time to warmup. So now Edinson Volquez had another long wait and when he returned to the mound he had another bad inning; he saw seven hitters and gave up three more runs.

Clearly, not every pitcher who has a long wait to pitch performs poorly, but according to Chris Young and Wade Davis, it can be a factor.

So a pitcher can have too short a time in the dugout between innings, but it’s also possible to have too long a wait before getting back on the mound.

When the Royals offense has a big inning I asked Wade and Chris if they ever wished their team would stop scoring runs and make some outs. Both said they wanted the runs, but they also sometimes felt like things were taking too long and they needed to get back out there and pitch before they cooled down.

Like I said; I don’t know if that explains why Kyle Gibson didn’t have his two-seamer working early in the first inning on Tuesday night, but it’s an interesting theory.

Salvador Perez is hitting behind in the count

When a hitter is scuffling he’ll often say he feels like he comes to the plate and the count is automatically 0-2. I thought about that on Tuesday when Salvador Perez was hitting.

Sal went 0 for 3 in last night’s game and here are the counts he was in when he put the ball in play:

First at bat: Sal started off 0-2, then ran it to 3-2 and flew out.

Second at bat: 0-1 groundout.

Third at bat: 1-2 groundout.

That led me to wonder about the last time Salvador Perez put a ball in play while ahead in the count. When hitters are ahead in the count pitchers tend to throw more fastball strikes. When pitchers are ahead in the count hitters tend to see more chase breaking pitches. Here are the counts and the results from Salvador’s recent at bats:

Monday: 0-0 groundout, 0-1 pop up, 0-0 sac fly, 1-2 groundout.

Sunday: 0-1 homer, 2-2 strikeout, 0-0 hit by pitch, 1-2 lineout.

Friday: 0-1 lineout, 0-0 soft lineout, 2-2 strikeout.

Thursday: 2-2 groundout, 2-2 strikeout, 2-0 single, 1-1 groundout, 1-0 groundout.

So if you’re counting—and I am—in the last five games Salvador Perez has put two balls in play while ahead in the count. In those five games Sal went 2 for 17. Sal swings early and often and it’s hard to hit when you spend a lot of time hitting behind in the count, trying to hit pitcher’s pitches.

The answer is not standing there watching good pitches go by; in the big leagues you might get one good pitch per at bat if you’re lucky, so if you get one, swing. But the answer isn’t swinging at bad pitches either. And when pitchers get ahead in the count, you’re going to see a lot of pitches that aren’t hittable.

Just ask Salvador Perez.